Sitara: Let Girls Dream is a fairly effective – if not life-affirmative – short, that combats hard to overcome its tonal shortcomings by trying to pass on an important and competent message. Sadly, neither the intentions nor the message solely shoulder a film, regardless of how dire the need is to tell a particular story if the film falls short on the cinematic front. Sitara is a far better intended film; the end product, however, is miles away from the ‘good’ that is evident in its intentions.
The choices, both narrative and creative, are bold. To tell the story of a 14-year old Pakistani girl forced into child marriage, through animation might not be the conventional preference. But it aids as an acting filter of the grim reality, and makes the film feel lighter than it actually is. Perhaps that’s a reason the film feels diluted. For all one knows, the film should have been a punch in the gut, or a slap on the cheek, at the least. Nevertheless, it’s a brave choice to opt for animation.
Personally, I have an inclination towards well written opening scenes. They establish the fundamental rules of the film. The character arcs begin to draw, and the best of these scenes wrap the absolute lifeblood of the characters the story is about. For instance, the opening moments of this year’s Oscar winning live-action short, The Neighbor’s Window, set the entire platter ready by spelling out the underlying conflict and character motivations. The film builds on from there. Likewise, the opening scene of Sitara is highly potent. It’s funny that I’m using the word potent, a word often associated with masculinity, to describe the opening scene of the film whose protagonist is a victim of this potency.
14-year old Pari and her 6-year old sister, Mehr, make a paper plane and fly it from their rooftop. As the paper takes flight, the delighted girls watch in joy till the paper plane flies all the way down the street until it is crashes after hitting their father. The girls are shocked. It’s simple; their dreams of flying are crushed down by their father, the ‘man’ of the house. From that point, Pari’s life goes down: she takes the stairs, a symbol, to come down. When the father enters, he is accompanied by his son, the girls’ elder brother. There’s tension in the house. We hardly find any tenderness between the father and the girls. A symbol of dominance, the father is huge in size. Almost triple the mother and exponentially higher than the youngest one. It’s clear that the kids don’t stand a chance. As the inevitable happens, the sense of intended redundancy wafts. Mehr notices her parents’ picture from their marriage, and is shocked as she finds a young mother while the father appears the same. It’s a shattering shot. A prevailing circumstance that keeps happening on and on. Pari currently stands where her mother stood years ago. The helplessness is addressed without actually being spoken aloud. But the impact, though, lacks the adequate jolt.
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy crafts a film that is not cinematically perfect, but as a story, it represents millions of such girls whose voices are silenced. Perhaps, that’s why it’s a silent film.
That brings me to the point: For a young girl watching this in Pakistan, if the film suffuses her life with positivity, the reviews, irrespective of their artistic judgement, are of no vaule in reality. I sincerely hope it does.
Watch the film’s making, which by itself is inspiring: