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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Rabia and Olivia, Review: A loving, fatherless nanny and a motherless, disturbed girl

Rabia and Olivia, Review: A loving, fatherless nanny and a motherless, disturbed girl

It is not too often that an Indie film, having Canadian and Indian actors, strikes a few right chords, avoids the obvious and delivers a credible ending. Rabia and Olivia seems to have languished in the cans for some time, going by the dateline of the events, which occur in 2018. And one can see why. There’s India and there is Canada, but there is no terrorism, no overdone immigrant issues and no romantic love story at all. Almost all the characters are positive, with only one who goes grey for a while. Neither do we have a picture postcard tale. Moreover, the film runs for only 85 minutes. That it is still watchable is commendable. You can catch it on Disney Plus Hotstar.

Olivia a traumatised, disturbed nine-year old, prone to bursts of anger. Her father, Mark, is unable to cope with her condition and takes her to psychiatrists, who put her on strong medication. When her latest nanny leaves, Mark’s friend Naser, an Indian, suggests the name of Rabia for the job. Rabia, who is in her 24, has come to Canada in the hope of getting immigrant status. She lost her father when she was very young and has one brother. They have a huge debt to pay, and the only way seems to be to go to Canada. There, Naser runs a limousine cleaning business, assisted by Ishan. Ishan and Rabia’s father were pals, back in India.

There is almost an instantaneous bonding between Rabia and Olivia. It begins with Rabia sharing with Olivia that she too lost a parent when she was about nine, and showing Olivia a picture of her Dad. Some home truths, some ancient wisdom, some Eastern values…and Olivia becomes a changed girl. Along the line, Rabia googles the medicines that are being given to Rabia, and concludes that some of them are responsible for her dullness and morning weakness. However, Mark swears by those medicines and keeps reminding her to give them to Olivia on time. On a visit to the psychiatrist, she expresses her serious reservations about the continuation of medicines, but the psychiatrist taunts her that one would not go for open-heart surgery based on google. In the interest of Olivia, Rabia takes a major decision: she unilaterally discontinues the medicines.

Director Shadab Khan (B.A. Pass 2, X and Y)’s story is predictable and unpredictable in equal measure. There are mushy moments that are used as tropes. But he also introduces interesting scenes, like the visit to the cemetery. The duo of Shadab Khan and Yousef Sheikh, credited with screenplay and dialogue, uses great economy of words in the dialogue and is able to balance the English and Hindi. Though short in lenhgth, the film does seem to be stretched. Wonder why he had to insert three songs, without which the film was doing fine. Although almost everybody is around to help Rabia, and her mother keeps praying back in India, all this goody-goodyness is hard to swallow. Only one Indian in the Naser camp has a mean streak. As technique, he often mutes the dialogue when he feels words are irrelevent. One must commend the way in which he establishes the arrival of the new nanny and Olivia’s displeasure at her arrival, in a short, slow right to left pan shot. Fade outs and fade-ins are his favourite tools for change of scene.

Nayab Khan as Rabia is sincere, though she does not get much opportunity to show a range of emotions. Helena Prinzen Klague as Olivia will endear herself to everyone, but her accent might pose a few problems. The only really known face in the film is Sheeba Chadha as Rabia’s Mother, and what an actress she has shaped into! Afroz Khan as Naser Bhai is a natural, effortless actor. Shadab Khan, himself, plays Ishaan underplaying his part as the man with a heart of gold, who thinks he owes it to the daughter of his father’s best friend.

Shot in Toronto, Mumbai and Aurangabad, Rabia and Olivia has music by Ripul Sharma and lyrics too by Ripul Sharma. It’s a pity the songs do not blend with the film. Other credits include cinematography Lenod Kogan and Pankaj Kachua and editing by Prashant Panda and                            background score by Jeorge Joseph.

It's clean, to the point stuff, with hardly any entertainment value, no sex, violence, comedy, hero or heroine, and yet good enough to experience.

Rating: ** ½


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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