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Wadjda (2012): Bicycle Dreams

Language : Arabic | Running Time : 98 Minutes | Director : Haifaa Al-Mansour

A little child while sitting and watching her father play video games informs him that she has been doing well at math and her father offers no praise but continues to play and whines that he is hungry. The same girl wins a Koran recital competition and he calls her his little heroine. Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Wadjda is a story that is a neo-realistic study of the Saudi culture in the background of a young girl’s desire to own and ride a bike. It is also the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and the first feature film directed by a female Saudi director.

Wadjda(Waad Mohammed) is an 11-year-old girl who has a fancy for bicycles. She has a bet with her dear friend Abdullah(Abdullrahman Algohani) that she will race him in her bicycle and defeat him. The two children have a relationship that extends beyond friendship and Haifaa Al-Mansour captures these tender moments with great care and beauty. Abdullah is the person Wadjda goes to when she is in trouble, when she has fears to air. Her mom(Reem Abdullah) takes to the phone to gossip with and relay her fears to her friend, Leila. It is important for any person to have a companion to talk with, to have your fears known, to be supported. The two parallel lines of a young child and a 30-ish woman play an important role in highlighting the different needs and issues facing women in Riyadh. One is a girl who is being asked to throw her dreams away, currently one that has her riding a bicycle, the other is a woman who has already had her dreams taken away and is now fighting to keep her love for herself. It is an interesting exercise of how an 11-year-old girl’s need for a bicycle becomes a beautiful and absorbing film where we get to understand the status of women in Saudi Arabia.

Wadjda first film to be directed by Saudi WomenWadjda is discouraged from buying a bicycle by her mother and is told never to talk about it in front of her father for fear that she might end up getting beaten. You observe closely and you realise that it is not just Wadjda getting beaten up that bothers her. In the wake of her mother-in-law urging Wadjda’s father to marry again to produce an heir, Wadjda’s mother is afraid that she might lose him on grounds that she hasn’t managed to bring up Wadjda ”properly”. Moments with writing so intricate are abound in the movie. In an age where spoon-feeding is evident in movies, it is a relief to have movies that are written intricately that when you spot them you have sense of profound happiness engulf you. Wadjda is bound to give one who likes to connect and see more than what is shown a great deal of satisfaction. It is a process to connect one scene with the other, to create a path and unearth anything hidden in symbolism. Wadjda’s father removing her name from the family tree which has only the name of men is an indicator for what’s to come later. It doesn’t need a genius to figure but even something as simple as that when as genuine as heartfelt as the scene in Wadjda, it is bound to make an impact.

wadjda-featuredWadjda’s enterprising and scheming plans to save up money to buy her bicycle endear us to her. One funny sequence has her swindling two people, the classic Indian broker we find showing us houses. She isn’t a know it all like we have come to experience movies which has kids in them. Both Wadjda and Abdullah are simple kids with simple needs and they fend for themselves only as much as they can. Wadjda’s concern for her mother and her quest to have the driver Iqbal drive her mother to work again involves what only an 11-year-old could do. Abdullah’s fear at first and later his bravado and using his uncle’s name to convince Iqbal are things that we expect kids to do and Haifaa Al-Mansour doesn’t go the American way and make the parents inept or unimportant. We see a practical and loving relationship between the mother and the daughter, a relationship where the daughter is lead to understand what the society has in store for her and also what changes she has to gear up to. In any family, children are the first to pick up on any vibes in the family and these vibes lead to conversations between the mother and daughter, some playful, some ghastly. Initially, when you hear Wadjda’s mother tell her that it would be better off if she was married off, you wonder how an 11-year-old can be married off. We do read about it in newspapers or articles on the internet but in the movie, what seems like a joke is a serious play on the society where the movie comes from. The all too real implications of some dialogues make you ponder, co-relate with what you’ve been through and be moved. Wadjda makes you feel the restrictions that her teacher Ms. Hussa and the society place on her, we understand the hypocrisy of the world she lives in and we also realise how far religion can go into breaking people.

Wadjda is not just a tale about an 11-year-old girl yearning for a green bicycle or her enterprising ways to get them. It is about following our dreams, the restrictions that are placed upon you, it is a study of a culture which at times can make you laugh when you see them through the eyes of the little girl and at others make you cry or if not cry atleast make your throat go dry. It makes you think and reach out to hold someone dear, someone who has shaped you and thank them for allowing you to be who you are and not restricting you. Sometimes, dreams are all we’ll have and Wadjda is the realisation of such a dream. It will make you dream beyond any restrictions. It is a beautiful, beautiful film. If I write anymore, I’ll be giving you more from the movie and I’d rather that you experienced it first hand than read more about why it will move you. Wadjda is a an experience you’ll treasure, very much like a mother always treasure’s a child.

By: Hithesh Devasya
Posted: November 5, 2013, 9:30 am


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