×

Film Review: ‘Dukhtar’

A mother in Pakistan’s tribal north flees with her daughter rather than let her become a child bride in this well-balanced drama.

With:
Samiya Mumtaz, Mohib Mirza, Saleha Aref, Asif Khan, Ajab Gul, Samina Ahmed, Adnan Shah Tipu, Abdullah Jan, Omair Rana, Zeeshan Shafa. (Urdu, Pashto dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3175888/reference

Pakistan’s 2014 Oscar entry, “Dukhtar,” is a handsomely made, nicely modulated fugitive drama with forceful social overtones that decries the ongoing practice of marrying child brides in tribal regions of the country’s mountainous north. New York-based scripter-helmer Afia Nathaniel certainly doesn’t shy away from challenges, since the film’s exceptional location work in remote areas of the Punjab couldn’t have been easy, but the gamble paid off, and the pic not only is a natural for human-rights fests but could also see modest action on Stateside arthouse screens.

While unquestionably an issue-based pic, “Dukhtar,” which means “daughter” in Urdu, works well on its own terms, and in her feature debut, Nathaniel proves her mettle in a national industry where distaff directors are rare. The setting is the Hunza Valley, a place still riven by blood feuds in which powerless women and girls are frequently used as bargaining chips. Charismatic Zainab (Saleha Aref), 10, is good at school and a source of strength to her mother, Allah Rakhi (Samiya Mumtaz). Father Daulat Khan (Asif Khan), significantly older than his wife, is a tribal leader engaged in a violent spat with neighboring headman Tor Gul (Abdullah Jan).

Already 17 people are dead thanks to the feud, and after the latest killing, Tor Gul tells Daulat Khan there’s only one way to stop the bloodshed: Give him Zainab in marriage. For Allah Rakhi (whose name means “God protects”), herself a child bride at 15, the thought of her daughter going through a similar experience is too much, so she and Zainab flee. They’re fortunate to encounter trucker Sohail (popular heartthrob Mohib Mirza), who offers to take them to his destination further south in Punjab. It’s not Lahore, where Allah Rakhi plans to reunite with her mother (Samina Ahmed), but at least it’s a start.

Meanwhile, Tor Gul’s violent henchman Ghorzang Khan (Adnan Shah Tipu) is hot on their trail. Though initially reluctant to help, Sohail realizes the danger his passengers are in and protects them; the fact that he’s ex-mujahid means he’s better equipped than most to keep them safe. But when his truck stalls, the three are forced to flee on foot, donkey and whatever conveyance they can find.

Nathaniel is especially sensitive to the placement of figures in their environment, never losing her characters but ensuring that the landscape plays a key role in the frame, not just in scenes shot among Pakistan’s spectacular mountain passes. Sohail’s garishly decorated truck, replete with spangles, gewgaws and bright colors, isn’t exactly a great place for Allah Raki and Zainab to hide, but it does make for exceptional imagery when set against wide open spaces. Once the trio gets to Lahore, Nathaniel adeptly upends the initial rush of freedom in the anonymous big city by hemming in her protags with jostling crowds and noise at a fair, cleverly building tension via a combination of humor and dread.

Occasionally the film is guilty of a little overstatement, as in a shot, heavy with implication, of chickens roasting on a spit when the characters are at a rest stop. But her script is mostly more intelligent than that, and she’s fortunate in her choice of actors, many of whom are well known at home. Locals as well as offshore auds will be particularly impressed by the visuals, nicely balanced between intimacy (including occasional p.o.v. shots) and crisp grandeur.

Film Review: 'Dukhtar'

Reviewed at Dubai Film Festival (Cinema of the World), Dec. 11, 2014. (Also in Palm Springs Film Festival; Berlin Film Festival — market; 2014 Toronto, Busan, London, Stockholm film festivals.) Running time: 93 MIN.

Production:

(Pakistan-U.S.-Norway) A Geo Films (in Pakistan) release of a Zambeel Films production, in association with the Crew Films, Indie Film, Mint Prods., Infinitum Prods. (International sales: Dukhtar Prods., Brooklyn.) Produced by Afia Nathaniel, Muhammad Khalid Ali. Co-producers, Cordelia Stephens, Carsten Aanonsen, Shrihari Sathe, Noman Waheed, Thea Kerman. Executive producer, Muhammad Nadeem Nawaz.

Crew:

Directed, written by Afia Nathaniel. Camera (color), Armughan Hassan; editor, Hassan; music, Peter Nashel, Sahir Ali Bagga; production designer/costume designer, Nauman Kashif; sound, GM Chaand; sound designer, Eli Cohn; line producer, Muhammad Khalid Ali; associate producers, Zinnia Sheikh, Khalid Mushtaq, Muhammad Asghar; assistant director, Imran Sarfaz.

With: Samiya Mumtaz, Mohib Mirza, Saleha Aref, Asif Khan, Ajab Gul, Samina Ahmed, Adnan Shah Tipu, Abdullah Jan, Omair Rana, Zeeshan Shafa. (Urdu, Pashto dialogue)

More Film

  • it chapter two, comic con

    Comic-Con: 4500 Gallons of Fake Blood and Everything Else to Know About 'It Chapter Two''

    Comic-Con 2019 kicked off with a stacked presentation from the director and cast of “It Chapter Two” on Wednesday, inspiring a curious amount of joy at San Diego’s Spreckles Theater in spite of the abject terror offered up by the film. The closing chapter to 2017’s record-obliterating “It,” the highest grossing R-rated horror film of [...]

  • 'Between Me and My Mind' Review:

    Film Review: Trey Anastasio in 'Between Me and My Mind'

    Trey Anastasio doesn’t look like a rock star. With his thick rimless glasses and flop of sandy red hair, you might say he resembles John Sebastian, but really, he looks like a mashup of Mike White and Jon Cryer and the filmmaker Chris Smith. He’s an appealingly ordinary shaggy-geek dude, like some guy you might [...]

  • Photo taken July 18, 2019, from

    Multiple Deaths From Arson Attack on Japan's Kyoto Animation

    An arson attack on the Kyoto Animation company on Thursday morning in Japan. has claimed the life of at least one person . But it is now feared that 13 have been killed. Emergency services in Kyoto City received a call around 10.35 a.m. local time reporting an explosion on the first floor. The blaze [...]

  • sith trooper

    Sith Trooper Revealed From 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker'

    “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” revealed a new storm trooper uniform Wednesday at San Diego Comic Con as part of a special exhibit celebrating the evolution of the storm trooper design. Dubbed the Sith trooper, the new uniform sports all-red armor plates with a matching red and black blaster. Also decorating the armor is [...]

  • Dunkirk

    Harry Styles Is the Perfect Prince Eric; Why He'd Rock 'Little Mermaid' Role

    Could Harry Styles be the perfect Prince Eric? One day after the announcement that the One Direction star is “in early negotiations to play the iconic ‘Little Mermaid’ role,” the internet exploded with speculation as to how he would portray the object of Ariel’s affections. “I can see lots of reasons why Harry is perfect,” [...]

  • The Lion King

    Film News Roundup: PETA Sponsors Rescued Lion in Jon Favreau's Name

    In today’s film news roundup, PETA honors Jon Favreau for “The Lion King,” “Tigers Are Not Afraid” gets a theatrical release, a Kirk Franklin biopic is in development and “The Sixth Sense” gets an anniversary showing in Philadelphia. HONOR The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is sponsoring a rescued lion to honor director [...]

  • Tokyo Director-in-Focus-at-Japan-Now

    Nobuhiko Obayashi set as Japanese Director in Focus at Tokyo Film Festival

    Indie director, Nobuhiko Obayashi will be feted as the director in focus at the Japan Now section of this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival. The festival will give a world premiere to his “Labyrinth of Cinema.” Supporting his art by shooting commercials, Obayashi is an indie whose dreamy works have influenced numerous other directors in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content