Warning: This article discusses sexual assault.
The short film “Blue: A kaleidoscope,” created by Daniyal Afzal ’13, opens up with a black screen. The disembodied voices of Pakistani women echo:
“This is what happens when you let your daughters play outside wherever they want.”
“What an insolent, she’s disgraced the whole neighborhood.”
“Shame on her.”
“Blue: A kaleidoscope,” based on a BBC report written by Amber Shamsi in 2015 entitled “How a rape was filmed and shared in Pakistan,” follows a Pakistani woman, Zohra, as she attempts to navigate the vicious riptide that is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The depiction of Zohra’s day-to-day experiences detail the intimately abrasive, muddled and confusing experience of traumatic flashbacks. The story explores the chilling depths of Zohra’s sexual assault. “Blue: A kaleidoscope” drags the viewer beneath the crashing waves of pain, anxiety and fear, through its depiction of an inescapably ugly truth.
On Oct. 7, Afzal and Urooj Azmi, the editor, sound mixer and director of photography for “Blue,” attended a virtual screening of the film, held by Lewis & Clark’s “Homecoming @Home,” as a part of the Alumni Film Festival. Following the screening, Afzal and Azmi stayed behind for questions from the virtual attendees. The duo, described by Azmi as, “partners in crime,” elaborated on the film’s production and message.
“Is she (Zohra) supposed to represent the specific person who was assaulted in that BBC article that you have been referencing? Or is she supposed to be a stand-in character for all of the girls in the city and the woman who has been assaulted?” a virtual attendee said.
Afzal began to answer the question before pausing and redirecting.
“Actually, you know what? I’m just going to have Urooj (Azmi) jump in, because my thing from the get-go has always been that as a man, I still would not be able to understand this,” Afzal said. “I’ve made a film. I’ve written the film. I’ve done my research. I’ve presented the idea … but as a man I still would not be able to understand the pain.”
Azmi, a Northwestern University graduate, flashed a bright and passionate smile as she picked up where Afzal had left the previously-posed question.
“I’m really glad you brought that up because we actually had this discussion during the production phase of the film, where we were talking about what the character — who the character is. And to me, she was always … a metaphor, exactly like that it’s, of not just Pakistani women.” Azmi explained.
Afzal spoke to the role he hoped his film would play in the ongoing conversation about women’s rights in Pakistani culture after he heard of a recent incident in which a Pakistani woman was assaulted by three men in front of her children while they were pulled over on the highway.
“At that point, my team and I were like, you know, screw festivals,” Afzal said. “I don’t want to talk about festivals. I want to talk about things like, where the film has a potential to just go get screened internationally, I want to put this out on the internet and I’m going to put my credit card on it.”
While “Blue: A kaleidoscope” engages with painful and ugly concepts, it brings the experience of PTSD and sexual assault to light in a uniquely uncomfortable and immersive short film. The film transitions between reality and flashback both relentlessly and seamlessly, using layered tracks of hypnotic disembodied voices, combining vivid cinematography with a skin-tingling score.
You can stream “Blue: A kaleidoscope” by visiting Arash Visuals Inc.’s Instagram, @arashvisualsinc.