‘Palestine + 100’: To forget is a sin in these futuristic tales

From virtual reality to extraterrestrial visitors, twelve authors explore what a free Palestine would look like. (Supplied)
Updated 04 November 2019

‘Palestine + 100’: To forget is a sin in these futuristic tales

CHICAGO: The year is 2048 in “Palestine + 100: Stories From a Century After the Nakba” edited by Basma Ghalayini. Twelve authors present their version of Palestine, where bananas grow on the slopes of Ramallah, pineapples flourish in Samaria and where virtual reality seamlessly overlays a desolate life.

Palestinian refugees are “like nomads traveling across a landscape of memory,” writes Ghalayini in her introduction. In 1948, the Nakba saw scores of Palestinian villages and cities destroyed and more than 700,000 Palestinians expelled from their land. As of 2003, it was estimated that 9.6 million descendants lived outside of Palestine and so when Ghalayini writes that for Palestinians “writing is, in part, a search of their lost inheritance, as well as an attempt to keep the memory of that loss from fading,” it is a powerful expression of how storytelling is a tool for preservation.

From virtual reality to extraterrestrial visitors, the twelve authors explore what a free Palestine would look like, or at least the illusion of freedom at the height of digital innovation. Salem Haddad, Majd Kayal, Emad El-Din Aysha, and Abdalmuti Maqbool create parallel words, pushing technological and societal boundaries, where history can be altered, government can be formed virtually and the past can be lived and relived through alternate narratives, but not without a cost.

From Mazen Maarouf comes a superhero and Selma Dabbagh tells of a desperate woman who must sell her kidney for a job. Between Anwar Hamed’s ghosts and Tasnim Abutabikh’s story of a mistaken enemy, each author turns the idea of freedom on its head, questioning the idea of freedom itself. From Rawan Yaghi comes a story of desolate landscapes in which oxygen is in short supply and sedatives are in high demand, and from Samir El-Youssef a story where the study of history is forbidden. Narratives are pushed as Ahmed Masoud explores the possibility of hosting international competitions and Talal Abu Shawish forces communities together when presented with an outside threat.

The story-tellers themselves have a range of perspectives that span over 40 years, from the oldest author in his sixties to the youngest in her twenties. Some have lived in Palestine while others have lived in Palestine through their parents’ or grandparents’ memories. As Samir El-Youssef writes in his short story, “in a country like this, to forget is a sin.”


Film review: Great storytelling makes for fascinating watch in Netflix’s ‘Yeh Ballet’

“Yeh Ballet” is no rags-to-riches story, but one of sheer fortitude and a bit of luck. (Supplied)
Updated 24 February 2020

Film review: Great storytelling makes for fascinating watch in Netflix’s ‘Yeh Ballet’

CHENNAI: Sooni Taraporevala gained immense fame by writing for Mira Nair’s films, such as “The Namesake,” “Mississippi Masala” and the Oscar-nominated “Salaam Bombay.” In 2009, Taraporevala stepped behind the camera to helm a small movie called “Little Zizou” about the Parsi community. It was a hit, and three years ago, she took up the camera again to create a virtual reality short documentary about two boys from Mumbai’s slums who became renowned ballet dancers. 

Taraporevala converted her documentary into a full-length feature, “Yeh Ballet,” for Netflix, and the work, though with a somewhat documentary feel, is fascinating storytelling — a talent we have seen in her writings for Nair. 

Happily, “Yeh Ballet” is no rags-to-riches story (of the kind “Gully Boy” was), but one of sheer fortitude and a bit of luck. The film begins with a breathtaking aerial shot of the Arabian Ocean on whose shores Mumbai stands — an element that points toward the director’s background as a photographer. 

The film chronicles the lives of Nishu and Asif Beg. (Supplied) 

A story inspired by true events, “Yeh Ballet” chronicles the lives of Nishu (Manish Chauhan) and Asif Beg (newcomer Achintya Bose). The two lads are spotted by a ballet master, Saul Aaron (British actor Julian Sands) who, driven away from America because of his religion, lands in a Mumbai dance school.

Nishu and Asif, despite their nimble-footed ballet steps, find their paths paved with the hardest of obstacles. When foreign scholarships from famous ballet academies come calling, they cannot get a visa because they have no bank accounts. And while Asif’s father, dictated by his religion, is dead against the boy’s music and dancing, Nishu’s dad, a taxi driver, feels that his son’s passion is a waste of time and energy.

Well, all this ends well — as we could have guessed — but solid writing and imaginative editing along with Ankur Tewari’s curated music and the original score by Salvage Audio Collective turn “Yeh Ballet” into a gripping tale. It is not an easy task to transform a documentary into fiction, but Taraporevala does it with great ease. Or so it appears. Of course, the two protagonists add more than a silver lining to a movie that will be long remembered — the way we still mull over “Salaam Bombay” or “The Namesake.” But what I missed was a bit more ballet; the two guys are just wonderful to watch as they fly through the air.