Redha is an authentic and realistic look at autism
SINGAPORE — When Malaysian director Mona Riza was researching autism for her first feature film, she asked a close friend with an autistic child why, in nearly two decades, she had not spoken about autism or its effects on her family. Her friend’s answer was simple but revealing. “It is very tiring to tell someone what autism is all about,” she said.
Mona’s film Redha is a labour of love — a testimony to the difficult journeys of autistic children and their families, as well as to give them a voice. It is a narrative to relieve these families of the Sisyphean task of constantly explaining themselves to the world.
As Mona said: “I hope this film will make the families affected and society at large more comfortable ... When they go out, the family might explain that (the child) is autistic and hopefully the people they meet will say, ‘I know’.”
Redha’s story is straightforward: Razlan and Alina (played by Nam Ron and June Lojong) find out that their young son Danial (played by Harith Haziq) is autistic, and struggle to come to terms with the diagnosis.
Nam Ron and June Lojong’s portrayal of the couple’s emotional upheaval — their denial, guilt, grief, anger, acceptance — rang true, especially June’s understated performance, for which she took home the well-deserved Best Performance by an Actress award at the World Premieres Film Festival Philippines (WPFF) 2016 this month.
Mona’s fierce commitment to conveying the “real situation” of autism can be seen clearly throughout the film. She consulted medical professionals on the veracity of her script, the actors’ performance and the film sets. She asked her two child actors — Harith Haziq and Izzy Reef, who played the older Danial — to shadow autistic children for nearly four months, while she herself spent two years researching autism and speaking to families of autistic persons.
She said that, for her, it was paramount that the film had to be “good enough” for these families, who were worried about misrepresentation of the disorder. “For the first time, in Malaysia, this is (a) story of autism and, if I tell it wrong, I would be hurting thousands of people,” she said.
Mona’s fidelity to medical facts supports the realism and authenticity of the film, although a couple of scenes are weighed down by an overly-educational presentation of medical information by the actors.
The movie faces one challenge, however. Mona said, with a little disappointment, that it is hard to get members of the general public to watch the film, because they believe that the subject has little to do with them. She believes, however, that Redha also “represents the universal”. “This film is about us,” she said. “How many of us have not been in denial?”
She added that, at the film’s screening in the Philippines — where she received the WPFF Grand Jury Prize for the film’s universal social value — the audience “could relate to every single emotional note”.
As for the film’s title — “Redha” meaning acceptance, or a wholehearted agreement with the decision that God has made — Mona said: “To accept is a tough thing to do. When you accept something or someone, really, from your heart, that’s when you break down. That’s when you realise that everything else that comes with it is no longer a negative thing.”
“It is a painful journey,” her husband and co-executive producer Ku Mohamad Haris revealed. “A beautiful pain.”
Catch public screenings of Redha, organised by the Singapore Malay Film Society, from July 29 to 31 at The Projector. Tickets, priced at S$20, are available through Eventbrite (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/redha-gala-premiere-fundraising-event-ticke...). Part of the proceeds will go to Autism Association (Singapore). The movie comes with English and Mandarin subtitles.