A powerfully written and directed essay in courage, “Shame” tensely relates the story of Mukhtaran Mai, a Pakistani village woman who, in 2002, was publicly gang-raped to atone for a crime her brother allegedly committed. In his first feature-length doc, New York-based filmmaker Mohammed Ali Naqvi (“Terror’s Children”) describes how an uneducated woman raised an outcry that became an international cause with wide-reaching consequences. Fest exposure should help this fine Showtime Independent Films production secure offshore audiences.
When a powerful village tribe learns Mukhtaran’s 12-year-old brother is having an affair with one of its girls, he is accused of rape. The boy is beaten up and raped himself, but his sister’s honor is also demanded as reparation. The 30-year-old Mukhtaran is handed over by her father and uncle to the tribe, who abuse her as the whole village watches.
Instead of committing suicide, as she is expected to do, the young veiled woman insists on reporting her rape to the police many miles away. Yet they do nothing — until she involves a local cleric.
Eventually her tormentors are arrested and put on trial. When the New York Times and human rights groups pick up the story, she is vaulted to international fame.
By shooting over a five-year period, Naqvi was able to incorporate unexpected developments that add weight to the tale. With the aid of the government and private donations, Mukhtaran defies expectations that she would leave to make a new start somewhere else, and instead opens the first schools in her village. But when she is invited to conferences abroad, Pakistani officialdom gets cold feet and begins reining her in.
Shocking and heartwarming by turns, Mukhtaran’s story unfolds into complexities– from cultural clashes with the West to neighborhood jealousy at her success — that Naqvi, a Canadian of Pakistani descent, ably explores. Only caveat for non-TV screening is the irritating overlay of names of people and places, which feel redundant on the bigscreen.