What Will People Say movie review: This Norwegian-Urdu drama is painstakingly crafted
Writer-director Iram Haq has described What Will People Say, a Norwegian-Urdu drama, as an “intense, beautiful and painful story about growing up between two cultures.” This is a coming-of-age tale that follows a young girl’s tumultuous life as she tries to survive in a world rife with cultural clashes.
Nisha (Maria Mozhdah) is a teenager growing up in Norway, but she leads a double life: as a regular Norwegian teen outside her home but deeply a traditional Norwegian-Pakistani when she returns home. Her parents are conservative, old-fashioned and strict and the mother (Ekavali Khanna) is particularly concerned about society and its opinions. The father Mirza (Adil Hussain) hopes that, like his older son, his daughter too will make a career for herself in this adopted land.
Then one day, owing to perhaps a poor judgment call by Nisha, until one day these two worlds brutally collide. While on one hand, Haq portrays the strict social service standards in Norway, she juxtaposes it with the entirely archaic and patriarchal rules of the Pakistani home. The child is not allowed to explain, there is no scope for her truth to be heard. The blind fury that drives the extended family means Nisha must not just pay for her mistakes, but she must also serve as an example to deter other girls from the community from entertaining such thoughts. Nisha is taken out of Norway and handed over to the family in Pakistan where she is reduced to being coached for a life of domesticity by her harsh aunt (Sheeba Chaddha).
Whether in Europe or on the sub-continent, these families are consumed by a fear of finger pointing and with upholding honour. The ‘log kya kahenge’ thought is exactly the title of the film. What hit home was how the women in the family, who had perhaps endured a similar oppression, heap all kinds of abuse and unfairness on the next generation girl child. But this is also a flaw in Haq’s characterization – to create women characters without tonality.
From the opening scene to the very last frames, there is tension. You feel for Nisha and are anxiously anticipating the next horror, wishing for her not to repeat the same mistakes. There is a particularly horrific scene with the police in Pakistan that makes you want to reach into the screen and pull Nisha out!
What Will People Say is powerful storytelling with an authentic setting (though Rajasthan stands in for Pakistan). Mozhdah rises to the challenge of capturing the many shades of Nisha – the rebel, the dutiful daughter, the immature girl, the controlled and betrayed daughter, the confused teenager. Hussain captures the gamut of emotions felt by a father caught between duty, love and frustration.
This film is a strong and heartbreaking comment on immigrant families that raise children in a foreign culture yet smother them in the stranglehold of tradition.