Serbian movie about Roma singer become a hit in several Balkan countries

YouTube thumbnail image for the trailer of the film “Nedelja.” The text reads: “Sunday, life story of Džej Ramadanovski.” Fair use.

“Nedelja” (Sunday), a biographical movie dramatizing the life  and career of Džej Ramadanovski (1964–2020), a Serbian singer of Romani ethnicity, has achieved commercial success in several neighboring Balkan countries during the first months of 2024.

Džej was known for melancholy balladic kafana (tavern) songs in traditional folk styles, as well as turbo-folk hits that mixed folk with elements of pop, rap and Eurodance, with upbeat lyrics. During his career, that started in 1987, he released thirteen studio albums and a couple of standalone singles.

The biopic dramatizes his life and career, including family relationships and growing up in the downtown Belgrade neighborhood of Dorćol, which explores his associations with the underworld, and stardom after he joined the turbo-folk elite lineup.

In the past several decades, Balkan films with Romani protagonists, from “Time of the Gypsies” (1988) to “Gypsy Magic” (1997) and “Black Cat, White Cat” (1998) have often mixed surrealism with mystic romanticist depictions of peculiar Romani traditions.

Unlike those, while not shying from his Roma identity, the movie about Džej offers a realistic modern urban tale focused on his personal life story and his music, with ambitions to repeat the box office success of 2021 movie “Toma,” about another Serbian folk singer with a tragic life story, Toma Zdravković (1938–1991).

The film is directed by Nemanja Ćeranić and stars singer Husein Alijević as adult Džej Ramadanovski.

Džej family originated from Resen in North Macedonia, and in the movie his parents are played by Macedonian Roma actors Bajram Severdžan and Emra Kurtišova.

The biopic received generally favorable coverage and audience response, with over 400,000 viewers in Serbian cinemas in the first three weeks since the release in late January, which is quite a lot in a country of little less than seven million people. 

A review by Marina Petrović in Croatian lifestyle and culture magazine “”  stated that even people who haven't heard of Džej or are fans of folk music to enjoy the movie that created so much hype. She noted that in spite of limited distribution during its first weekend “Nedelja” had 4,500 movie goers, overtaking blockbuster “Argylle.”  

Premda najavljivana prvenstveno kao biografska priča o jednom pjevaču, Nedelja može biti shvaćena i kao biografska priča jednog grada. I u tome se ogleda jaka snaga ovog filma. Točnije, ogleda se u osebujnim likovima koji su scenaristički i glumački uspješno preneseni na veliko platno.

Even though it was announced as a biographical story about a singer, “Nedelja” can be understood as a biographical story about a city. This is the strength of this film. More precisely, its strength is about the unique characters which are successfully presented on the big screen, both through the screenplay and through the actors’ performances.

His daughter Marija Ramadanovski, Serbian bloggers, and media from Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, MontenegroCroatia, and Slovenia also provided favorable coverage. 

The movie is named after one of Džej's most famous songs “Nedelja” (Sunday), released in 1991, with music by Aleksandar Radulović and lyrics by Marina Tucaković, who were power couple of Serbian music industry.

The lyrics are about saying goodbye to one's family, departing on a “road without return.”

Šta da kažem majci, što me nema
Da se javim
U dom da joj svratim

Šta da kažem, šta da slažem sad
A da je ne rastužim
Da joj bol ne pričinim

Nedelja, i svi ste tu
Sve podseća na sreću
Nedelja, a više vas ja
Zagrliti neću

What can I tell my mother, why I'm gone
To call upon her
and visit her home

What can I say now, what lie can I tell
Which won't make her sad
Which won't cause her pain

It's Sunday, and everybody's here
Everything reminds of  happiness
It's Sunday, but I
Won't [be able to] hug you again

The  film inspired many of Džej's fans to post links to his songs over social media, or to quote him.

“When you meet someone new, and he says that he say's he's never cried in his life… Don't keep company with him.”
– Džej Ramadanovski

In general, the hype about the movie didn't result in visible mobilization of nationalist bigots who would use the occasion to foment discriminatory rhetoric against the Romani people. However it incited some debate about the mutual support between Serbian entertainment industry and the ruling establishment.

The film “Nedelja” was co-produced by Telekom Srbija, a powerful telecom company owned by the Serbian government, which is major regional player in telecommunication and entertainment industries. Analysts consider their hold on television, film production and sports as a key vehicle for Serbian soft power in the Balkans. Domestically, the 2021 report on media censorship by Balkan Free Media Initiative indicates that “the government is increasingly using state-owned entities such as Telekom Srbija to manipulate the commercial market.”

Some social network users used the opportunity to criticize the fact that in 2020 Džej Ramadanovski was buried at the Alley of Meritorious Citizens in Belgrade Cemetary, because he was a turbo-folk singer, an entertainment genre associated with the decline of mainstream culture and support for nationalist authoritarian regimes.

Others implied that burial in the Alley of Meritiorius Citizens was an  act of populism by current Serbian government, noting that in the past only artists and statesmen of highest profile, like  painter Petar Lubarda, Nobel Laureate for literature Ivo Andrić, writer Miloš Crnjanski, prime minster Zoran Đinđić, were given that honor, or that other recently deceased and popular meritorious citizens, like Jelena Žigon and Vladeta Jerotić, were not given the honor to be buried there.

The movie “Nedelja” demonstrated that, unlike in the past, a Balkan movie about people of Romani origin need not include elements that romanticize or mystify their ethnic identity to become mainstream hit. It managed by providing a story presenting the authentic characters as it would present any other members of contemporary society, as normal human beings that are trying to overcome life challenges in their particular context.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.