Directed by: #HassanRaza
Written by: #HassanRaza
There’s something romantic about a struggling artist – thanklessly toiling away at their craft, ignored by an apathetic world demanding they distract themselves with ‘real life’ problems, until one day passion and art wins out and the creative mind gets to run free, money and mortgages and rent be damned. Zaara shows that in reality, there can be a darker side to being a dreamer, with a disturbing story of how the world can prey upon those who shoot for the moon.
Zaara (Sonera Angel) is a young filmmaker who lives at home with her parents Aslam (Brij Mohan Thathal) and Rehana (Monisha Hassen), and her sister Irtiqa (Geeth Reddy). Passionate and ambitious, Zaara is working on the finishing touches of a homemade film she is directing. But without a paying job, she has secretly been taking out loans to sustain her work, and hiding this from her family. When 2 bailiffs visit the house, both her family life and filmmaking dreams are turned upside down.
Original and striking, Zaara is a fantastic and layered short film from director Hassan Raza. Its story of a young Muslim woman in pursuit of a dream despite pushback from the industry and her traditional-leaning family hardly seems novel, but the consequences of her actions on her family adds an intriguing and tragic element that brings real depth to the piece.
Sonera Angel’s performance in the title role is impressive, with all kinds of small nuances added through an incredible expressiveness rarely seen even in much more experienced actors. The rest of the cast similarly embrace the intricacy of their characters, with Monisha Hassen and Geeth Reddy also thriving as members of the family. It is only James Graeme’s terrifying bailiff Harvey that lacks complexity - as his cruelty and racism firmly places him as an undisputable villain. His abuse and threats against the family makes for a disturbing scene, and allows the late Brij Mohan Thathal to fully establish his heart-breaking role as Zaara’s father as the film’s standout.
The film is thorough and focussed despite addressing a number of key themes in its 35-minute runtime, such as racism, isolation, exploitation and difficult familial relations. This is the result of director Hassan Raza’s impressive vision which leaves every scene feeling memorable and moving. The intertwining of Zaara’s own film production with the story’s narrative will catch audiences out in the best possible way. The close camera shots of Harvey as he intrudes into the family’s home are disturbingly claustrophobic. And Zaara’s isolation from her family and friends is sprinkled throughout the film in the smallest, subtlest ways – leaving audiences with sympathy for her despite her costly mistakes.
The script could have used slight polishing, with some clunky dialogue feeling unnatural in moments and a meandering mid-section in the family kitchen that feels like filler. There are also some elements of the plot that are not explained fully enough such as the exact reason for Zaara’s spiralling debt, which would have benefitted from elaboration. But these are small issues in an otherwise developed and assured story.
Covering a multitude of issues and featuring brilliant performances, Zaara is a fresh take on a story of following one’s dreams, and how a cruel and advantageous world can exploit those same dreamers.