by Dave O’Flanagan
The prospect of Afia Nathaniel’s directorial debut was an intriguing one in light of Pakistan’s slow but steady shuffle in the direction of child marriage abolition. This grim and unfathomable custom continues to be widespread in all areas of Pakistan, and Dukhtar tells the story of a mother who flees her hometown, refusing to consign her daughter to this fate. The opening 20 minutes or so are compelling, we are introduced to the sweet and innocent Zainab (Saleha Aref), her protective mother Allah (Samiya Mumtaz) and the old and crusty tribe leader who Zainab is to wed. While the acting in the opening scenes is often shaky, Dukhtar starts with promise; unsettling and engaging. As soon as mother and daughter escape – encountering dashing ex-military man (Mohib Mirza) – the film takes an unrecoverable and irredeemable nosedive into awfully camp cheddar cheese love story. It’s a seismic shift in tone that includes not one, but two musical montages of both Allah and Sohail mucking about, having fun and generally embracing their escape from murderous tribesmen. It’s just too comical to detail how bad this misjudged shift in narrative is, but suffice to say, it completely derails an otherwise interesting premise.
Dukhtar is showing on Oct 10th & 14th at the 58th BFI London Film festival