Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s ‘Sitara’ Will Leave You In Tears

This 15-minute animated short about child brides will leave you hurting and in tears

Two minutes into Oscar-winning director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s silent animated film, Sitara: Let Girls Dream, and I was sobbing uncontrollably. The 15-minute short opens to a shot of 14-year-old Pari and six-year-old Mehr flying paper airplanes on their roof, mock saluting each other as they fantasise about their future aspirations of soaring the skies.

The tone of the film quickly turned from playful to solemn as the girls’ elated joy was unceremoniously brought to a standstill upon the sight of their father. Here was a man with agency, the frame showed; a man of stern temperament.

For those who may have been in the dark about the film’s plot before viewing, the outcome was laid bare quickly once Pari was affectionately gifted a new pair of red-and-gold slippers by her otherwise solemn father. It was equally shown in the flash of emotions that crossed her young mother’s eyes as she took in her daughter’s impending fate into stride.

Pari enjoyed one more night of flight with Mehr on the rooftop. The next night she was wed to a man her father’s age.

Trembling lips. Stern glares. Dejected sadness. Remorse come too late. These emotions made their appearances in expert succession taking the viewer deep into the child bride reality that plagues Pakistan.

“Around the world every year, the dreams of 12 million child brides will never take flight,” reads the text as the dust settles on Pari’s departure.

Sharmeen and her team at Wadi Animations worked wonders for Sitara, silently bringing diverse characters to life with the artwork as well as the score by Grammy and Emmy Award-winning composer Laura Karpman. The short expertly brought home the message of how damaging and prevalent the issue of child marriages is. Especially in Pakistan.

Take to Google and search for “child marriages in Pakistan”; your return will be 34.6 million results. It’s a human rights violation, yet, according to a 2020 UNICEF report, there are 650 million girls and women today who were child brides. And 12 million girls under 18 are married each year.

Culture and archaic beliefs around gender are the root causes of child marriages. While a parent might believe that they’re ensuring the safety and financial security of their daughter, ultimately, they’re exposing them to mental and sexual abuse, health problems associated with early pregnancies, and robbing them of their right to chase after their own passions and dreams and live a life of their own agency.

It was only after Pari’s departure that her father noted the damage he had done. In an attempt to redeem himself, he decided to let Mehr chase after her passions. He saw to fulfilling her dreams on the shattered pieces of Pari’s.

For her first foray into animation, the team did an excellent job in bringing forward a social justice issue to a worldwide audience by rising above the barriers of language. It’s a simple tale but packs a punch worth a thousand words.

Sitara is more than a film,” the director said in an interview with Refinery29. “It’s a movement that we want to start across the world that encourages parents to invest in their girls’ dreams freeing their daughters from the burdens of early marriage.”

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