Set in the streets of Lahore, Sitara is a story about Pari, a fourteen-year-old girl. Released on Netflix this International Women’s Day, the short 15-minute film puts forth the grave issue of child marriage through the eyes of a six-year-old Mehr, Pari’s younger sister. It explores the patriarchal nature of society and how norms dictate lives and families.
Sitara: Let Girls Dream
Director: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
The film opens on a rooftop where the sisters play with paper aeroplanes. Both of them hope to become pilots, they imagine themselves flying in an aircraft and read about Amelia Earhart. As the family heads for lunch, the father presents Pari with an ornate slipper, post which the mother sends the children into their rooms and the parents are shown in an argument.
An important scene plays where the mother walks in with henna and picks Pari’s book about Amelia Earhart and keeps it aside to put the henna on her palms. Her taking the book and keeping it almost out of sight is symbolic of Pari giving up her dream in the face of child marriage. Pari is then dressed up in bridal clothing, while her brother frowns and her sister stares, unable to grasp the concept entirely. At the wedding, the groom is visibly significantly older than Pari. Mehr cries, holding her elder sister as the night comes to an end, both of them with teary eyes salute each other as they did while pretending to be pilots in their games. Pari leaves behind a paper aeroplane on the sofa at the wedding, another symbol of her leaving behind her dreams.
reminding the viewers that even when dressed in crimson, the young girl does not look like a bride but a confused and sad child.
The short film tackles the issue with no dialogue, but just music and expressions. Each frame is intricately designed and placed in the South Asian aesthetic. Few short moments like a newspaper plane on the shelf with ‘husband happy’ printed on it and the father looking at the photograph of his own wedding day with his much younger bride, act as reminders of the sad truth of child marriages. Sitara manages to bring to the forefront the problem in a fairly soft manner, some may say the directors dodge the harsh realities of child marriage and the aftermath of violent implications on young lives. Yet, maybe the method chosen is one seeking to evoke empathy with the common idea of ‘dreams’ which is something that all people can relate to.
Within a few minutes, the film makes you adore the sisters and their childlike innocence. Obaid-Chinoy, the two time Oscar winning director, has done a great job of consistently reminding the viewers that even when dressed in crimson, the young girl does not look like a bride but a confused and sad child. That mixed with the idea of children’s aspirations being crushed would bring anyone to tears.
Post the wedding, the rest of the family is shown angry at the father, they seemingly place the blame on him for Pari’s wedding, which is adequate. But, during the credits we see another story chart out on the left-hand side, wherein Mehr manages to achieve her dream with the help of her family especially her father. Although it is understandable for Pari’s wedding acting as a wake-up call for the father, I cannot help but feel that the show of his support to Mehr in a way absolves him of having had Pari married off. Yet, the hopeful message of one of the sisters achieving her dreams and the breaking of a clear cycle is refreshing and welcome!
The film also encompasses the reflections of a patriarchal society in a five-member family, with the girls straightening their backs at the sight of their father and the brother staying by his father’s side (up until the end where he walks over to his mother and sister). Sitara has a beautiful representation of South Asian characters, culture, and spaces. Given that not many globally famous animated films placed in the said geographical area exist, Sitara manages to check the box of being representative and helping young children see characters much like themselves on their screens. The team behind Sitara struggled with technical issues of systems and hardware and a lack of animators in Pakistan. Yet, they were able to put forth a bright and expressive film.
A UNICEF report shows 15,509,000 as the absolute number of child brides in India, the highest in the world.
A UNICEF report shows 15,509,000 as the absolute number of child brides in India, the highest in the world. South Asian culture has always had a narrative of considering daughters as liabilities. For many, child marriage is not a jarring concept but one which has been normalised to a point that one views it as their duty. Even in the film, the father seems to be confused as to what wrong he has done and appears to be sure in his resolve of getting his daughter married, he even goes to the extent of bringing home sweets. The film ends with ‘Around the world every year, the dreams of 12 million child brides will never take flight.’ Child marriage is a worldwide issue, with appalling numbers. Conversations surrounding the education of girl child and the problems of child marriage need to find their way into every household’s discussions.
Sitara with the ‘universal’ language of animation and no dialogue helps percolate the message to the masses, pressing exactly the buttons needed to push for a conversation.
Featured Image Source: Images Dawn