-BY MARRIUM HABIB Independent cinema in Pakistan is a force to be reckoned with. The industry has churned out some hard-hitting dramas in the past few years which have earned accolades at home and abroad. Geo Films produces the latest Pakistani independent cinema release Dukhtar, slated for a screening in late September. The movie explores the themes of archaic tribal customs in the backdrop of a road-trip thriller. A directorial debut by Afia Nathaniel: “Dukhtar is a powerful story about a mother’s personal quest to save her ten-year-old daughter from an arranged marriage to a tribal leader. It is also Pakistan’s first road-trip thriller shot in the surreal landscapes of the northern areas. I am really looking forward to bringing this film to our Pakistani audiences”. The film is funded by Worldview which aims to foster understanding of the developing world through mass media and broadcasting. Nathaniel also wrote and directed this venture. Her previous short films include Muntazir and Butterfly.
The movie, initially scheduled for an August 14th release, will now premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on September 5th as the official selection for their “Discovery” segment. Dukhtar highlights the issue of child marriage in the background of a road-trip thriller, as the protagonist (Samiya Mumtaz) embarks on a journey of self-discovery in search of a new life for her adolescent daughter. Helping her is an ex-veteran of the Afghan war (played by Mohib Mirza). The film features breath-taking cinematography from the surreal barren landscapes of Gilgit and Hunza to the urban jungles of Lahore.
The music of the movie was launched this month amidst some pomp and fanfare. As the appeal of independent cinema in Pakistan goes, Dukhtar has already generated quite a buzz on social media. Stars came out in full force to support Nathanial’s directorial venture which stars Samiya Mumtaz, Mohib Mirza, Ajab Gul, Omair Rana, Samina Ahmed and introduces Arifa Saleh as the 10-year old destined to escape child-marriage. Sahir Ali Bagga helms this masterpiece as music director. Bagga’s debut Zinda Bhaag received critical acclaim for its mix of catchy tunes, peppy beats and covers. With consecutive hits under his belt, he proves to be an able choice to handle the emotional themes Dukhtar explores.
In keeping with the ambience of the movie, Bagga compliments the dark undertones of Dukhtar with folk-inspired numbers. The debut track, Ya Rahem, Maula Maula is a qawali featuring the mellifluous vocals of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. Khan, with a voice that is recognized and appreciated beyond borders, does full justice to the song; infusing harmonious riffs to what is pure devotional melody. The song stays close to its qawali roots with a steady rhythm of clapping, tabla and harmonium that give the song a very “dargah-like” feel. Imran Raza pens the moving lyrics which embody spiritual devotion at its best.
Another gharana artist uplifts the movie with his track Jeenay Chalay. Shafqat Amanat Ali brings us a soulful song of discovery in his signature best. The track is a significant departure from the previous one with more modern beats. Shafqat’s vocals resonate with meaning while the flutes in the second half of the song add a softer dimension to an otherwise modern uptempo number.
All in all, the music sounds promising. While the tracks vary significantly in their harmonies, they are both in keeping with the tone of the movie. The lyrics are developed by Imran Raza and the playback lineup includes Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Shafqat Amanat Ali and Sara Raza Khan.
As Pakistan’s first road-movie, Dukhtar is guaranteed to pull cinema audiences with its exploration of the malaise of archaic customs, child marriage and the victory of hope. Dukhtar is scheduled for release in late September in cinemas across Pakistan.