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How “Ghazaal” Director Ragini Bhasin made a film on Global Refugee crisis

‘Ghazaal’ is a film that talks about the absence of basic human necessities that are considered a privilege by women who’re victims of war.”- A statement that can make the audience emotional and feel the pangs of crisis.

A Thesis given to Ragini Bhasin led to the birth of Ghazaal, and we are proud of the outcome. In her statement, she already pointed out that she wanted to tell the story of a young girl and the harsh circumstances she faced. But in this interview let us discuss the challenges and the experiences that this young girl (the director of Ghazaal Ragini Bhasin) had while directing her film Ghazaal. We can surely foresee a strong and successful director.

Cult critic – Your short film, Ghazaal, is about the refugee crisis. You studied Masters In Film Directing from Chapman University. What made you think of taking up such a subject for your thesis? Did you feel like you’d need to bring something unsaid to the world?

Ragini – I have seen a couple of movies on the refugee crisis, mostly documentaries that show the reality of the lives in the camps and how people live in them. Usually the camp seems to be the foreground and the people are in the background. I was always curious to know more about the people, how they cope in such a situation, their psyche and how they interact with one another. Being a woman who experiences very painful periods, I was even more curious to know how women and young girls deal with their periods considering the scarcity of basic feminine hygiene products. I feel that perspective is not something I have seen before, especially not told through the eyes of a young girl.

Cult critic – Can you tell us about some moments that you have spent with the refugees of the Middle East?

Ragini – I volunteered in a couple of refugee camps in Lesvos, Greece for 2 weeks. My tasks were basic and simple- helping little children cross the streets from the camp to the hill where they would get snacks, playing with children for a few hours, picking up trash in the camps and getting trained to rescue refugees coming by boat from Turkey. I remember my first day as a volunteer, I was overwhelmed with the love I received from children who were very excited to meet people living on the other side. Some of them braided my hair everyday and would just sit on my lap and take a nap. It was very heartwarming but also sorrowful at the same time because the kids did not know how they landed up in the camps. They weren’t aware that though they had managed to escape from their war stricken home, they landed up in a camp in a foreign country where they would have to wait for a better life incessantly. In fact the conditions in some of the camps were so bad, that a few of them said that they’d rather go back home.

Despite all this, it was extremely moving to see how they would still manage to put a happy face on and try to make the best of each day. I became friends with a 20 year old girl Shakiba Saedi from Afghanistan who told me her story and how she ended up in the camp. I remember she invited me to her tent one last time before I was leaving. When I entered, her mother had cooked rice, and the tastiest Afghan chicken for me and insisted that I eat as much as I’d like. She also bought a chilled bottle of coke from the monthly allowance the family received. I was so touched by the hospitality, respect and love they had for an absolute stranger. After volunteering at the camp, I changed my script a lot and made the conditions at the camp the antagonist, not any person.

Cult Critic – What was your experience with the lead cast? Can you tell how she came to be the cast?

Ragini – I had a great time working with my lead cast, most of whom where children and non- actors. They were curious, excited and most importantly honest so I tried to help them be themselves in front of the camera and not get conscious. It got a bit tricky when some of them didn’t speak the same language as I did and I would take another kid’s help in translation. For such moments, I would sometimes enact the scene for them to make them understand. I hired a casting director who coordinated with an Afghan actor who knew a number of Afghan refugees settled in Delhi. Most of them had no training or experience, which wasn’t a precondition for me.

Cult critic – Were the people in the boat real refugees?

Ragini – Yes, they were real refugees settled in New Delhi from Afghanistan.

Cult Critic – Why did you choose Ghazaal as the title of your film?

Ragini – The protagonist of the film is named Ghazaal, which is the actor’s real name. Filmmaking can be an intimidating process for newcomers and since she was a non- actor I wanted her to feel like she was not acting but just being herself. I feel subconsciously it helped her because she did not have to pretend to be someone else each time we rolled the camera. Moreover, I really like the name Ghazaal as it means ‘swift’ in English, a character trait that the protagonist exhibits and showcases throughout the film. It also has a very pleasant ring to it.

Cult Critic – You deal with the feelings of what it’s like to leave everything behind. Have you spoken on this topic when you met Afghan refugees settled in New Delhi or refugee camps in Lesvos, Greece?

Ragini – Yes, I did. It was really eye opening to see how almost every refugee I met went through such a difficult phase in their lives yet they manage to celebrate small moments and stay positive. I learnt so much from them, their outlook towards life is very positive. Though they mourn their loss of loved ones, of their land, their lifestyle, their homes, etc. they still believe in living in the moment. They’re very forward thinking and make conscious efforts to remain happy. Despite, being an outsider they shared a lot of personal stories with me without any filter. I think it could be a trait of people from the middle east. They’re very honest about their emotions and wear their hearts on their sleeves. It’s so inspiring, I wish I could become more like them.

Cult Critic – The audience has a very intense relationship with the Lead cast, which is your intent. Do you ever felt that there could be something more that you could highlight in this film?

Ragini – YES, definitely. It’s difficult for me to watch the movie again because I feel I could have made it so much better. I should have highlighted her relation with her brother more. I should have even shown how she interacts with strangers in the beginning and established her as a character with a kind heart who is compelled to steal and cheat people because of her circumstances. I think the smile at the end would have seemed more earned if I did that.

Cult Critic – Your portrayal of feminine hygiene in the film is noteworthy. Take us through why you plan to highlight female hygiene here?

Ragini – Female hygiene is a topic that is considered a taboo in almost every part of the world and that disturbs me. In fact recently I was talking to my friend who told me that In his school when the subject of menstruation came up in their biology books the teacher asked the boys to leave the class as she wished to only talk to girls about it. I find this behavior atrocious and regressive. It is MANDATORY for young girls and boys to know about menstruation and not shy away from a natural process. If I have managed to change even one person’s mindset about periods I would consider that to be a victory. I was very conscious of showing blood in the film because I didn’t want to shy away from the reality.

Cult Critic – What was it like for them leaving their house?

Ragini –  It was very difficult and traumatic for them. It’s almost unimaginable to me. Being a survivor of war takes such a toll on you mentally, it’s difficult to fathom. It’s so inspiring to see how the refugees accept their lives and try to normalize it in their heads. The family I portrayed in the film are a family in real life as well. They showed pictures of their house in Herat with a beautiful view of the mountains. They had such a beautiful home, so green and lush where it snowed in the winter every year.

Cult Critic – After watching this film, I truly believe cinema can drive the rescue boat of universal consciousness; how do you think that the refugees can be helped?

Ragini – I think first and foremost the host countries should provide enough resources to the refugees to be able to lead healthy, proper lives. They’ve seen the worst of humanity so expecting them to be normal once they set foot in another country is impossible. They should be given psychiatric treatment or therapy that can help them to cope. Organizations that run the camps, be it UNHCR or independent organizations should make conscious efforts to help community building. Refugees come from different parts of the world and there are a lot inner conflicts amongst them as well. There should be efforts put into maintaining peace at the camp. I think it’s important to encourage children to go to school and learn the native language of the host country but at the same time preserve their culture and language. I wish the host countries are also given enough resources that they can set the refugees up for success.


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