My Pure Land (2017)

My Pure Land, director Sarmad Masud’s first feature, is a Pakistan-set, female, Western-style gun battle based on an extraordinary true story.

No Place Like Home

by Alexa Dalby

My Pure Land

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

My Pure Land is a tense drama based on a extraordinary true story. In a remote part of Pakistan, a young woman – Nazo – her younger sister and mother defend their house in a lengthy Western-style shoot-out against her own uncle and a gang of hired thugs with AK-47s. They’re helped by Nazo’s brother’s friend who happened to be visiting when this family war broke out. In this society, it’s not just about land, it’s their honour and that’s more important than life.

Given the cultural stereotyping of gender roles it’s hard to believe what these women did, yet it really happened. Nazo (Suhaee Abro) and her sister were taught from childhood how to use a gun by their father (Syed Tanveer Hussain), who treated them as equal to boys: they even dressed in male shalwar kameez. The isolated fortress-like house the family lives in was inherited by Nazo’s father after his father’s death. But his envious brother, Nazo’s uncle, can’t accept it. When his corrupt legal efforts to reclaim the house fail, even though the deaths of Nazo’s father and her brother (Atif Akhtar Bhatti) in prison are down to him, he recruits a private army to help him seize it by force.

As Nazo, Abro is convincingly bold and appears never to have to overcome any additional fears arising from being a female standing up to male violence. She’s inspirational to her mother and sister and husband-to-be Zulfiqar: she’s a confident gun-toter and sharp shooter. She’s daring and resourceful despite the overwhelming odds when the house is staked out by a small army of armed men who are determined to break in and take possession of it. There’s a long, dramatic bullet-filled standoff, in which Nazo, her sister, her mother and her brother’s friend, who will later become her husband Zulfiqar (Tayyab Ifzal), are under siege for 24 hours. The back story that led to this unbearably tense, dangerous situation is filled in by flashbacks that alternate with and extend the action-filled siege.

It’s an Urdu-language Western where women have the leading roles and the outcome seems miraculous. Director Sarmad Masud’s film is low budget, shot on location and production was threatened by all the difficulties of filming in a remote, deprived area without filmmaking infrastructure. The sparse, dry countryside and the light it’s bathed in are exotically atmospheric. But it’s also portrayed realistically – the terrain is uncompromising and it’s a backdrop for the harshness of the events that unfold.

Masud’s short Two Dosas, a satire on cultural appropriation, debuted at the London Film Festival in 2014 and was long listed for both a BAFTA and Oscar after picking up numerous festival awards. He also wrote and directed Adha Cup, the first Urdu language drama commissioned by Channel Four and went on to develop it as a six-part TV series with the BBC. My Pure Land, his first feature, shows he is a talent to watch.

My Pure Land had its world premiere in the Official Selection of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017 and is released on 15 September 2017 in the UK.

My Pure Land is Britain’s selection for submission to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) for an Academy Award® in the category of Foreign Language Film. The submission is the first time an Urdu-language film has been Britain’s selection for the award.

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