Rooting for Roona
Director: Pavitra Chalam, Akshay Shankar
Production Company: Curley Street
Release Date: 15 October 2020
Streaming Platform: Netflix
This is a story of a girl named Roona Begum born in the North East of India who gained the attention of the entire country at a very young age but not for good reasons. But more than that this is a story of a mother who was determined to do anything for her girl.
Roona was an infant who was born with hydrocephalus, a birth defect caused by a build-up of fluid in the brain that causes extreme swelling of the head. Roona’s head had started to fill up with the fluid to the extent that it had grown to a circumference of 37 inches. Because of this, the innocent child was unable to walk, talk, or sit up on her own, unlike the kids of her age.
Being born poor is still fine but being poor with health issues is a ‘real undeniable struggle’. As parents, Abdul Rahman and Fatima Khatun were willing to do everything in their power to save their little angel. The only roadblock that they faced was the fact that they were poor and didn’t had the money required to treat their daughter in some renowned hospitals. Children born with this condition generally require intervention at birth to prevent the complications, but Abdul and Fatima were unable to afford to take her out of the state for treatment that local hospitals were unable to offer.
There are parents in this world who might have abandoned a child with these kinds of needs, but for Fatima and Abdul, that option was never on the plate. Fatima, while sharing her experience through all these years, brings out the cruelty that resides in the heart of a few people. She shares how some relatives they met tried to tell them they were being punished for their sins. But there was nothing that was going to break the heart or change the mind of a mother who knew deep down that one day, Roona would get better.
Their prayers and undying faith were answered in the form of a human being who happened to be a photojournalist Arindam Dey. Arindam was in Tripura for work and that is when he stumbled onto the story of Roona. He took photos of Roona and her parents, and the images spread through the news like wildfire. And what happened next is called a manifestation of the good that the world possesses in abundance.
People from all over the world commented on stories and reached out wondering how they might be able to help, and eventually, Fatima and Abdul were able to take Roona to a doctor in New Delhi who believed she was curable.
Roona’s life was about to change. Over the next few years, we embark on a journey with Roona through her multiple surgeries and the way she (and her parents) change in their aftermath. The story also brings in a new addition of a younger brother.
Rooting for Roona is a documentary, which is an epitome of undying faith and the larger than world heart that God has given to every Mother.
The film’s opening lines, spoken by Roona’s mother Fatima, go straight for the heart: “I’d always wished for a daughter. Always. A daughter knows her mother’s sorrow.”
If you like documentaries that depict medical anomalies and stories of struggle and hope, and then you are going to enjoy Rooting for Roona.
It is a unique portrait of an even more unique situation. The documentary packs around four years of life into just forty minutes. The filmmakers have done a stupendous job by keeping things simple. They have built the world in a swift and intriguing manner by giving viewers the glimpse of the town and people who live in it from the beginning. Then they have let the main character Fatima to draw the viewers on a personal level via her voiceover.
The entire documentary is filmed in a way that makes the viewers feel like they are standing right beside Fatima and Abdul or as if they are sitting on the floor next to Fatima as she fans Roona, or in the car on the way to the hospital. It is all so very down to earth, and which is why it is so effective.
The mother, Fatima is, in a way, the heart of the film, despite the fact that the entire story revolves around Roona. She is a mother unashamed in her doggedness and unwavering in her love, unable to see anything but a beautiful future for her daughter despite the circumstances. The film is the portrait of a mother’s anguish and her love, of making the most out of every single day with her child. Stories like these can make even an agonist person believe in the mythological tales that portray a mother superior to even the Lord himself.
This is a real-life story of people who are optimistic because they can’t possibly fathom being anything else. It is a story about survival and the strength to fight, about hope in the face of overwhelming odds, even when you are the underdog.
The story of Roona has a very sad ending but that is because the filmmaker never thought of it as an ending. Undoubtedly, it is a must-watch!