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Khoj review: Zara Khan pulls off Kajri Babbar’s heart-wrenching movie like a natural

The last day of the Kala Ghoda Art festival in Mumbai saw the screening of the short film Khoj, written and directed by Kajri Babbar, featuring Zara Khan, (earlier known as Sasha Agha Khan, who is the daughter of actress-singer Salma Agha), at the Prince of Wales Museum

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Khoj was shortlisted in the Best Student Film category on the Academy Awards list, reaching the semi-finals at the Oscars. It even premiered at the Cannes festival. However, this was the first showcasing in India. The screening opened with Purdah, Kajri Babbar’s first year film, which was a stark and screaming comment on the indignity and inequality women face in society. It told the story of a young Indian (Muslim) girl, a student in the UK, trying to make a living under the harshest emotional conditions. It showed the desperation she is driven to, in the face of sheer cruelty and chauvinism by a scheming male house-owner.  It was a heartbreaking story, portrayed well, despite amateur handling, leaving you with much food for thought.

What it’s about: Khoj, Kajri’s final year film (she studied filmmaking at the University of Bournemouth in the UK) told the tale of a young bride (look for the term Holiday Brides- a common occurrence even today), who is abandoned post the wedding by her NRI groom. Khoj is the story of this young girl travelling to the UK to find the man who married and deserted her a few days after. It traces her lone and traumatic battle, her female allies in the UK, and her victory at the end of the unhappy journey. The cast comprised Zara Khan, Amrit Pal Singh, Navinder Bhatti, Hassan Khan and several others.

Yay: Zara Khan as the lost, young bride brought a maturity and pathos beyond her years to the character of Gurpreet, a small-town Punjabi girl. In a completely deglamourised avatar, the pretty actress was even left devoid of a smile to enhance her looks. But she played the role to the hilt. The meek submission, the dumb ignorance and blind trust, the determined journey to seek acceptance, and when that didn’t come, justice and retribution, the rebellious anger in her fight to escape her trap. Zara played it all out like a natural.

The film ended on a note of hope, when Gurpreet, now free of the sham of her marriage, decides to enroll herself in college. Kajri’s treatment of the story obviously reflected her growth since Purdah. It is difficult to capture so much in so little time. But she did so effectively, creating an impactful film, which should shame perpetrators of such malicious and criminal intent.  Special mention should be made about the detailing of the costumes (costume supervisor- Catie Louise Matheson) and the set design (Production Design- Bene Gibson). Both were on point, lending much credibility to this little but Herculean effort.

Zara Khan had debuted in 2013 with Yash Raj Films’ Aurangazeb, which unfortunately did nothing for the lass in terms of a career. People should watch this film, take notice of her keen talent afresh. It is heartening to know that issues like these are a matter of concern for youngsters like Kajri. She has wanted to make a difference and has put all heart into telling the story.

Nay: The downside is the fact that films like this do not merit theatrical releases and bigger platforms for public consumption. Khoj will not have a theatrical release. But it has been picked up and released on Zee 5, for viewing on the OTT platform.

Cine Blitz Verdict: Films like Khoj and talents like Zara Khan and Kajri Babbar need to be encouraged. They are the voice of our society today, and for tomorrow.

Rating: 2.5 stars

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