BEKAS: Kurdish Homeless Brothers and Superman

Kurdish movie BEKAS features the story of two homeless brothers from Iraq and how they plan to punish Saddam Hussain for the miseries in their lives.

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BEKAS poster

BEKAS is the story of Dana and Zana from the streets of Iraq who decides to set off to America to meet Superman to punish Saddam Hussain for ruining their lives. The film also makes a political commentary about how the Kurdish community were persecuted and oppressed under Dictator Saddam Hussain’s rule. Karzan Kader, Kurdish-born Swedish film-maker, who initially made BEKAS (those without family) as a short-film before venturing into a full-length feature film. Karzan Kader was nine years old during the Iraq war in 1990 when his family fled Kurdistan.

Even most cinephile would have not been familiar with Kurdish movies or else many would have mistaken it for Iranian film. The Kurdish language has contributed a fair share of world cinema with some great content over the years.

The film is a realistic portrayal of two orphaned brothers who live with very little help from others by polishing shoes. Initial scenes tell us how the boys believe that superman is real and living in America. To meet him, they both decide to save a few bucks in order to get there; what happens thereafter forms the crux of the story.

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The movie is largely built around small moments like the one where the younger one sticks the bubble-gum on the wall of a mosque. Inside the mosque, Zana (Younger) prays for more dirty shoes when his brother Dana asks him why can’t he ask for one million dinars instead, to which Zana asks God to forgive his brother (as one shouldn’t ask for money from God). The bond between the elderly baba Khaled (Blind radio mechanic) and Zana.

The performances of both Zana (Zamand Taha) and Dana (Sarwar Fazil) are brilliant to make the audience ‘wow’ moments. There are moments in the film which transports the viewers into Zana and Dana’s lives, which is a mix of joy and sadness to meet Superman against all odds. Apart from that, there are some memorable characters throughout the movie that does justice to their allotted screen time. Like the horse-seller, the cart puller on the highway, to name a few.

Full movie with English subtitles. Run time: 97 Minutes.

For the most part, the movie is light-hearted with plenty of humorous sequences. Maybe the makers felt that it needs humour to get the message across the table.

Where we feel strongly for the characters’ motives, without any melodramatic elements to induce sympathy in the eyes of the viewers. But it also has some fair share of gut-wrenching sequences towards the end, where the boys take the dangerous route to get across the border not knowing the dangers associated with it. One often feels for the boys when Zana and Dana leave the village to go to America on a horse with a map. Where Zana naively enquires where America is, the elder Dana points Europe to be America.

Post-Liberalization World

Karzan Kadar with Zamand & Sarwar Fazil

The subtext of the movie is about the post-liberalization Iraq that has been intricately weaved in the plot. We see how an elderly man feels about satellite television and its impact on today’s generation. There is a glimpse where the boys are drawn towards all things west and their adulation for larger than life characters from movies. There are plenty of motifs used like the BMW sticker on the horse forehead; adulation for superman among the boys as they believe that he possesses extraordinary superpowers, which could bring back the dead; love for Coca-Cola; naming the horse as Michael Jackson. These subtexts are packed in such a way that these messages are conveyed easily without being preachy.

The film engages the viewers from the beginning to the end with some great moments in terms of narration and visually as well. The cinematography plays a large part in the earlier scenes to represent the crowded narrow lanes and later on the vast highway to represent the barrenness of their lives using a warm tone. The editing has a major impact when it comes to adding intensity to the life of the characters. You almost get the feeling that character arcs are well developed to take the narration forward. Director Karzan Kader has done complete justice to the source material with some brilliant staging of scenes like towards the climax you almost feel thrilled to know how the boys survive amidst a crisis.

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To all cinephile’s, this is a must-watch as it has some noteworthy performances, hard-hitting story and visuals. Above all, this is a bittersweet story set against a turbulent backdrop, where horrors are merely hinted at as if trying to maintain the innocence of the viewer as much as that of the Zana and Dana.

The film went on to win a Silver Student Oscar at Stockholm, People’s Choice Award at the 2012 Dubai Film Festival and was also nominated for Muhr Arab Award.

Post Script: Kurdish people are spread over different countries of West Asia, namely, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.