*First-time filmmaker looks at life in the UAE through the lens of two very different women…
DUBAI is something of a melting pot – but rarely do we see any feature films set there, and which explore this undoubted facet of life in the desert province.
Tonight’s UK Asian Film Festival Gala Closing Film ‘Pinky Memsaab’ does this – and is very much in keeping with the festival’s theme of revolution.
It is a story about crossing divides – between rich and poor, educated and those less privileged, and Pakistanis and Indians, westerners and Emiratis.
Centred around a young woman, who leaves her native Punjab in Pakistan and goes to work for a rich and settled compatriot woman in Dubai, it covers the very personal journeys of two people a little out of sorts.
“It’s about this wide-eye naïve girl from Punjab who comes to work (in Dubai) as a maid servant for an affluent woman really living it up” Khan told www.asianculturevulture.com from Dubai, before she left for London. “One of the things I really wanted to explore was this class divide.”
‘Pinky’ (Hajira Yamin) and ‘Mehr’ (Kiran Malik) strike up something of a friendship, despite being from very different sides of the tracks.
The debut feature-maker said: “They are literally from the same part of the world, but they have very different cultures and are from very different communities – and just being Pakistani does not even start to tell you who they are.”
Mehr enjoys a high standard of living and is something of a socialite and mixes with a wide range of people.
“I wanted to show the cosmopolitan nature of Dubai – it amazes me that this country is made up of about 80 per cent expats and the rest are local,” Khan explained.
The contact between Indian and Pakistani communities is something she was also keen to explore too.
“It’s a deeply different animal when they (expats) step out of their own countries and deal with each other,” she posited.
She had actors from both Pakistan and India and two of the three songs in the film were produced in Pakistan and one in India. While 80 per cent was shot in Dubai with local production talent (there is a strong advertising industry), the rest was shot on location in Pakistan.
The recent ratcheting of tensions between Pakistan and Inda has blown over – for now – but officially neither country is particularly welcoming films or talent from the other – which remains something a forgotten sore for artists.
“It’s a very mixed cast,” Khan pointed out. “Santosh (played by Indian Sunny Hinduja) is an endearing character and provides some of the light relief – he’s been in the employ of the family for a long time and he’s more than just an employee or servant.”
There are hints, also, perhaps that Mehr and Santosh strike up a bond of sorts and identify more strongly with each other as employees – rather more than their strict nationalities would suggest.
Khan told acv she was inspired to write and make a film about the expat life and the contradictions and challenges of such an existence.
“I have borrowed from my own life,” said Khan, who called herself slightly tongue-in-cheek, a ‘mummy director’ (- she has two school-age boys). “I’ve lived in different countries over the last 15 years.”
She was in London for a while and produced programmes for the Pakistan Channel, ARY, before moving to South Africa and then Dubai as her banker husband moved around for his work.
A graduate of the London Film Academy, she worked on shorts and documentaries before embarking on this film.
She raised finance for the film from friends and family and some personal investors, after initially approaching production companies that had their own ideas about her script and how it should be made.
“It’s been a bit of a struggle doing everything and my husband and sons have been absolute stars.
“People can see me as an example – just two years ago, I was just writing – now I have a film under my belt.
“It’s never too late.”
‘Pinky Memsaab’ is the Closing Gala UK Asian Film Film London at BAFTA this evening (April 6) – it is sold out but check http://www.tonguesonfire.com
The UK Asian Film Festival comes to a close in London tomorrow (April 7) with two talks and a dinner at BAFTA. See the UK Asian Film Festival website for details. The festival continues until May 4 (Glasgow and Manchester). ‘Pinky Memsaab‘ screens at Home in Manchester on May 4.
*Slight alteration in text since publication on April 6
Postscript: April 7
THIS film is available on a streaming platform and is well worth a view if you are interested in the interplay of cultures in Dubai and how this plays out between two quite different women.
Pinky (Hajira Yamin) is at heart a village girl, while Mehr (Kiran Malik) is as cosmopolitan as they come. Mehr is totally home in Dubai, while Pinky grows to find her own place and it this juxtaposition that drives the film.
Director Shazia Ali Khan in her first feature film keeps things well-balanced till the last portion – the shift of the narrative from Dubai to Pakistan is slightly awkward and the circular nature of plot (returning from present to past and back) perhaps leaves more questions than answers. Nothing wrong with that in itself, but perhaps a bolder filmmaker might have tied loose ends up more starkly – and perhaps more positively when it came to Pinky and Santosh.
It may just be a matter of sensibilities…Nevertheless this a fine first effort and Khan should be encouraged to explore these themes more and perhaps with yet greater conviction – there is a powerful scene near the end where Mehr’s elderly father berates one of his nieces for putting ritual before meaningful human contact. She also explores women’s choices with some skill. More please.
ACV rating: *** (out of five)
*See pictures from the Red Carpet at Bafta for Pinky Memsaab, use #UKAFF2019 and #UKAFFacv19 on for social media.