Activist filmmaker and producer Zenofar Fathima talks about the global success of her meta-spiritual short Ayah, announces her Ramadan project – Ayat and reveals the other projects in the pipeline
The concept of faith in an omniscient, higher power has proven time and time again to transcend boundaries of language, culture, and even religion. Ayah, in association with Firdaus Studio by AR Rahman, a meta-spiritual short film which delves into the power of prayer in times of hardship using the three art forms of film, music and theater, has now bagged over 20 awards worldwide during its festival run.
“As a filmmaker and actor myself, I believe that the MENA region is home to many talented actors, many of whom haven’t discovered their talents yet.”
The award-winning short, which is directed and conceived by activist filmmaker and producer Zenofar Fathima, as well as written and directed by Afraah Farhana, and composed by music composer and singer Hiral Viradia, has managed to bag accolades in categories such as Best Short Film, Best Musical Film, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, above others.
To add on to the list of accolades, Ayah also received Best Cinematography, as well as Best Supporting Actor at the 7th year of the prestigious Emirates Short Film Festival (ESFF) on the 18th of February, 2023. The independent film festival, which is in partnership with Emirates Airlines and helmed by filmmaker and Emirates veteran Ron Awa, had recognised Ayah as “one of the best films to ever be received by ESFF”.
“Ayah is one of the best films we’ve received so far, with key scenes focusing on Dua (Arabic term for ‘prayer’) and why it is so important, especially this coming Ramadan,” said Awa. “The Ayah film was widely praised for its portrayal of how broken families facing challenging times can utilize prayer to not only bring themselves closer as a family, but also closer to God.”
Filmmakers Zenofar Fathima and Afraah Farhana were also awarded the Emerging Filmmaker Award, which aims to acknowledge up and coming filmmakers from around the world. “I am extremely pleased to have bagged awards across an array of categories in just a matter of six months, and am also very pleased to have attended ESFF and received the award in person,” said director and producer Fathima.
“It’s all onwards and upwards from here, and these wins definitely inspire me to achieve more and conceive even better films. I would like to thank team Ayah for making this project an overnight success.” The Best Cinematography award was also well received by Ayah, being the film’s first camera and lighting-related award.
“We are especially overjoyed to have been awarded Best Cinematography out of more than three hundred films worldwide, given that the unconventional theater- based composition required us as the directors to regularly design and manage the staging, blocking, lighting sequences and the general shot list of the film. A big thank you to our crew and actors who contributed towards the aesthetic of the production,” said Afraah Farhana, writer and director. After completing its festival run, Ayah will be available to watch for the public on a to-be-announced public platform.
In the wake of the short film’s global success, Fathima is now in the conceptualisation phase for another Ramadan project, with the working title being Ayat: The Verses.
“While this film is not directly related to Ayah, it is in the same vein in terms of spirituality,” said Fathima. The film will be released in time for Ramadan 2023, and will delve into one’s unique, individual relationship with God. The film will feature a touching score by a renowned entity, and aesthetic visuals by Zen Film Productions; the team attached to the project is yet to be announced to the public.
Fathima is also preparing to venture into unknown territory, stepping away from her comfort zone genre of social awareness with two projects of different scales and genres. “The first is an OTT comedy series titled South Meets North, while the second is an escape room psychological thriller feature known as Specter: No Way Out,” Fathima announced to the media at the 7th edition of ESFF.
South Meets North, which stars Fathima and Parvez Kazi, well-known TikTok star and body-double of Bollywood powerhouse Salman Khan, will explore the tug of war that exists between North and South Indians in a series of episodes and seasons. On the other hand, Specter: No Way Out will see a group of individuals come vis-a-vis with death itself, when they visit an escape room to attend an unconventional audition for a horror film. Both South Meets North and Specter: No Way Out are currently in the pre-production phase, and are currently in talks for international distribution.
A key focal point of the two projects is the involvement of local and regional talent in both leading and supporting roles. “As a filmmaker and actor myself, I believe that the MENA region is home to many talented actors, many of whom haven’t discovered their talents yet,” said Fathima. Fathima’s upcoming projects will also feature popular socialites, influencers and public figures in supporting roles.
“I hope to use my future films as an incubator for new talents who not only encompass talent, but also those who have potential and want to realize it with the help of a professional.”
Apart from Fathima’s cinematic projects, she is also gearing up to star in music video “Tik Talk”, by up and coming Dubai based singer Zak Zorro. Known for his versatile vocal abilities, Zorro dabbles in multiple genres from Pop, hip-hop and Rap to Sufi, Afro, Reggae and more. “I’m especially excited to be working on this project, especially because the song is not just any cool bop- it has a social message about the time we spend on social media whilst maintaining a groovy beat,” Fathima explains.