Short Films & Documentaries

Mr. Khan’s Review on Sitara: Let Girls Dream (2020)

A review on Pakistani short animated film, Sitara: Let Girls Dream (2020). The short animated film is written and directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who achieved international fame by her Oscar award winning short documentary Saving Face in 2012. The film is produced by Waadi Animations and distributed by Netflix.

+ Crew

  • Directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
  • Written by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
  • Music by Laura Karpman
  • Produced by Gloria Steinem
  • Produced by Netflix and Waadi Animations

+ Note

Like Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s previous works, Sitara: Let Girls Dream is about the plight of Pakistani women, living in a male dominated society. The film focuses on child marriages which are still prevalent in villages or lower social class families who view their daughters more like a ‘burden’ of being married away as soon as they reach teenagehood. According to Obaid-Chinoy, this project was in mind since the early 2010s as they were eager to make a local animated film but lacked the training and resources. Often, the animators worked by looking up tutorials on Youtube or consulting past Pixar animators for advice. The equipment itself was not fully capable enough to render heavy animated sequences and would take days to finish. But by 2019, Sitara became the first Pakistani animated film to be produced by Netflix USA. 

The film was released on 8 March 2020 and won 3 awards at the 2019 Los Angeles Animation Festival, for Best Produced Screenplay, Best Music Score and the Humanitarian Award.

+ Plot

The story takes place in 1970s Lahore, where a young girl by the name of Pari, dreams of becoming a Pilot when she grows up. Unfortunately that dream gets cut shot when her father wants her to marry a much older man, thus ending any dreams that Pari had to becoming independent and living her dream.

+ High Points

i – What’s obviously great about Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s work is that she highlights the taboo subject matters that are sadly not discussed in detail in our own land or just merely brushed aside. The subject of child marriages is unfortunately still a regular occurrence in Pakistani society which needs to be addressed on the big screen (or on a widely available platform like Netflix). And Sitara does exactly that.

ii – The backdrop and setting of Lahore is brilliantly realized. The colorful neighborhoods and clothing of the locals really bring a sense of authenticity to the film.

iii – The pacing of the short film was excellent. Every scene had a purpose and flowed well from beginning to end. The team had 15 minutes to achieve it and they managed it splendidly. 

 + Low Points

i – While Sitara is a courageous film to make (regarding the lack of resources and the subject matter), it is still unfortunately lacking in many respects. While the animation can be rated as “good for a Pakistani animated short”, the lighting effects, character movements are still choppy and unnatural. The skin texture seems plastic at best, the whole animation has the ‘uncanny valley’ effect of everything seeming just manufactured. This effect unfortunately was very distracting throughout its runtime.

ii – Another bold move that Sharmeen displayed was the lack of dialogue throughout the film. The script decided on the ‘action speak louder than words’ approach, thereby bringing the subject matter onto the forefront. Sadly, that technique did not mesh well with the script as many scenes felt awkward as if someone just removed dialogues in post production rather than silence complimenting the story itself. I still think it’s great that Sharmeen tried something different but it did not work well with the script or the overall production.

iii – The character designs are nothing unique by the Art Direction department. They all seem generic “Post Pixar” designs which have no uniqueness to their look. When you see films like The Breadwinner (2017) or The Secret Of Kells (2009), they instantly stand out from the rest of the animation films out there. Lack of quality animation can be forgiven due to lack of resources but unique character designs cost nothing more. Why be a Pixar knockoff if you could have a distinctive style of your own? We could easily take inspiration from our own history of miniature Art.

iv – The music accompanying the silent images by Laura Karpman felt uninspired. Perhaps the story needed some traditional instruments like Sitar to flow along the colorful backdrops of Lahore. Karpman’s orchestral music feels very unimaginative and somewhat out of place regarding the traditional Pakistani images of the film.

v – For such a heavy subject matter, the conclusion felt very simplistic and nonchalant. I realize that the director had only 15 minutes to conclude the story but a better, more natural ending could’ve been thought of. I would have preferred if it was 30 minutes runtime, provided that the story had a better closure to it.

+ Overall

Sitara: Let Girls Dream is a step in the right direction for Pakistani animation. Unfortunately, it falls short in many respects when it comes to storytelling and the animation department. A mild recommendation if you liked Obaid-Chinoy’s previous documentaries and are eager to see more of her work.  

Rate: 2.0 out of 5 stars

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