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UAE filmmaker Nayla Al Khaja and Indian music composer and singer AR Rahman Image Credit: GN Archives

Emirati filmmaker Nayla Al Khaja has teamed up with Indian composer and singer AR Rahman for her upcoming feature, ‘Baab’.

The film has been penned by Al Khaja and Masoud Amralla Al Ali, who was the artistic director on the now defunct Dubai International Film Festival or DIFF.

Masoud Amralla Al Ali
Masoud Amralla Al Ali Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

According to Variety, the film follows the story of Wahida who is trying to make sense of the death of her twin sister, which is shrouded in mystery. As she attempts to unravel the threads through hidden cassette tapes, she finds herself plagued by a haunting rhythm in her ears. Her grief takes her deep into the mountains to decipher the complexities of the human soul.

The film will begin shooting in March 2023 in Ras Al Khaimah, with the Jais mountains serving as a backdrop. The team behind the film has stated they will cast locals from the region for authenticity. Elly Senger-Weiss and Sultan Al Darmaki are producing the film, with Muna Easa Al Gurg set to executive produce.

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Nayla Al Khana on set Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Al Khaja is no novice to the thriller/horror genre having directed ‘The Shadow’ in 2020, which she revealed to Gulf News as a film that was inspired by the ‘horrific’ real-life experience of her young relative who was ‘very, very sick’, leading family members to believe he was possessed. A short directed by her that followed a similar thread was ‘Animal’ (Haywan).

As for Al Khaja, her horror tastes lean more toward the subtle, such as Roman Polanski’s Oscar-winning 1968 film. “I really am attracted to films like ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ — it’s not jump scares. It’s more psychological, it’s more eerie, it’s quieter. [It has] really deep characters and maybe a little shock here or there,” the filmmaker told Gulf News earlier.

Al Khaja has the distinction of being the UAE’s first Emirati female film writer, director and producer. She made her debut in 2006 with short film ‘Arabana’, which she wrote and directed. It premiered at DIFF in 2007, earning her the award for best Emirati filmmaker. Al Khaja later directed short films including ‘Once’, ‘Malal’ (which won the best script award in the Gulf Film Festival in 2010) and ‘Three’.

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A still from the Nayla Al Khaja-directed 'The Shadow' Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Speaking about her second feature film after ‘The Shadow’, Al Khaja revealed her grandmother was the inspiration behind ‘Baab’.

“My grandmother came from the mountains, they have never been captured in a feature before, the sheer access to the indigenous people of Ras Al Khaimah and the soulful script is an untold story that I am eager to tell. With AR Rahman on board, we will live a very immersive journey that is authentic, haunting and real,” she said in a statement.

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A. R. Rahman performs with the Firdaus Orchestra at the Expo 2020 Dubai on 23rd October, 2020. Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Rahman added: “I’m delighted to be working with Nayla on her feature film ‘Baab,’ she’s a passionate and promising filmmaker and an important creative voice within the Gulf region. The script is enigmatic, thought-provoking and promises to be both visually and emotionally engaging for universal audiences. I’m looking forward to the journey.”

Rahman, whose compositions have earned him two Oscars and Grammy Awards for the film soundtrack of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, along with multiple accolades and awards for his music in the Malayalam, Tamil and Hindi film industries, also recently set up his Firdaus Studio in the UAE as part of his collaboration with Expo 2020 Dubai where he mentored the Firdaus Orchestra, an all-woman ensemble of 50 musicians.