Writer-director Minhal Baig’s first indie hit Hala, premiered on Apple TV+ last month. However, her name has long been found across the credits of various shows - she is a story editor on Netflix’s BoJack Horseman and she has also written and directed several shorts including Pretext and After Sophie among others.
Adapted from a short of the same name, Hala made its debut at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. The film was made without her family knowing that she made a film that echoed her own experiences as a South Asian teen. After screening the film at a number of festivals around the world, Baig brought Hala home (Chicago) in October to the Chicago International Film Festival.
In the Apple Original coming-of-age film, which stars Geraldine Viswanathan (Blockers, Miracle Workers) in a lead role, Baig tells a personal story that parallels her own life and her relationship with her mother and father.
Minhal Baig at Deadline’s ninth annual Contenders Los Angeles opened up on how her mom first learned about the film during the Q&A session at Sundance. “I did face time and told her I made a movie and it’s at Sundance and everyone in the audience wants to say hi,” revealed Baig. “I turned the phone around and everyone said hi and that was the first time she heard about it.”
Talking about her feature directorial debut, Baig admitted that she was apprehensive about sharing her story, which follows the titular Pakistani American teenager, who struggles to balance desire with her familial, cultural and religious obligations.
The writer-director further went on to say, in front of the packed audience of Oscar and key guild voters, that the story started from a really personal place. “The guiding principle for writing the screenplay was asking myself constantly whether something was emotionally true,” Baig shared. “At a certain point, it ended up being less about my life. It was sort of letting it be Hala’s story and her journey and asking whether it was true to her, her family and the film.”
According to Deadline, for Minhal Baig, the film process was all about getting closer and closer to those uncomfortable moments and to confront the pain and fear. “In a way, it was very therapeutic,” she pointed out.
As for diverse and authentic stories in Hollywood — specifically in the South Asian American space – Baig said, “For most people from underrepresented backgrounds, who are working in film and television, there is this incredible amount of responsibility you feel in representing your community in a way that is honest. And that’s an incredible burden because we don’t approach all storytellers that way and not all storytellers feel that responsibility.”
She added that it was important for Hala to show that the South Asian American experience is “very varied” and that South Asians, Muslims and Pakistani Americans are not monoliths.
She continued, “I would love to envision a future where there are 10 or 15 different films at the same time that are exploring this experience so that no one of these movies feels that burden of trying to represent everyone — because that’s impossible.”
– With information from Deadline.