What a simple yet inspirational film this was!
The first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, that too by a female Saudi director in her debut film: Wadjda (2012). It was about a little girl who wants to buy a cycle and race with it against her neighbour’s boy. In a conservative society like Saudi, this was not so easy. The film traces her journey.
Wadjda is a 10-year girl living in Riyadh with her mother who works in a school that requires a long commute and her father visits them once in a while. She is friends with a boy named Abdullah of the same age next door. Abdullah has a nice bicycle that he rides everywhere. Seeing his bike, Wadjda wants one, but her mother refuses to get her own, as no girl in Saudi rides a cycle. Wadjda starts dreaming of buying and starts saving money for the same. Did she succeed in her dream is the story?
Though the story is about Wadjda and the bicycle, it is actually a metaphor to show the aspiration of women living in Saudi, a patriarchal society. The restrictions that are placed on women from their childhood even inside their school campus is unfathomable for outsiders – for example, their headmistress instructs the girls not to laugh loudly so that the men outside shouldn’t be able to hear them; the girls are asked to go inside and not play in the playground when men are working on the terrace next door to the school.
Like in the other countries in the region, Wadjda’s grandma wants to get her father married to a second wife so that she can have a grandson – on the pretext of Wadjda’s mother was incapable of having a son. Women are not allowed to drive on their own (the law was finally changed to allow them to drive in 2019), so Wadjda’s mother is at the receiving end of their male driver who is rude to her always.
The film has many small moments which were wonderful and touching. To earn money Wadjda makes mixtapes of songs, coloured bracelets of football teams, and even accepts small bribes for passing around messages. When she cries in one scene, Abdullah offers her 5 Riyals to stop crying. Aristocrats exert enormous power in Saudi which is seen when little Abdullah deftly throws a warning about his immigration status and the rude driver falls in line to start being nice to Wadjda’s mother.
The climax was sweet and sad at the same time, a befitting finale for the film. A big congratulations to Waad Mohammed who has given a stellar performance as Wadjda.
It is available on Netflix. Don’t miss it, but remember it is not fast-paced or laced with action like in mainstream cinema. It gets a mangoidiots rating of ‘Delicious’, a point higher due to it being the first one from Saudi.