Film Review: HAZAAR RUPAYE KI BIRIANI: A STRIKING SHORT FILM BY NASRINA KHAN
Noted Indian film scholar and author, Dr Shoma A. Chatterji writes that It is really difficult to make a soft, subtle and tender film on child abuse. But Nasrina has done it and yet is brutal when the actual scene of revenge is shown.
It is tough making a short film on a brutally cruel subject specially focused on the mother of a little girl who is a rape victim.But Nasrina Khan has done it through her 15-minute short film Hazaar Rupaye Ki Biriani. Who is Nasrina Khan? She is an Indian Indie Filmmaker who has directed four short films along with several videos till date. Her debut film Sunoyona: The Beautiful Eyes was premiered at Kolkata International Film Festival and awarded at International Film & Entertainment Festival Australia for Best Director in Women Empowerment Film and nominated at the Cannes Festival International Du Court Marches sur le thème Du Handicap-2016.
Says Nasrina, “This film was about the struggle of a visually impaired girl while my second film, Ekti Ojana Golpo (An Unknown Story) was about an elderly man who is witness to post-partition effects in a border-side village of Bengal. The film tried to state that the impact of Partition was neither momentary nor temporary as till today, people from either side of the border are suffering from the impact,” says Nasrina. Her third film Chicken Tihari, was a rhythmic portrayal of a day in the life of Amna, a middle-aged home maker who finds joy in reading and cooking.
Hazaar Rupaye Ki Biriani is her fourth film. Though she is basically a Kolkata person, she currently lives in Mumbai as it is the centre of every kind of filmmaking in the country.
Image: filmmaker Nasrina Khan
Responding to the question, what motivated her to make the film, Nasrina says, “Thousand Rupees Biriani is about the pain of a mother when she discovers that her little girl of nine is raped by a known neighbor. Theirs is a small family living in an Indian village comprised of the husband, Habib, his wife, Yasmin, and their three kids, Matin, Amina and Sakina. I believe that a film should have a message even if it is a completely commercial film. So, when I read the story Hazaar Takar Biryani (Bengali) written by my sister Nafisa, I planned to adapt it on screen as the story was inspired by a true incident. I usually pick references from her real-life cases as she is a lawyer who started writing during lockdown.”
The film opens in a village compound with a hut-like contraption with tiled roofs at the back while we see Yasmin is preparing an earthen oven with red wet earth to cook a huge pot of biriani but no one knows why. They are very poor so biriani is something the family can ill afford and the children are curious because the time and space do not throw up any reason for cooking biriani.
Image: film still
The film was shot at Shaphale, a village in Maharashtra which provides just the right backdrop for the story of a poor Muslim family where the mother knows how and when to assert her voice. After finishing the cooking, to their neighbour, Abbas. The narrative of the film slowly unfolds the reason for Yasmin’s strange behavioural pattern post-rape of Sakina, the youngest kid of the family. Her husband is out of a job because of the pandemic.
Nasrina says, “Child rape is still a serious issue in South-Asian societies where most of the rape was done by a relative or someone known and most of the cases remain unreported because of social stigma and taboos. That does not mean that the family does not suffer from the pain. I tried to depict the post rape suffering of the family in a gentle way.” And this is borne out in the narrative and stylistic treatment of the film. You do not see rape being committed. You are not given any glimpse of any discussion on the rape but the focus is just on the preparation of the biriani. There is no media hype as anyone hardly knows what happened as it happened very recently.
Not to give away spoilers, one can say that the film ultimately zeroes in on the kind of revenge Yasmin plans and executes for the rapist herself as she does not seem to have any faith in the law and order system in the country working for justice for the poor and the needy like they are.
Image: film still
Despite the fact that the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data having shown a rise of 45 per cent in cases of alleged child rape – 12,363 cases were reported in 2013 as compared to 8,541 in 2012 – many families either remain ignorant or are resigned to the threats their children are exposed to, especially in school.
According to a UNICEF Report, maximum reported cases of sexual offences against children in the world occur in India (four lakh cases yearly),. A majority of such offences are not even reported, let alone prosecuted. Still India has no specific law to cover all shades of Child Sexual Abuse. The latest report released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that 1,49,404 cases of crime against children were registered in 2021 of which 53,874 — 36.05 per cent — were under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO).
Nasrina uses the Islamic ritual of Qurbani for Yasmin to execute her revenge. What is Qurbani? Nasrina explains: “Actually, the practice is called "Qurbani" in Islam. I just took the “Qurbani’ as reference and used it as a metaphor. “Qurbani” is the practice of sacrificing an animal for Allah. It is said that one should take care and feed the animal well before sacrificing. There was little difference between Qurbani in real life and Hazaar Rupaye Ki Biriani which is the cost incurred by Yasmin to prepare it. In real life, one needs to sacrifice his/her beloved animal (though the practice evolved with time) and in Hazaar Rupaye Ki Biriani the sacrifice happened to protect the beloved one.”
The little girl Sakina, who cannot understand what has happened to her, why and only experiences severe pain, has given a magnificent performance in a brief role and Nasreena has not focused much on her. The camera also dwells for some moments on the faces of her older siblings who are afraid, confused and puzzled about their little sister’s condition and the ambience of the home after Sakina and Yasmin return from the hospital enhances their fear. The husband is also pained but is not able to convince Yasmin otherwise. Elavali Khanna has given herself a complete makeover and has performed very well as have the rest of the cast. Yasmin says that she did not prep her actors specially but told them to act naturally. The music, based on string instruments is built around a sad mood but the film itself is not very sad. It is simple and sometimes, one can hear the twitter of birds puncturing the explosive silence of the subject – child rape.
It is really difficult to make a soft, subtle and tender film on child abuse. But Nasrina has done it and yet is brutal when the actual scene of revenge is shown. This film also extends itself to portray the inner and outer strength of a young woman who is also a mother who can go to any extent to try and correct the wrong done to her kid in her own way.