By Dale Luis Menezes
Even while mobbed by adoring crowds after the IFFI 2016 screening of ‘Inner City’ (2016), the lead actress, co-writer and producer Tahmina Rafaella managed to make the crucial point that her film from Azerbaijan is also about the “inner city” of a person’s life. The constant demands for selfies both inside and outside the festival multiplex did not stop Rafaella from opening up further, in conversation with The Peacock.
She said “it’s a very special film. I wanted to show the society how women can be different.” That’s certainly true of Rafaella herself. Only 21 years old, she is at the forefront of her country’s film industry. Besides ‘Inner City’, she has also worked on ‘The Blacklist’ (2013) and ‘Guilt’ (2016).
An eye-opener considering what you might imagined about Muslim Central Asia? Not exactly, says Rafaella, “Azerbaijan is a very European society in the sense that women can wear the clothes they like, even date guys. But underneath there are strong social pressures regarding expectations of marriage and profession.”
This extends to disapproval of the film world. Says Rafaella, “It is not just women in cinema, but men too. “Getting into professions such as medicine (which Arzu, the lead character in ‘Inner City’ hopes to study), or working for an oil firm (also depicted in the film) conforms to the expectations of society. In a very wealthy society atop huge oil deposits, “nobody makes money making films in Azerbhaijan.”
Rafaella says about her compatriots, “they are trying to get into the European mold. They have the resources, such as money. But there is a long way to go in many other ways.”