March 17 2015
Former tongues on fire film festival starts this week and there’s a chance to see some powerful works, including “Dukhtar” and its director Afia Nathanial talks to us…
By Suman Bhuchar
OPENING the ten-day 17th London Asian Film Festival (LAFF) from Thursday (March 19) is the much acclaimed Pakistani film, “Dukhtar” (Daughter), directed by Afia Nathaniel.
There’s also a chance to see a group of films that have caused quite a stir – “Haider” (Friday, March 20), “The World Before Her” (Sunday, March 22), “Magarita With a Straw” (Wednesday, March 25), and the closing gala film, “Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain” (Saturday, March 28).
Another undoubted highlight will be a special screening of the 2007 Bollywood mega hit, and Shah Rukh Khan starrer, “Om Shanti Om” which was legendary choreographer Farah Khan’s (pictured top inset right) first major music-centred feature film as a director. Khan who has gone onto enjoy considerable success with her latest film, “Happy New Year” will attend the screening on Saturday (March 21) and participate in what is being billed as a “Bollywood Razzmatazz”, with a chance to sing and dance along with her.
There’s also a special musical tribute night to one of the original male Bollywood heartthrobs, Rajesh Khanna on the final night of the festival (Saturday, March 28).
“Dukhtar” director Nathaniel will participate in a Q&A following Thursday’s (March 19) opening gala screening of the film at Prince Charles Cinema, just beyond Leicester Square in central London.
Festivalgoers will be a step ahead of the general public as the film only goes out on release in the UK next month and will distributed by Mara Pictures.
The film premiered at the London Film Festival and the personable director spoke to www.asianculturevulture.com about the challenges of making such a film.
Her debut feature has certainly been creating a stir since it featured at the Toronto Film Festival last September. It was selected as the Pakistani entry to the Oscars and this small art house film has garnered much praise for Nathaniel.
“The story has all the makings of a great against-all-odds adventure tale, abetted by spectacular location shooting and an outcome that is never a foregone conclusion,” said ‘The Hollywood Reporter’, while ‘Indiwire’, the online magazine, declared: “This is in its own right a groundbreaking film unlike anything done by a director from this particular part of the world. It’s art and social change united in harmony via soulful storytelling.”
“Dukhtar” is the story of a woman, Alla Rakhi (played by Samiya Mumtaz) who makes a decision to run away with her ten year old daughter, Zainab (Saleha Aref), when she discovers that her husband, Daulat Khan (Asif Khan) is about to get her married off to a tribal chieftain in order to settle an old score.
Alla Rakhi, who herself suffered a similar fate, doesn’t wish this upon her daughter and so takes drastic action – she ups and leaves, and the film follows their journey while they flee and are being chased by the husband’s henchmen who want her back.
Nathaniel told www.asianculturevulture.com that her film was inspired by a true story about a woman with two daughters who ran away from a tribal area – Nathaniel had heard about this, while she worked at the World Young Women Christian Association in Geneva.
“The actual story is much more harrowing but what stayed in my mind is this image of this mother and child on the road, on this unknown journey,” she explained. “The catalyst for the fictionalised story became the child marriage issue which propels the woman who’s living a very quiet life and who suddenly finds herself in this position where she has to flee the life she has known and find a new life.”
Nathaniel, who was born in Quetta and brought up in Lahore, sees it as her mission to mix art and social issues together.
“I want to break the status quo, on a lot of things and this is one of the things. I have a seven year old daughter, and this issue is very close to my heart, not just for Pakistan but for throughout the world.”
She pointed out that “every year fourteen million girls are given away in child marriage, and in the next decade that’s hundred and forty million girls across the world. It’s not Pakistan; it’s a much wider, much bigger issue”.
Cinema became her weapon of choice quite by accident. She appeared to be quite academic – what with her two degrees and all achieved before hitting the big 4-0.
She has a B.Sc in mathematics with a minor in physics acquired from Kinnaird College, Lahore and another in computer science from the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS); it was only a matter of time before she realised she didn’t want to stay in the sciences and found the courage to change.
She ended up as a copywriter for an ad agency and later applied for and received the Dean’s Scholarship to do an MFA course in filmmaking at Columbia University, New York and hasn’t looked back since.
Nathaniel is part of the new wave of feisty Pakistani women directors who are challenging their male dominated popular but nascent independent film industry by making socially conscious films. Another film in a similar socially powerful mode is “Zinda Bhaag” (Friday, March 27) written and directed by Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi.
“Dukhtar” was released in Pakistan by Geo films and led to a lot of celebrities taking a stand against child marriage. This is really the type of filmmaking she wants to engage with. “I believe cinema has that kind of power to bring something forward that can spark a more positive dialogue,” she said.
You can’t help but feel inspired by her #ThisGirlCan attitude.
Also, don’t miss the ‘Women in Media’ event on Sunday (March 22) at SOAS, close to Russell Square, London. It is an afternoon consisting of a film screening of “The World Before Her“, a Q&A with director Nisha Pahuja, discussions and networking event. It will culminate with a director’s masterclass by Farah Khan.
For full programme information, news and listings, please see www.tonguesonfire.com