Nayla Al Khaja, the first female filmmaker in the United Arab Emirates, and Oscar-, BAFTA- and Grammy- winning Indian composer A.R. Rahman (“Slumdog Millionaire”) are looking forward to their upcoming collaboration on “Baab.”
Written by Al Khaja and Masoud Amralla Al Ali, the film follows Wahida, who is unable to make sense of her twin sister’s mysterious death and is plagued by a haunting rhythm in her ears.
Rahman and Khaja were present at the Cannes Film Market to promote “Baab.” The composer’s directorial debut, the VR “Le Musk” also had its world premiere at the market’s Cannes XR strand.
“It’s about the four stages of grief, but we don’t say it so black and white,” Al Khaja told Variety about the film. “She creates a fantasy world to justify her sister’s death, because she’s young. They’re identical. They spend their whole life together. So how do you move on after that point?”
Al Khaja says that she believes in serendipity as Rahman was in Dubai to set up the Firdaus Studio as part of Expo 2020 Dubai and mentor the Firdaus Orchestra, an all-woman ensemble of 50 musicians from 23 Arab countries. Rahman also composed the music for Shekhar Kapur’s “Why? The Musical,” which was part of the Expo.
Rahman says that the Firdaus Orchestra has become the “pride of the U.A.E.” and they will be part of the musical landscape for the film.
“I think it’s going to be completely different because it’s an arthouse film, and she has so many different inspiring briefs for me,” says Rahman. “I’ve already started thinking, with voices and music and sound design all becoming one from separate things. It’s fascinating.”
“She’s got a new voice and a new vision about storytelling, and that’s what she’s looking for. Not anything old,” says Rahman.
Rahman started researching Arabic music when he was composing the music for Majid Majidi’s 2015 film “Muhammad: The Messenger of God.” For “Baab” he is planning to use the Arab melodic system called ‘maqam.’
The film will begin shooting in March 2023 in the mountains of the northern Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, and will feature music from the region and the local language which is in danger of dying, Al Khaja says. “The mountain sounds are beautiful, even if you don’t understand it, it touches the heart,” says Al Khaja.
Elly Senger-Weiss (“Tutti per Uma”) and Sultan Al Darmaki (“The Devil’s Machine”) are producing the film, with Muna Easa Al Gurg set to executive produce.