Filmmaker Ragini Bhasin on her award winning short film Ghazaal
Ragini Bhasin is a 25-year old filmmaker from New Delhi currently based in LA. She works as a director for the media company called Jubilee Media. Her short film, Ghazaal is about a 13-year-old Afghan refugee who hustles around in a refugee camp when she experiences her period. It is a slice of life film that has played over 20 festivals worldwide. We have conducted a short interview with Ragini.
Who is the main character in your short film 'Ghazaal' and why is that the title of the film? What is the main theme of this film?
The main character in my short film is a 13-year-old Afghan refugee who lives with her father and brother in a small tent in a Turkish refugee camp. She is named Ghazaal, which is the actor’s real name as well. Filmmaking can be an intimidating process for newcomers and since my lead was a non-actor I wanted her to feel like she was not acting but just being herself. I feel subconsciously it helped her because she did not have to pretend to be someone else each time we rolled the camera. Moreover, I really like the name Ghazaal as it means ‘swift’ in English, a character trait that the protagonist exhibits throughout the film, so I decided to keep that as the title.
I'd say this is a coming of age story where the lead character has to navigate through this new world she has landed up in while simultaneously dealing with her monthly period. In a world where basic necessities turn into luxuries, she makes ends meet by hustling around.
Where did you get your inspiration to make this film?
I have always wondered why a natural process like menstruation is considered a taboo by people all over the world. Why do we women say 'stomach cramps' instead of 'period cramps' when we experience unbearable pain and why do we have to hide our sanitary napkins or tampons when we go to the washroom? This concept of whispering and being secretive when talking about periods has always bothered me and I love to challenge such norms set by the society. I find this behavior regressive. It is MANDATORY for young girls and boys to know about menstruation and not shy away from a natural process. So I thought to myself, nothing like turning this into a film and getting intimate with a character who goes through such an experience. I was very conscious of showing blood in the film because I didn’t want to shy away from reality. If I have managed to change even one person’s mindset about periods I would consider that to be a victory.
What was an important element in the film-making process?
I think an important element in the film-making process for this specific film is to tell this story visually with less dialogue. The lead character in the film is a lone wolf who is by herself on this journey and lives in a camp where everyone, barring her family is a stranger to her. It wouldn't make sense to fill the film with too much dialogue, especially not expository. Therefore we tried our best to make a film where you follow the character on her journey and as an audience actively participate to connect the dots and draw the narrative. We were also able to do that because of a wonderful production design team that successfully built the camp from scratch and made it seem so realistic. They hadn't been to a refugee camp before but got an idea from the stories I told them and doing hours of research online. I think the film would have fallen flat had the camp looked unrealistic.
What was your experience with the lead cast? Can you tell how she came to be the cast?
I had a great time working with my lead cast, most of whom where children and non-actors. They were curious, excited, and most importantly honest so I tried to help them be themselves in front of the camera and not get conscious. It got a bit tricky when some of them didn’t speak the same language as I did and I would take another kid’s help in translation. For such moments, I would sometimes enact the scene for them to make them understand. I hired a casting director who coordinated with an Afghan actor who knew a number of Afghan refugees settled in Delhi. Most of them had no training or experience, which wasn’t a precondition for me.
When you face a challenge, how do you overcome it? What inspires you to do better each time?
Film-making is decision making and I really go by my intuition while doing so, not so much by practicality. It's not that I am delusional while making decisions but I enjoy taking risks, even if they're not the most calculated ones. For example, I was told by a lot of people to not make the film in India as most of my crew was American and Chinese but I was certain that if we're not able to make the film in an actual refugee camp, then India is the best place to shoot it. It was a risk that paid off really well.
So in situations when I face a challenge, I usually break it down to figure out the solution and then intuitively choose whatever feels right.
I think what inspires me to do better each time is the fact that I am never content with what I make. I always feel I can do better. The only scene that I am content with, out of all of the films I have made so far, is the one in which Ghazaal sells her sock to the boys. I gloat over that scene each time I watch it. I feel it works on every level. But except for that one, I always feel I could have done a better job as a director. The willingness to get better inspires me each time but sometimes I wish that I keep raising my standards and never reach there because I don't know what will inspire me after I get to that level.
How does it feel to be awarded the South Dakota film festival award- Best international short film, USA, Best short film at Calcutta Cult International film festival and to win the ARTE channel award where you sold your film for a whopping 6,000 euros?
I feel lucky to have won these awards but I do feel that it's not the best short film out there or even the best short film dealing with this subject matter. I think it comes down to taste and probably the judges of these festivals have a taste similar to mine which I am really grateful for. I think I have a long long way to go and this is just the starting.
The film's website: https://www.ghazaalthemovie.com