Film Review: Aya

By Texeira Murray

Games are fun. Something about the play between action and consequence, anticipating and reacting, the challenge of you against an opponent in the prospect of winning – it’s all light-hearted and happy. There’s nothing pleasant, however, about being duped. The moment you realise the wool’s been pulled over your eyes is a moment of trauma; that’s the physiological reaction your brain registers. That knot in the middle of your tummy suddenly grows tight. The heat flares up to your cheeks and ears. Your mouth dries up. You’re flushed with embarrassment and very quickly the brain must decide on its response. Usually, once you’ve assessed that the threat is nothing fatal, everything calms. You brush it off, laughter indeed becomes the best medicine in this instance. But what happens when the threat is real? When your brain’s assessment reveals deliberate intent to harm and the victim on the receiving end is you? The game turns sick and two decisions remain: fight or flight. That was the feeling just a few minutes into watching AYA, a film by indie-filmmaker, Khalid El-Jelailati aka Indie Khalid, that tells the story of a young, beautiful, naïve woman who, after an innocent exchange of chats online, agrees to meet for a date with the charming guy on the other side of the promising texts.

The narrative that ensues is frighteningly gripping and echoes so many of the stories that fill up news bulletins and find its way into the communities all around us. In just 64-minutes, the viewer is presented with the menacing interaction between Bayode (Richard Gau), the abductor, and Aya (Danica De La Rey). Bayode is a man devoid of human compassion. He views Aya only as a means to a financial transaction between himself and the very eager buyer. Gau’s portrayal of the nonchalant, boy-next-door character effectively brings across the reality that anyone can be an abductor. The depiction of him scene after scene sucking on a lollipop, drives home the point with harrowing precision of just how casual he deems this business to be. 

Drugged within minutes of meeting Bayode, Aya succumbs to hours and hours of torment and torture at the hands of her capturer. Very few words are spoken by her, perhaps because she is unable to, but Aya’s kicks, screams and drug-induced moans and grunts as she is repeatedly and forcefully injected, are undeniably loud enough for the viewer to understand. The extent of her anguish, pain and helplessness are made evident in the powerful scene when Aya, gun in hand and pressed against her captor’s head, is unable to put an end to her horror by pulling the trigger. 

The scant dialogue is forgiven by the fact that the entire film was directed and filmed by Indie Khalid in just three days, over two locations within a budget of less than R100 000.00. The cinematic techniques in the film were craftily manoeuvred around the limitations of time and resources and instead, the focus is drawn to the uncomfortable narrative that unfolds between Bayode and Aya. This is seen through the director’s use of intimidatingly close-up shots. The results, though puzzling at times, allow for the rawness of Aya’s devastation to be felt throughout the film. 

Aya brings our attention unnervingly close to home and the fact that South Africa is not immune to the horrors of human trafficking. The extent of the problem is far-reaching. Human trafficking is the world’s second-biggest profit-centred crime after drug trafficking, with statistics reporting thousands of young woman and children being sold into slavery, sex trade and prostitution and organ harvesting syndicates. In South Africa alone, the figure stands at an alarming 30 000 children approximately that are trafficked into prostitution rings annually. These numbers sadly, continue to increase daily.

The film also forces viewers to confront their personal reality, platonic relationships and question the risk of online socializing through social media networks and dating apps that have become an acceptable space for meeting new people. There is a fine line that one must draw between the fun and innocent exchange of a couple of flirtatious messages with someone and the undeniable plausibility that a tangible threat to personal safety always exists on the other end of that smartphone screen.     

Watching AYA, as difficult and as frightening as it was, at the same time proved to be a sobering and authentic experience as it highlighted more than just the plight of those who fall victim to human trafficking, it shed light on the power of film as a medium for creating awareness and inciting change. 

As a contribution to the art of filmmaking, AYA is a testament to the creative genius of director, producer and writer, Indie Khalid, and co-producer Waleed Al-Yamani, and the efficacy of the indie-filmmaking model, especially in the South African context. It proves that superior quality storytelling does not have to be compromised in order to produce an independently owned, gripping, meaningful feature film even with the constraints of just two weeks, four actors, six crewmembers and a measly R100k.      

AYA is currently available for viewing on Showmax – 

For more information on the film, director, cast and to keep up to date with upcoming related campaign events:

Instagram: @indiekhalid