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The child cast of THE IDOL

On Day 1 at the Mumbai Film Festival we watched The Idol, the new film from Hany Abu-Assad, the filmmaker who gave us the gut-wrenching Paradise Now in 2005. Mr. Abu-Assad has made films since then but this was the first one I’ve watched since Paradise Now.

Loosely based upon the life of the popular Palestinian singer Mohammad Assaf the narrative of The Idol takes place in two time periods. One when he was a child in Gaza in 2005, and the second in 2012 when he flees Gaza to make his way to Cairo to participate in Arab Idol – the Arab version of the world-famous Idol singing competition.

The first part of the movie that deals with a time when Mr. Assaf was 10-years-old (played brilliantly by Qais Atallah) and his life with his older sister Nour (Hiba Atallah) and their two friends Ashraf and Omar. The four decide to start a band and do a variety of things to make this happen. Nour is the driving force behind the group but she is doing this to draw attention to the fact that her brother has a beautiful voice. In fact it is her belief that they will conquer the world and perform at the Cairo Opera.

The harshness of life in Gaza serves as the backdrop for scenes from Mr. Assaf’s childhood and the film truly soars during the scenes between Nour and Mohammad, as well as in a couple of short exchanges between Nour and Omar (Abdelkarim Abu Baraka). Of course nothing is every easy in this world so tragedy strikes and almost drives Mohammad to give up on his dream.

When we are taken forward in time to 2012 Mr. Assad (now played by Tawfeek Barhom) is a young man who drives a cab to help pay for his education. He still has the beautiful voice but his faith in his gift, as well as his belief that he can conquer the world, is not as strong. An encounter with a girl from his past, as well as a rising sense of discontent with his lot in life motivates Mohammad Assaf to seek an exit from Gaza, to access the auditions for Arab Idol in so-close-yet-so-far Egypt, and everything else that such an effort could entail for a young man with limited-to-no prospects in his home town.

This is a story about the triumph of the human spirit and Mr. Abu-Assad is a capable filmmaker who has no trouble capturing the magic and the pain of Mr. Assaf’s childhood. All the child actors are terrific in this film which looks and sounds great. The film becomes a little “Hollywood” for lack of a better word when Mr. Assaf makes his way to Egypt but maybe that has as much to do with the fact that his is a very powerful, almost improbable story. That minor quibble aside, the film is a worthy testament to Mohammad Assaf’s bravery.

[ Repeat Screenings: PVR Ghatkopar – Sunday 1st November, 2015 – 4:00pm and PVR Juhu – Wednesday 4th November, 2015 – 10:45am. ]