Emirati filmmaker Nayla Al-Khaja teams up with Oscar-winning composer AR Rahman for a new film


CANNES: Emirati filmmaker Nayla Al-Khaja has teamed up with multi-award winning Indian composer AR Rahman for her upcoming feature ‘Baab’.

“It means the world to me, I feel like he’s going to do something extremely unique and unprecedented and I have to match that with an image, the language of my camera and to be honest with my work,” said Al-Khaja, herself the winner of multiple awards, told Arab News at the Cannes Film Festival this week.

Rahman – the Oscar-winning, BAFTA, Golden Globe and Grammy-winning composer of more than 145 film scores – will score Al-Khaja’s next feature ‘Baab’, which she describes as her first ‘arthouse’ film “.

Al-Khaja (right) on the set of his short film “The Shadow”. (Provided)

Al-Khaja is widely recognized as the first independent filmmaker in the United Arab Emirates. His previous work includes short films “The Neighbor”, “Malal”, “Animal” and “The Shadow”. She co-wrote “Baab” with Masoud Amralla Al-Ali.

“People like her coming out and blazing a trail for young women is a fantastic thing to do and to be a part of that is legendary,” Rahman said. “BAAB” will be his first project in the Middle East, and he explained why he was immediately drawn to the proposed collaboration.

“For me, I feel like I’m just getting started,” he said. “I feel like this is the first film for me, because she has a whole new vision and she’s from a different place, where I’ve never been before. And I always feel good with a piece clean paper on which nothing is written.

The collaboration was born by chance, Al-Khaja explained, sparked by an impulsive coincidence that led to a dream partnership.


AR Rahman with his two Oscars for “Slumdog Millionaire”. (Provided)

“The truth is (it happened because of) Instagram,” she said. One day – after seeing one of Al-Khaja’s Instagram Stories in which she mentioned Rahman – her driver jokingly told her, “Imagine if, one day, he calls you.

“He just put it out in the universe. It was just a simple remark, but two days later I received a call to arrange a meeting,” Al-Khaja continued.

The couple agree that the best collaborations often spring from these spontaneous connections.

“It was completely unplanned,” Al-Khaja said. “But I don’t want to say it was an accident. He was born from an honest and real place.

Rahman explained what initially attracted him to the production. “I love shades,” he said. “There are open and unexplored parts of working with a filmmaker, which is great.”

He went on to explain his composition process: “By talking to a director, I discover the do’s and don’ts, their inspiration and their level of realism. I do a little research to find sounds, sometimes I use them and sometimes I throw them away. Having it and throwing it away is better than not having it in production,” he said.

Al-Khaja describes the film, which – Variety reported – follows a girl called Wahida as she investigates the mysterious death of her twin sister, as “100% borderline horror and art fantasy”.


Both Al-Khaja and Rahman hope the film will be something special. (Provided)

“It’s hard to define,” she says. “It’s intense. There are scary parts where it’s extremely uncomfortable. I don’t know if I can classify it (entirely) as a horror movie, but we have maybe two or three scenes that exceed this limit. But for the most part, I’d say it’s arthouse fantasy.

One of those “uncomfortable” scenes comes near the end of the film, she explained, where one of the characters is hanging inches from the ceiling.

“She is tied by the arms and legs with a rope. The ceiling almost touches (her face) during the whole scene, then (suddenly) a rope is torn and she hangs for a long time and she breathes against the ceiling, it is calm and then it breaks. It’s right at the end,” Al-Khaja said.

Filming for “BAAB” will begin in Ras Al-Khaimah in March, and Al-Khaja and Rahman hope the film will be something special – not just in terms of script and performance, but with costume design, production and the music .

“We really want to push this as far as possible,” Al-Khaja said.

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