In Focus: ‘Taaza Khoon’ – a short film about longing & belonging, by Richa Rudola

When a young girl is forced into the sex trade in a foreign land, she must choose her path to freedom somehow. And her path to freedom is at the crossroads with another entity – an unexpected one at that. In this award-winning 8 minute film about longing, belonging and betrayal, Richa Rudola brings to life two wonderful characters that are not just unconventional, but equally improbable.

Taaza Khoon – fresh blood, Richa says, was inspired after watching Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Only Lovers Left Alive.’ Though it is a very short film, it has indeed been successful in portraying unique characterisation of the protagonists, along with unassuming metaphors augmenting the story.

Mild spoilers ahead

South Asian Vampire with a heart

The film opens with a lonely man sitting by a pond, seemingly shaken and pale – and stays on him for a good long time while a lullaby plays in the background. Is he cold? Is he hungry? Is he just lonely looking for comfort? The film follows him as he sets off looking for something in bizarre places, like the dumpster. A laudable mention of the Director’s choice to employ a used sanitary pad to establish the man’s character, who the audience now suspect to be some vampire, is due. A trope that is often misrepresented, almost cringeworthy to many, is shown to be a source of redemption to a man – I find this to be drawing a parallel to our lopsided societal setup. Vampires mean blood – even if it is menstrual blood – and this vampire seems a lot more human all of the humanity.

The sensitivity/ vulnerability in him means that he can’t go on about the night, or hurt a human for that matter. On the contrary, he seems to help the young girl with his coat when he spots her abandoned by her ‘madame’ in the dumpster.

It is very interesting how the two of them seem to form an instant bond. The support she could not get from a father who left her to a dehumanising trade for money, and a ‘madame’ who is anything but friendly, is available aplenty in the stranger she bumps into.

The serpentine racket of sex trafficking

One is not oblivious to the practice of having young girls ‘sold’ to pimps for prostitution. And what’s worse is this is done at an age where they neither have a say nor do they have a support system to escape its clutches if they so earnestly want to. The plight of the protagonist being admonished by the ‘madame’ with the allegation of betrayal despite her claim to have ‘taken care of her’ is a horror too real to not outrage. Therefore the film’s end (read below) makes sense to me.

Music

A chilling lullaby that plays ominously in the beginning, and quite comfortingly, in the end, is the only source of BGM in the film. It is sung with a hint of melancholy that leaves it ringing in your head for a while.

Freeing oneself by becoming a martyr, or avenge the tyranny?

The young girl seems to have ‘figured out’ about the man, that her brother had taught her how to identify them so she could run away. And she allows herself to be ‘taken’ by him because she finally wants to ‘run away.’

It is interesting how when I, with my Indian sensibilities looked into the ending (the ‘running away’) from an apathy and a pathos angle – but when Richa screened the film to the western audience they instantly took to believing she wants to avenge for her misfortunes. While both seem like plausible endings, it is pleasurable to leave that open-ended too. When I asked Richa about it, she said:

“I left it open-ended because it mattered more to me that she did it versus why she did it. I knew the audience would interpret their own version of the story. To me, this girl’s life has been one of the various horrors, one of the key ones being that she has never made any of her own decisions. At the end of the film, she gets a chance to take matters into her own hands. What are her motivations? I think she knows best, but it has been interesting to observe audiences’ reactions. The lead actress of the film, Nashwa Zaman, interpreted the girl’s motivation to be about becoming a vampire in order to avenge the wrongs done to her. Many audience members took this away too. Regardless of whether it’s a self-induced honor killing or a metaphor for the crushing grips of capitalism or a form of exacting revenge, my intention for writing this story was to empower the girl to make her own decisions. Too often women in South Asia live their entire lives on someone else’s terms. Having grown up in India, I understand how easily this can happen. It can be a real struggle to stand on your own. My hope is viewers see the ending as a form of empowerment as well.”

Screenings and details about the film:

The film is now being screened in New York City at the Chelsea Fashion & Film Festival, Holy Apostles Theater, Friday, December 8, 2017, @6pm. You can get in touch with Richa in here, or via the film’s website if you would like to catch the upcoming screening or host one yourself. Social media: Facebook, Instagram

Here’s the trailer for the film:

‘WMF In Focus’ features films made by a woman, or one that has a predominantly female crew. Have you made a film that fits this bill? Holler us at contactwmfindia@gmail.com – we would love to showcase you and your work with WMF’s wonderful worldwide community. (Films/web series/music videos/animation can be of any length, genre or type)