‘Soni:’ A placid attempt at highlighting violence against women

The horrific case of Nirbhaya brought into sharp focus the crimes against women in Delhi. (Screen shot)
Updated 12 September 2018
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‘Soni:’ A placid attempt at highlighting violence against women

VENICE: The horrific case of Nirbhaya — a young medical intern who was raped on a moving bus in 2012 — brought into sharp focus the crimes against women in Delhi. Ivan Ayr’s “Soni” plays on its after-effects as two female police officers show us what it takes to keep the streets of the city safe at night.

Screened at the Venice film festival, “Soni” is a no-nonsense movie about a young policewoman by the same name (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan) and her boss, Kalpana (Saloni Batra). Together, they scout the streets of Delhi to prevent rape and other acts against women. In a highly male-dominated, patriarchal society, theirs is no easy task.

Ayr’s narrative relies on the simple complexities of a young female cop whose married life is in shambles, but whose passion and dedication toward her profession continues to remain strong.

And while “Soni” could have succumbed to exaggerations and unnecessary dramatic turns, Ayr stops himself short of falling into this trap.

That doesn’t mean the movie is not flawed in any way. The protagonist has a mercurial temper and is not forgiving. When her estranged husband arrives home to surprise her, Soni is cold, distant and hostile even as he begs her for a second chance.

Outside the home, her temper gets her into a slew of troubles. In one of the early scenes of the film, as she cycles through Delhi on a cold night, she is harassed by a man. Something snaps in her, and, in a fit of rage, she unleashes her wrath on him, eventually landing him in hospital. The incident puts Kalpana to shame, forcing her to question whether Soni needed to “have hit him so hard that he had to be rushed to hospital.”

Ayr walks us through several such confrontationist situations, where Kalpana is at her wit’s end trying to help Soni curb her temper.

But even that does little to temper the film — while it has its emotional high points, it runs a mostly placid course otherwise.


Cirque du Soleil in Saudi Arabia: The perfect tribute to a rich culture

Updated 25 September 2018
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Cirque du Soleil in Saudi Arabia: The perfect tribute to a rich culture

  • Cirque du Soleil created a spectacular show in Riyadh
  • They paid tribute to Saudi culture and heritage

RIYADH: The circus — a place that is almost synonymous with joy and delight. Since time immemorial, circuses have been places of celebration and glee, and few as much as the premier name in the industry: Cirque du Soleil.

The show has had a devoted fan in me since 2006, when I attended a performance of their production “Quidam” and my definition of the word “circus” was turned upside-down. Their unique approach to art, performance, costumes and music has secured their status as a household name and a benchmark for all other circus shows to be measured against.

On Sunday night, Saudi Arabia’s National Day, the circus brought their incredible acrobatics to Riyadh’s King Fahad Stadium and it turned out to be a night to remember.



Prior to the event, Cirque’s Vice President of Creation Daniel Fortin offered little in the way of spoilers but hinted that we would see something the likes of which we never had before. With the promises of exclusive new acts, music, costumes and stage tricks piquing my excitement, I joined a throng of green-and white-clad spectators flooding the stadium. Performing to a sold-out crowd, the show kicked off at exactly 8.30 p.m. and the magic truly began.

Barely five minutes into the show, something stole over me as I settled into the rhythm of the music, something I saw flickering over the faces of those in the crowd around me: Recognition. We were seeing ourselves, our identity, echoed back at us, but with a twist. We saw ourselves through someone else’s eyes — someone respectful and admiring.



As a Saudi youth today, it has become an unfortunately common occurrence to face negativity from various outsiders, born of ignorance or fear. It has become dreary and repetitive to have to continually defend my people and my culture from those who have no wish to understand us.

But at this show? I saw my country once more through the eyes of an outsider, but this time, it was different. I saw my culture and my heritage lauded, celebrated, delicately fused with that tangible Cirque du Soleil flair. The attention to detail was careful, almost loving, but also daring and outlandish. It was a glorious fusion of classic Saudi aesthetics with the ethereal, bizarre beauty of Cirque du Soleil.


The symbolism was not always obvious, sometimes it was subtle, constrained to the beat of a drum or hidden in a snatch of song. Other times, it was blatant and bold, in the sloping hump of an elegantly clumsy camel costume, or the billowing of the Bedouin Big Top in the gentle breeze. And yet, unmistakeably, I felt the Saudi influences in every note of the performance. It felt like an homage, and yet it did nothing to diminish its own identity. It remained unquestionably a Cirque du Soleil performance, only below the usual circus frippery, there was a ribbon of something else that lay coiled beneath the surface. Something bright, vibrant green. Saudi green.

The spectacle rounded off with an astonishing display of fireworks, so plentiful that for a moment, the sky glowed bright as day. To me, each one felt like a promise fulfilled. A dream achieved. A miracle witnessed. Here, on my own home soil, it was the perfect tribute to a rich and vivid culture.