2SSFA - 'Bani Ibrahim' (Best Fiction) by Raihan Harun

When asked about the process of deciding which film would win Best Fiction, the jury at the Singapore Short Film Awards related to the audience that the winner was clear. Given the Straits Times very biased pre-awards coverage which spotlighted Rajagopal as being a cut above the rest, opinions were largely swayed in that direction. While Raja's work was nonetheless exciting, giving the award to a new face was invigorating. Raihan Harun won with a short film that was powerful and yet able to fill its huge thematic shoes on terrorism and suicide bombing.

'Bani Ibrahim' which translates to Children of Abraham, brings the audience 15 minutes of intense moral dilemma, heartache and several gunshots. The epic proportions of the topic makes it a challenge to scale it but Raihan has given us microcosmic view of it through a family torn apart by differing ideals. At one end, there is an Australian Muslim doctor who has adopted the ways of the locals here and helms a family happily settled here. On the other polar end is his radical-minded brother who makes an entrance in the film with a row of bombs strapped to his chest. You get the picture.

The issues make it easy for the film to be dramatic and engaging but it is Raihan's humanising touches that lends depth to the film. Behind every violent 'freedom fighter', is a family grounded in the simple things like playing a board game together. The films opens casting a scrutinising gaze at the impressionable sons of the protagonist father. They are playing an innocent game yet there are undertones of uncertainty and an strange ominous air hangs over the game. The suicide bomber shocker then punches in at the right moment, unleashing the crux of the film. Raihan cleverly avoids too much focus on the weaponry but rather more on the clash of ideals and the moral dilemma. This is also where you realise the necessity of the quieter buildup at the beginning where you see the father in his fatherly role - making the change of heart and allegiance more heart-breaking.

Raihan has also skillfully stretched the narrative hook by making us believe that the father was really going to heed his brotherly calling. On one hand, it makes you wonder when the film was going to end as it has just opened a new can of worms. But the narrative finds its twist quite naturally to be able to bring this chapter to a close - a close that has a decided stand on the issue. Not that it was bad to have a closed ending but given the complexity of the issue, it might have left the audience with something more to think about if we had a flawed protagonist who is left at a point of indecision when the credits roll.

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