Dukhtar Screening Serves as a Special Treat to Southern California
By Saboohi Kareem
The week of October 16 th through October 22 nd, 2015 brought to Southern California a special treat. The Pakistan Arts Council of the USC Pacific Asia Museum hosted the screening of the movie “Dukhtar” (Daughter) at the Laemmle-Music Hall theaters in Beverly Hills.
The President of the Arts Council, Ayesha Kamran and her Board, have been bringing outstanding authors and artists from Pakistan to the Southern California area for many years. According to Ms Kamran, this film was especially important to the Board as it represented the work of a pioneering Pakistani film maker, Afia Nathaniel, about a subject that is very relevant to mothers of young daughters all over the world, that of child marriage. This film was Pakistan’s official submission for Foreign Language Film at the 87 th Academy Awards (2014) and has been shown in several film festivals across the world with numerous awards to its credit. It was also shown commercially in Pakistan to critical acclaim.
The story begins in the northern areas of Pakistan and the dramatic scenery and landscapes of the Himalayan region play as important a role in the movie as any of the leading characters. The plot centered around the daring escape of Pakhtun mother Allah Rakhi and her ten-year-old daughter Zainab from their home to avoid a child marriage. The escape is portrayed expertly by the director Afia Nathaniel. In Nathaniel’s narration, Zainab’s father has had to promise his daughter to the elderly leader of an opposing clan to bring peace amongst rival factions in the area. However his wife Allah Rakhi wants a different life for her daughter. Their escape from the village is both thrilling and awe-inspiring. The chase scenes are very well done and qualify “Dukhtar" to be Pakistan’s first movie in the road trip-thriller genre. At least two reviews of the movie compare it to the Hollywood film Mad Max-Fury Road and there are marked similarities between the two. The movies share amazing wild landscapes and thrilling escapes from dangerous warlords. Ironically, Mad Max is set in a post-apocalyptic world, while “Dukhtar” is set in today’s Pakistan.
The film is the work of Pakistani writer/director/producer Afia Serena Nathaniel who has an MFA degree in Film Directing from Columbia University. She currently serves as Adjunct Faculty in Screen Writing at the Columbia University and New York University film programs. Ms Nathaniel addressed the audience at the Pakistan Arts Council screening of the film at the Laemmle on Saturday. I had the opportunity to interview her before the screenings and got to learn more about this remarkable film and its equally remarkable producer.
SA: Can you tell us something about what gave you the idea of this film and the format that you used to present your story?
ASN: Growing up in Lahore, Pakistan I have always been aware of the difficulties facing Pakistani women in the rural areas and among lower socio-economic groups, including child marriage and lack of education. Given this context, I was moved when I heard about a woman in the tribal belt escaping with her two daughters from their home. The story resonated with me and the fact that escape from that environment was extremely dangerous was also a very interesting aspect for me as a film maker. I have always been a sci-fi film buff and enjoyed watching the thriller genre of movies. My favorite shows growing up were Star Trek as well as programs on Door Darshan. In this story I felt that I could combine my two great interests: The empowerment of women shown through an adventure filled lens. It was a rare opportunity to bring the two together.
SA: Tell us a little bit about what training you had to help you make a movie like this?
ASN: I did this mainly by obtaining my MFA in Film Directing from Columbia University. The script for this movie was written while I was a graduate student.
SA: What were the challenges you faced in making this film in Pakistan?
ASN: There were several problems that I faced, not the least being the issue of funding. The film had a female protagonist and was made by a female filmmaker, neither of which were particularly salable in the Pakistani domestic market. The risks of filming in Pakistan also discouraged outside funding sources. I was able to obtain funding finally in 2012 from a Norwegian organization (SORFUND) and started on the job of putting together the technical and artistic portions of the film. The logistical problems that we faced in filming in sub-zero temperatures with a cast and crew of 50 people were quite significant. The weather was working against us and we had to complete our filming in four weeks so that we were not blocked by snowfall from returning on the Karakorum Highway. The roads were treacherous and the areas where we were filming were remote. The crew had not filmed a local feature film in this region before and despite assurances from the security forces I was always concerned about the security of my team.
SA: Please tell us a little about your cast and team?
ASN: I had always envisioned the role of Allah Rakhi to be played by Samiya Mumtaz. I had seen her on stage in Lahore and felt that she had tremendous dramatic skill. We were very fortunate in getting Saleha Aref to play the role of Zainab. She had appeared in the Urdu production of Sesame Street and was well suited to play the role of the daughter. Mohib Mirza played the truck driver who helped the pair escape and is the love interest of Allah Rakhi. As you may know, Mohib is very well known to film and television viewers in Pakistan. I was also fortunate to have a very able and experienced ground crew. I am especially grateful to Mr Khalid Ali, the line producer on this film. He and his company Crew Films made the movie possible on the ground. He also believed in this film long before others and never wavered in his support.
SA: Congratulations on the production of a really unusual film set in Pakistan and good luck to you in marketing this film. Hopefully we will see many more movies of this nature coming out of Pakistan.