Pakistani-Norwegian actor-director Iram Haq’s much talked-about film “What People Will Say” wowed audience at its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
This emotionally gripping family drama reminds one of the 1983 Bollywood movie “Log Kya Kahenge” (What People Will Think), in which Shabana Azmi plays the role of a young woman who is forced into marriage with a widower and how she takes revenge.
“What People Will Say” is the story of a Pakistani-origin teenage girl caught between the East and West.
Here is a Pakistani immigrant couple – played by Adil Hussain and Ekavali Khanna – in Oslo, strictly following their conservative Muslim culture in which their kids must preserve the family honour.
Their obsession with family honour forces their teenage daughter Nisha (Maria Mozhdah) to live a double life. At home, she bends to her parents’ dictate. But outside, she does all that a typical western teenager does – trying a puff, drinking beer, friendship and kissing.
She hangs out late with her peers, but then also runs home to ensure that she is not caught by parents. Nisha crosses the threshold when she invites her white boyfriend into her bedroom and gets caught.
All hell breaks loose. “You have slept with him? You had sex with him?” asks the furious father. She becomes a stigma for her family.
An eerie sense of dread and doom lingers when the poor girl is dragged by her father and brother and put in a car and driven away. What will happen to Nisha now?
She is whisked to Pakistan to live with her uncle’s family and learn the domestic life that her parents will choose for her. As the events unfold, she ends up becoming a stigma for her Pakistani relatives too, and gets thrown out to be back in Norway.
The contrast in Nisha’s life – from a free-spirited teenager in wintry Norway to when she lands in hot, dusty and crowded Pakistan where she is virtually a prisoner – is captured superbly by the camera.
From director Iram Haq’s perspective, this film is a bit of a personal story as she too, was taken to Pakistan by her parents as a teenager.
“It’s (what happened to Nisha) happened to me when I was a teenager… It is still happening (to young girls) in Norway and elsewhere.”
She, however, denies trying to portray Pakistan in a negative light. “I am not making a negative portrayal of Pakistan, I am talking about the subject.”
Adil Hussain and Ekavali Khanna have essayed the role of Nisha’s parents with aplomb.
This is a film for the global audience.