- Lalit Bhusal
- Run Time
- 1 hour and 37 minutes
- Not Rated
VP Content Ratings
- Sex & Nudity
- Star Rating
…and the powerful dictate what they desire;
thus they pervert justice.
And I say, “O that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest…
Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out from all the errors very clear.
Director Lalit Bhusal’s English-language drama is pieced together from real stories of women subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)—the first movie dealing with this widespread abuse that I have heard about. In places it is not an easy film to watch. Seeing that UNICEF has estimated that over 200 million girls and women alive today have been its victims, and that it is practiced in 30 countries, the film is a must-see one for the social justice-concerned.
In an unspecified country that could be India, Nepal or Pakistan, seven-year-old Ria (Rosina Bhusal) lives with her parents and two young sisters. An imaginative girl who loves fairies, she is doted on by her father—indeed, the name he had bestowed on her , Ria, means fairy. He arranges for a pair of wings to be made from a hen’s wings, attaches them to her back, and enjoys carrying her on flights of fancy as they go for walks. When his wife calls the girl to go for a visit to the village cutter, he argues against what is to happen, but is reminded that unless their daughter undergoes the operation, she will not be suitable for marriage. Neighbors back her up.
The little girl suspects nothing until she meets the sinister looking woman who is to cut on her—a woman with no medical training, just a reputation for performing the obscene operation.
Fortunately we do not have to watch this off-camera mutilation, but the aftermath scenes are harrowing enough. Later Ria promises to save her sister Naila (Roshni Bhandhari) from the ordeal, but, as we will see, is powerless to do so. Her mother and neighbors are convinced it is a religious duty for girls to suffer this so they will be pure for their husbands-to-be.
When she is in her teens Ria (now played by Oznur Cifc) is married off to Raja (Nisaro Karim). She cries when they meet, as well as during the wedding, and when they consumate their marriage, her past wounds are too excruciatingly painful for her to enjoy the experience. Raja lives with his family in the UK, so he takes her there where her misery continues. Her mother-in-law treats her more like a servant, and Raja becomes more demanding of her. Unknown to her he is involved in the drug trade, which does nothing to curtail his cruelty. Only her brother-in-law Heera and her father-in-law Masood (Bhasker Patel) are kind to her. Much of the time Ria seems to be in a close to catatonic state, so long lasting is her FGM-induced trauma. She talks with her sister Naila (Roshni Bhandhari) on the telephone but is powerless to save her from the mutilation planned by her mother; she can only assure her that she too will endure.
The downward spiral of her life starts to turn upward when she encounters Emma (Tania Staite) while she is standing looking at a college building. The first time Ria does not answer, but walks away. The second time, Emma persists, conducting her inside the building to inquire about enrolling in a class. By now Ria has become pregnant, so she uses her weekly trips to see her doctor and then a midwife as a cover up for enrolling in a class. Thus begins her slow movement toward becoming her own person.
Emma becomes her mentor, seeing the potential in the all too quiet girl. Matters at home go from bad to worse, with Raja assaulting the girl after she embarasses him in front of a member of his crew during a drug deal.. She is knocked down the stairs. In the hospital she is told that the baby cannot be saved. Soon Emma offers her sanctuary at her home, there following a montage of shots of them enjoying the city, Ria smiling for the first time. However, she still has recurring nightmares of her haunted past. Emma even persuades the girl to begin divorce papers, which prompts Raja to order his cohorts in crime to be on the lookout for his runaway wife.
Ria suffers complications from her miscarriage, so she is re-admitted to the hospital. Dr. Smith, who had talked with her earlier, explains to her and Emma about FGM, leaving some leaflets with them. Emma, good friend that she is, reads the material and searches for more information on the internet. She takes her friend to hear women’s advocate Hibo Wardere speak about the widespread abuse. Afterwards Ms. Wardere (a real life advocate playing herself) speaks with the pair, encouraging Ria to stand up for herself in the struggle against the abuse. Ria counters that the procedure is part of her religion, to which the advocate assures her that it is not, it is cultural, not religious. The girl leaves unconvinced and troubled, but then, when she comes upon a mosque, she goes inside.
The kindly Iman grants her a private meeting, during which he reads a number of passages from the Quran as she sits, quietly listening. Among the verses that he reads are the following four:
“Let there be no compulsion in religion.. “ (Al Baqarah 2:256) Did Ria go willingly to the mutilator? Did her father wish her to undergo the operation?
“…Verily Allah (God) does not like the oppressors..” (Alshura 42:40) Ria certainly has been oppressed—by her husband and in-laws, and even by her mother in that the latter delivered her over to be mutilated.
“Those who believe and do not mix their belief with injustice, those will have security, and are (rightly) guided.” (Al-Inam 6:82) Obviously activist Hibo Wardere, Ria’s mentor Emma, and Dr. Smith do not mix their beliefs with injustice. And to Jewish and Christian viewers this verse sounds like dozens of passages that could be cited from the Psalms.
“Upon nature which Allah (God) originated created the people no alteratiuoms to Allah’s (GOD) creation.” (Al-Rum 30:300) As with the Book of Genesis, the Quran teaches that humans created by God are basically good, meaning that they do not need to be physically changed or “improved.” This is an aha moment for Ria, discovering that her Quran—I write “her Quran” because the Iman generously gives her a beautifully bound copy of it so she can refer to it herself in future years—does not teach what her mother and neighbors believe, namely that women are born defective and must submit to the cruel operation deemed necessary for them to be able to marry.
Ria’s inner conflict involving her faith is resolved, but not her conflict with husband Raja. He wants her back, and so puts out the word to be on the lookout for her. When he learns the location of Emma’s apartment, he sets out with his brother Heera to grab and return her to their family compound. Heera questions this just before Raja gets out of the car, armed with a pistol. The violence that ensues produces tragedy, but also frees Ria. The ending of the film promises a brighter future for the young woman, her connection with the faithful Emma continuing as the young woman looks forward to continuing her college education. And not only Ria, but she and Emma also will see that her youngest sister will never have to submit to the tyranny of their culture. This ending is rushed, leaving out what must have been a difficult argument with Ria’s family, so the viewer must surmise several happenings between Ria’s awakening and her return to her native land, accompanied by Emma.
The film is beautifully photographed, with the actors convincingly portraying the oppressed girl, her tormentors, and those who come to her aid. The exotic music by Juanjo Molina effectively enhances the drama of the scenes, and the joyous freedom that Ria feels at the conclusion. The symbolism of the title runs throughout the film, beginning with Ria being given the name meaning “Fairy,” her father’s fashioning a pair of wings for her that she loves to wear while pretending to fly, and, sadly those wings literally being crushed during her mutilation. Wings usually suggest the freedom that flight gives a bird, but Ria’s, as she observes in the film, are crushed, perfectly symbolizing the oppression she suffers in most of the film. The experience and sentiments of the writer of Psalm 55 are also those of Ria. She is fortunate indeed that her path intersects with that of the college teacher Emma, who starts her on the path to freedom!
I think it is marvelous that the three million girls and women in endangered by FGM* each year have found an advocate in a British-Indian male director and writer. He tells me he is Hindu, which again proves that good will and the thirst for justice for the oppressed is not a monopoly of Jews and Christians–or Muslims, I hasten to add. As the film’s writer he has done his homework in studying Islam and what it really teaches, rather than what Islamophobes would have us believe about them, thus making this a film espousing religious understanding and tolerance as well as one crying out for justice for women.
Thus, this British film is important not only in that it is the first feature film to deal with FGM, but also shows a positive view of Islam. Americans, as well as Brits, have been subjected to so many films, books, and speeches that suggest all Muslims support terrorism and the total subjection of women. That such is not the case, that many of the negative acts of Muslims are due to those who distort its teachings, this film makes clear. (Similarly, humane Christians and Jews are upset by the terrible teachings and barbarous deeds of fundamentalist Christians and Jews who distort the teachings of the Bible!)
In addition to its social justice themes, the film presents a great example of friendship and its power. Though Emma’s full story is not revealed, it is suggested that part of her motivation for helping Ria is the loss of her sister sometime in the past—to what, we don’t know, but just the loss is enough to make her resolve to take up Ria’s cause and stand by her in thick and thin. Even, as we see, when it places her in danger from Raja’s wrath. We cannot ask more of a friend than what Emma gives, and it is no discredit to Ria that she benefits from the teacher’s compassion. All of us need a friend with a helping hand at times, just as at times we might be called to lend our own hand to another.
I hope this film will become available to a wide audience. It certainly sheds light on a dark practice, one that needs to be stopped if women are ever to win the right to walk side by side with men in this world.
Being an independent film director, Lalit Bhusa thus far has been entering his production in various film festivals around the world. It might be a while before it is available in a theater, on DVD or a streaming platform, so when it is I will post it in my Visual Parables blog. Meanwhile, the film can be shown by an organization or individual via a negotiated license for a meeting. The cost will be determined by the size of the audience—and Mr. Bhusa tells me that if he is available on your date, he would be willing to speak or answer questions via Zoom. (If you’re flush with funds, he is willing to travel from overseas—I think he is currently in the Netherlands—to make a personal appearance.) The 14 questions that will appear with the review in the Oct. issue of Visual Parables can help facilitate a productive meeting.
*For a wealth of facts about FGM and what can be done to combat it, go to Fighting Female Genital Mutilation
This review will be in the October issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.