Nayla Al Khaja is a wonder woman. Apart from being widely dubbed as the first female filmmaker in the United Arab Emirates, she recently was tapped by beauty company Estée Lauder for their campaign 'Reach for the Stars' which featured exceptional women from the Arab world.
Now, she is teaming up with two-time Academy Award-winning music director A. R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) on her upcoming feature film Baab. Elly Senger-Weiss and Sultan Al Darmaki are also on board to produce the thrilling mystery, with Muna Easa Al Gurg set to executive produce. The film will begin shooting in March 2023 in Ras Al Khaimah, the United Arab Emirates and Al Khaja will be at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival to talk more about the project as well as introduce her collaboration with Rahman.
There is another reason to be extra excited about this project, apart from the fact that Baab is Al Khaja’s first art-house feature film. This is a film which she wrote alongside widely respected writer and editor Masoud Amralla Al Ali who was the artistic director of the beloved Dubai International Film Festival. When the festival shuttered in 2018, a void was left, which was only recently filled by some other exceptional film events in the Region.
The Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Grammy-winning composer A.R. Rahman will score the music for the upcoming film. With record sales of more than 200 million worldwide, Rahman has composed and produced original scores and songs for more than 145 films and 200 soundtracks during his three-decade-long career. If you don't hum one of his tunes at least once a day, you haven't been watching films. A.R. Rahman's music has been featured in Spike Lee's Inside Man, as well as romantic comedies like Couples Retreat with Vince Vaughn, and The Hundred-Foot Journey, which starred Helen Mirren and the late actor Om Puri.
The story of Baab begins with the discovery of some cassette tapes hidden behind the green door ("baab" is the Arabic word for door) which leads Wahida down a murky path. Unable to make sense of her twin sister’s mysterious death, Wahida is plagued by a haunting rhythm in her ears. Her relentless pursuit begins to untangle unresolved grief taking her deep into the mountains to delve into the complexities of the human soul. Baab unwinds into the very depths of madness and mayhem where the line between truth and imagination blurs.
The northern Emirate will provide the film's backdrop of dramatic vistas of the spectacular Jais mountains and will cast indigenous people from Ras Al Khaimah to achieve the utmost authenticity in the film. Ras Al Khaimah is often referred to as an undiscovered paradise and sits in a strategic point of the Persian Gulf.
Director Nayla Al Khaja commented: “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 A.R. Rahman on board, we will live a very immersive journey that is authentic, haunting and real.”
A. R. 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."
Al Khaja is also in pre-production on her debut feature film Three, which is scheduled to go into production during Q3 this year. She is also attached to executive produce and potentially direct episodes of The Alexandria Killings, the serial killer series from Front Row Filmed Entertainment and Rocket Science’s joint Middle East film and TV company Yalla Yalla. Oscar-winning writer-director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda, In the Name of the Father) is at the helm of the project, along with celebrated Egyptian writer Mariam Naoum who is on board to co-write.