Monday, 16 July 2018

Film Review: What Will People Say

Opposing cultures collide in Iram Haq's What Will People Say.

What Will People Say, which debuted at Toronto International Film Festival last September and is featured in the upcoming Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival across Australia this July and August, centres around Nisha (Maria Mozhda), a character caught between two conflicting cultures.

As a first generation Norwegian with deeply traditional Pakistani parents, Nisha is stuck between typical teenage activities – smoking, shooting hoops, clubbing, dating – and the expectations placed on her by her overbearing parents, such as helping with chores around the house, doing her maths homework and generally being an all-round studious and obedient daughter. 

Split into three acts, What Will People Say is a ‘there and back again’ tale. The first act sees Nisha struggling to shield her rebellious alter ego from her parents, the second sees her carted off to live with her extended family in Islamabad to receive a ‘traditional’ Muslim upbringing and the third comes full circle, jumping forward several months to document Nisha’s journey home. 

Writer and director Iram Haq doesn’t shy away from some the harsher truths in this, her second feature film. As its title suggests, What Will People Say and its characters, namely Nisha’s parents but also her extended family and the community at large, is steeped in the fear and shame that comes from a perceived slight on family honour or societal standing. 

Nisha’s actions are seen as a blemish that needs to be purged from existence; beaten into submission; erased and stricken from the record, like the neighbours are quietly keeping score of misdemeanours from behind their drapes. Her father, played with chilling, quaking anger and genuine complexity by Adil Hussain, fears that his humble cornershop will haemorrhage business because of Nisha’s perceived promiscuousness. Her Pakistani family are worried Nisha's reputation will proceed her. But are their concerns and love for Nisha's 'wellbeing' misplaced and unfounded?

Heart-wrenching, provocative and unflinching, one scene which sees Nisha beaten, bullied and abused by a trio of Pakistani policemen in a dark alleyway doesn't pull its punches, both literally and figuratively. However, it's the emotional strain rather than the physical pain that is most compelling; the push-pull dynamic between Nisha and her father that seesaws throughout the film.

What Will People Say excels in a technical sense also; cinematographer Nadim Carlsen beautifully contrasts the iciness of Oslo with the sticky orange glow of Islamabad, but Nisha’s cold isolation isn’t lost when transitioning from one locale to the next. Pops of colour – market stalls to fluttering kites – may look welcoming, but the familial strain is just as profound.

The Verdict: 8/10

Haq's film is an insightful character study that documents a widening generational gap as well as stark cultural differences.

What Will People Say will be screening in Perth as part of the 2018 Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival from July 19 to August 1. Visit for more information.

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