Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Banat Wist El Balad (Downtown Girls), Egypt, 2005


Mohamed Khan-directed Banat Wist El Balad or Downtown Girls is one of the most impressive films shown at the Osian Cine Fan's 8th Asian Film Festival at Siri Fort in New Delhi on July 19. Shown as part of the Arabesque section, it tells in an engaging fashion the story of Yasmine and Jumana, who travel on the Cairo Metro to their workplace. Yasmine works as a hairdresser, and Jumana is a shop-assistant. Their encounter with the two men, one of whom is a playboy and the other is a chef, changes their lives.
Meanwhile we get to know about their own backgrounds. Jumana comes from a genteel family fallen on bad days. Yasmine's father is a train-driver, who has a second family. The daughter knows about it, but does not carp about it. And the father explains to the daughter. A man, he says, follows the woman to the ends of the earth if she lays her hand on his shoulder. It has nothing to do with sex, he says.
Yasmine's younger brother tries to play the man-about-the-house, when he throws up a fit over the contents of Yasmine's handbag -- lipstick et al. Yasmine is shocked and distressed. She confides in Jumana that she felt naked when her brother overturned the contents of her bag, and felt that she was nothing. But the direct does not press the issue in a poloemical way. Yasmine tells her brother that she has been working ever since he was a kid. That night she sleeps at the shop. And as a compensatory and defiant act, she cuts her hair. Her brother rushes to the shop the next morning, and tells how much the family was worried. And he explains himself to Yasmine: You are too trusting, and the world is wicked. When he is about to leave the shop, Yasmine asks him to give her a kiss. It is a beautifully executed emotional resolution to the confrontation between brother and sister.
Yasmine and Jumana have a bitter fallout at one point as it happens among friends, especially women. But they soom make up. Yasmine gets married to the sensitive chef. Jumana goes on to become an airhostess. Yasmine and Jumana remain friends, and recall their days when they travelled on the Metro and lived in the suburbs.
After seeing this movie,one wonders as to why India's festival circuit film directors cannot make a simple film like Banat Wist El Balad. The virtue of this film is that screenplay writers, Wissam Suleiman and Mohamed Khan, avoid polemics. A film must tell a good story, and the audience takes care of the implied arguments. That is what happens with this Mohamed Khan film.

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