Mitali Perkins writes novels for young people, including “You Bring the Distant Near,” (nominated for the National Book Award) “Rickshaw Girl,” (NYPL best 100 Book for children in the past 100 years), “Bamboo People,” (ALA Top 10 YA novel) and “Tiger Boy.” (South Asia Book Award winner) Her newest is “The Story of Us,” a picture book from Beaming Books, and a nonfiction book for adults, “Steeped in Stories: Timeless Children’s Novels to Refresh our Tired Souls,” published by Broadleaf. “Rickshaw Girl” is the critically acclaimed story of a young, artistic Bangladeshi girl who bravely defies tradition in order to support her family through hard times. It was adapted into an award-winning film and is available for streaming on Amazon Video and Apple iTunes, from Filmhub and Sleeperwave Films. (Rickshaw Girl, 2022)
In the movie adaptation, Novera Rahman portrays the teenage Naima who, after her father, a rickshaw driver, gets sick and cannot work, is determined to do whatever it takes to help out the family. She is a talented artist and her father encourages her gift but it is not financially rewarding. His rickshaw is repossessed because he has been unable to report to work and her mother loses her job when she is accused of stealing a cellphone. When Naima’s mother dashes her dreams of being an artist, it sends the frustrated teen off to the big city, determined to earn money for the family’s survival. At first she gets a job as a housekeeper but the conditions are so bad she leaves after one day. Out of options, she disguises herself as a boy to get a job as a rickshaw driver using the skills her father taught her. Her creative drive has her sneaking every opportunity to paint and her vivid artwork comes to life in beautifully animated form, along with hope that her emergence as an artist will be her true salvation.
Life’s harsh reality can be tough on anyone, especially children and teenagers. Rickshaw Girl does an exemplary job of combining the grittiness of the big city with the beauty of Naima’s paintings, which proves that beauty can be found in the most desolate of places. This coming of age movie touches on the topics of family pride, female empowerment, and self esteem/respect while sharing the Bangladeshi culture. While it is reminiscent of Mulan, friendship, hardships, and familial responsibilities are elements of the human condition that are similar across cultures and languages. Most importantly, it stresses the importance of never giving up on your dreams, even if you have to temporarily set them aside. It is a positive, uplifting movie recommended for teenagers and adults alike.
** Thank you to October Coast for an advanced screening.