Saturday, 9 September 2017

WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2017: Shame Yields Kidnapping

A father and daughter on the precipice.

What Will People Say (2017)
Dir. Iram Haq
Starring: Maria Mozhdah, Adil Hussain, Rohit Saraf, Ekavali Khanna

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The number of times I heard my parents utter the words: "What will people say?" is incalculable. I can't remember a time in my life when it wasn't on their lips and it was usually in reference to some real or perceived offence I committed quite naturally by my very existence and who I naturally was/am as a human being. From early childhood on, I was the living, breathing, walking, talking fuel for this question. It's even a question I heard uttered within the context of pretty much anything that occurred within their sphere of existence in which "what people would say" loomed large.

As a child and adult, it was not only a hurtful question, but even, I daresay, a stupid question. My earliest memories of not giving a shit about what people would say about anything I did or said are as acute now as they were then. I really didn't and don't give a shit what people would/will say. Not so with my parents or frankly anyone who believed that the status quo meant anything at all.

I was not, nor will I ever be a sheep led to slaughter. As such, what people will say is just so much nonsense.

I suspect it's a generational thing, but no matter how many times I heard the question, usually the result of something "shameful" I did or said, I would never have imagined being kidnapped and forced to submit to indoctrination into old world values.

This is precisely what happens to Nisha (Maria Mozhdah), the teenage daughter of hard-working immigrant Pakistanis living in Oslo, Norway. Like any modern kid in the modern world, she goes to school, hangs with friends and hits the nightclubs. Alas, the "normal" life in the western world is completely at odds with her fundamentalist family and when she innocently finds herself in a position where she egregiously flouts their values, she is kidnapped and shipped to Pakistan with an aunt and uncle charged with training her in the ways of being a dutiful daughter (and eventual wife in an arranged marriage).

At first Nisha's life in the "old world" is fraught with subjugation and drudgery, but she slowly begins to connect with her heritage. Sadly, she finds herself in a horrific situation that is not in any way, shape or form her fault, but again she finds herself in a position where she brings "shame" to her family.

And in some cultures, it is perfectly acceptable to kill a child that brings you shame.

What Will People Say proves to be an extremely promising debut feature for Oslo-born actress/art director Iram Haq. Replete with glorious cultural details and stirring family drama, Haq layers her film with a myriad of complexities beneath a solidly simple coat hanger. It is a movie as filled with joy, love and sheer humanity as it is with chilling, suspenseful tension.

At several points, the anxiety displayed is so taut that her direction is worthy of Hitchcock himself. I found myself on the edge of my seat, almost begging and pleading with the character of Nisha to open her eyes to everything that I could see happening, but of course, a great director knows that there's nothing more thrilling than when a central character knows nothing and goes with a flow that we the audience recognize as the wrong direction to take.

There are set pieces which are masterfully directed: scenes and images and the feelings they engendered, that are with me still - mysterious night rides, shocking moments of abandonment, thrilling attempts at escape, a darkness-enshrouded encounter with sexually predatory cops and in one lollapalooza of a father-daughter confrontation, a walk into the wilderness that leads to the edge of a cliff that plummets into the maw of a deadly chasm.

Yes, the Master of Suspense would approve. So do I.

And yes, we must all acknowledge that an "old world" will persist in our lives. What's so sophisticated and mature about Haq's exploration of this is that she provides a balance to the venerable qualities of tradition so that the ebbs and flows, the peaks and valleys of the dramatic action are compulsively driven by that which is clearly both right and wrong about one's heritage.

What people will say ultimately means very little compared to how one conducts oneself based upon values that are discovered and learned by always keeping one's eyes wide open, but where tradition rules the roost, sometimes we all need to prop up our eyelids with toothpicks.


What Will People Say screens at TIFF 2017