New Delhi, 11 Jun 2021 11:00 IST
Updated: 12 Jun 2021 23:10 IST
Ritesh Batra's Arabic language short film sheds light on modern-day relationships in Cairo.
Long before Ritesh Batra catapulted to fame with the Irrfan Khan-starrer The Lunch Box (2013), he made a short film which also made its mark in the festival circuit. The Arabic-language short film called Café Regular, Cairo features a young Egyptian couple in a café having a conversation about their relationship.
The woman, Mai (Mai Abozeed), is distraught because her sister is getting a divorce after just three years of marriage. This, along with the statistics of the increase in divorce rates, leads her to examine her own relationship with her boyfriend of two years, Alaa (Alaa Ezzat).
Alaa tries to allay her fears and is taken aback when she makes an audacious proposal. She wants to consummate their relationship and determine if they are sexually compatible. However, this is problematic in a conservative society like Egypt and can have severe consequences for her.
It is indeed a feat for the filmmaker to keep the viewer engaged during the long conversation and Batra does so by bringing verisimilitude and an unusual, though carefully calibrated, conversation to the fore.
The action remains concentrated on the talk in the café and the conversation gestures towards a range of things — the society, its taboos, the status of women, the love that Alaa has for Mai and, in general, relationships between men and women in Cairo. It also navigates the sensitive topics of sex and religion as the couple try to figure out their next steps.
The serious conversation interlaced with humour stealthily overturns the gender equation as Mai has the talk with Alaa and is uninhibited while Alaa reminds her to be mindful of people around listening in, or the fact that they are in a public place having a very private conversation.
In the course of the discussion, Mai finds the answers she is looking for.
The film has been screened at over 40 international festivals and won several awards, including the FIPRESCI Critics Prize at the International Film Festival of Oberhausen and Special Mentions at the Tribeca Film Festival and the Chicago International Film Festival.