Review: What Will People Say
- TORONTO 2017: Norwegian actress and filmmaker Iram Haq’s sophomore film is a coming-of-age drama in defence of the emancipation of women in Pakistani culture
Pakistan’s cultural ambivalence between modern-day liberal mores and its own traditional values is a common theme that winds through both full-length films released to date by Norwegian actress and director Iram Haq. Five years after making her debut with I Am Yours [+see also:
film profile], which explored the experience of a single mother in Norway whose acts of feminist rebellion create friction with the moral conservatism of her forebears, Haq has transfused the same doubts and fears into a new downtrodden female heroine in What Will People Say [+see also:
interview: Iram Haq
film profile], unveiled for the first time as a contender in the Platform section of the Toronto Film Festival.
This time around, her chosen vehicle is Nisha (Maria Mozhdah), a seventeen-year-old girl in the throes of sexual awakening. In contrast to the dynamic female lead of her first film, Nisha is a minor who lacks the autonomy to choose her own path. Nevertheless, the circumstances of her life won’t allow her to give up the fight for her rights as a woman that she has begun, and so Nisha lives a double life behind her parents’ backs.
The first section of the film seems to take the form of a family drama, sketched out over a series of scenes depicting the obstacles that Nisha’s parents place in her path to stop her from following a modern lifestyle like her classmates. The real tragedy is held back until the halfway point of the film — when Nisha’s father catches her kissing her first boyfriend, a Norwegian. To prevent his daughter from succumbing to the impropriety of Western society, Mirza (Adil Hussain) kidnaps Nisha and forces her to start a new life in Pakistan, under the watchful eyes of the family members who chose to remain in Islamabad rather than emigrate to Oslo.
As the film unfolds, what at first appears to be a family drama morphs into a stifling thriller about what it takes to survive on the corrupt and dangerous streets of Islamabad, where women have no rights to speak of. It’s in the final third of the film that Haq gives free rein to her feminist discourse, at last allowing her protagonist to find her voice and her power.
(Translated from Spanish)
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