Of Arab Spring, censorship and hope

Egyptian filmmaker Hala Khalil's edgy work-arounds

Of Arab Spring, censorship and hope

The euphoric high of the Arab Spring had propelled most ordinary Egyptians to dream high. Their collective spirits had soared with the revolution, before that fatal twist in the tale. As filmmaker, scriptwriter and social commentator, Hala Khalil had lived those highs, dug deep into the abyss of despair.

Khalil’s third film ‘Nawara’ is a reflection of those times, the saga of a domestic maid’s destiny trapped between the Hosni Mubarak regime and the unfolding revolution. Nawara is all set for a Bengaluru International Film Festival (Biffes) screening on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday.The revolution had injected a sense of optimism into the society trapped in poverty for over three decades.

As Khalil told DH on the sidelines of Biffes here, her’s was a cinematic expression of that social pendulum caught between hope and frustration. But she had to walk the tightrope of censorship, enforced with military rigour. “Restrictions are tight as ever on artists, filmmakers and script writers. I always need to find a smart way to work around those restrictions. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail,” explained Khalil.

Her skills to bypass the censors would be put to test again in her next film, a tricky testimony of contemporary Muslim-Christian relations. Now, Khalil knows the topic is taboo, but she would attempt it nevertheless. She had learnt by trial and error, that the skill sets were a part of the creative process.

Censorship rules

No politics, no religion, no sex, the guideliness to filmmakers are clear. “It is about protecting the stability of the regime. Besides, so many film scripts have been rejected because they hinted at corruption in government institutions.”

But why are films on inter-faith relations blocked? “They fear it would trigger trouble. But this is a silly mentality. Nowhere in the world have movies created problems. Sex is another taboo subject. Egyptian society is getting more conservative since the 1980s,” Khalil explained. In the 1970’s, most Egyptians had found work in the oil-rich Gulf states. “They returned with conservative ideas.”

The restrictions, lamented Khalil, had punished the Arab world’s only thriving film industry. “The Egyptian economy is in a mess and that has only worsened the crisis. We used to make over 150 films a year, now it is down to less than 40.” Egyptian movie buffs were definitely in awe of American films. But as Khalil put it, the audiences also love Indian musicals and Amitabh Bachchan. “The taste of Egyptians match very much with the melodrama of Indian films,” said Khalil. The assessment was clear: The scope for a cinematic bridge between the two cultures was unmistakably high.

NAWARA (Arabic/122 mins)

Domestic help, Nawara works at a villa owned by a family with close links to the Mubarak regime. But once the revolution unfolds, the family flees Egypt, leaving Nawara as caretaker. But her happy days and romance with Mustafa in the villa are short-lived as police seize the property and confiscates Nawara’s money.
Left with nothing, she struggles as change shakes up the nation.

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