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At Dubai Film Festival, Pakistan's 'My Pure Land' is About a Belle and Bullets

Though 'My Pure Land' may appear to carry with it the flaws of a debut feature, Masud has wisely refrained himself from going overboard with the dramatic element.

Gautaman Bhaskaran |

Updated:December 9, 2017, 12:32 PM IST
At Dubai Film Festival, Pakistan's 'My Pure Land' is About a Belle and Bullets
(Image courtesy: YouTube channel of DIFF)
It may seem incredible that Britain should have nominated an Urdu language movie for the 2018 Foreign Language Oscars. A taut thriller, My Pure Land in Urdu by the British-Pakistani auteur, Sarmad Masud, will vie for the trophy along with dozens of other contenders – including Amit Masurkar's Newton from India, a work that has an uncanny resemblance to Iran's Secret Ballot.

My Pure Land was shot in Pakistan and has dialogues which to me sounded more Hindi than chaste Urdu. Part of the ongoing 14th Dubai International Film Festival, Masud's creation is based on a true story, a story of how three women – a mother and two of her young daughters – safeguard their home and land from an army of men out to grab the piece of plot. Essentially about a teenage girl, Nazo Dharejo, who picks up a gun to fight her own uncle and his goons, all armed to their teeth.

Admittedly, these attackers have some kind of native chivalry that stops them from being cunning and cruel. There are a few scenes where we see Nazo walk out of her gate to argue out her case with the men. They could have easily pumped bullets into the frail girl, but no! So, as much I would read a strong message of feminism in the movie, I cannot but ignore the fact that battle was fought with some kind of remarkable ground rules in place.

Though My Pure Land may appear to carry with it the flaws of a debut feature ( I can find faults with the way some of the shots have been framed and their tone and texture, even some uneven acting), Masud has wisely refrained himself from going overboard with the dramatic element. The plot could have easily lent itself to this kind of exaggeration.

Nazo (Suhaee Abro) is raised by her father, Haji Khuda Buksh (Syed Tanveer Hussain), to be a “man” and to save the family honor at any cost, even at the cost of her life. "In this world, nothing is more important than your honor," he tells her, "not even your life."

While Haji and his son are pushed into jail on a trumped up charge by the man's half brother, Nazo is left to defend her home, along with her old mother and a younger sister. When the ruthless uncle fails to persuade the three women to vacate the premises, he gets 200 men, and, with the connivance of cops and politicians, resorts to a gun battle. It may seem unbelievable, but the two girls, more so Nazo and her lover (who happens to be at the house then), keep the marauding men at bay. But the story is true, and follows the real incident.

Unfortunately, the script is bit confusing and goes haywire with its flashbacks. However, some visually poetic qualities lift the film to a kind of height that will endear it to its viewers.
Masud, who made a short movie called Two Dosas (yes that was the title) in 2014, said in an interview that he was sure he had to set his work in Pakistan, noting, “Otherwise, it might have lost some of its authenticity”.

A newspaper article about how a young girl defended her family home in rural Sindh from bandits provoked his creative juices. “I spoke to the journalists who wrote the article and they put us in touch with the female warrior and her husband.” The couple were more than willing to share their experiences with Masud – all about their one in a million reported land grab cases in Pakistan.

And Masud found it thrilling to write the script about a girl who used bullets to keep the invaders at bay. The work is strongly feminist, but Masud keeps his movie subtle and soft. No songs and dances here. No heroics either. Only calm resignation. And Masud had to use every bit of persuasion to make sure that his actors did not slip into a mode closer to Pakistani television serials or Bollywood heroism of the kind we see in men like Salman Khan. The actors were used to seeing these, and they were keen to show off their “acting”. But Masud had to pull them to the ground to ensure that they did not fly off in a flight of fancy. Could not have been easy in the Asian subcontinent, where actors resort to exaggerated mannerisms the moment they have the grease-paint on, and the director calls out sound, action and camera!

(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran is now covering the 14th Dubai International Film Festival)
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