While on the run, a mother and daughter meet a cynical truck driver who reluctantly but eventually agrees to take them on. As we traverse the landscape with them, we discover how their destinies become entwined. Often in life, the quest for love and freedom comes with a price and that’s what Afia Nathaniel, the director of Dukhtar (‘daughter’ in Persian), plans to explore through her film.
“For me, the film is about the deep ties that bind us and the sacrifices made by women, especially mothers in our society,” Nathaniel tells The Express Tribune. “Those sacrifices are often forgotten and I didn’t want that to happen to the story of this mother and daughter.”
Nathaniel herself has a dukhtar, which is what inspired the film’s title and made rewrites of the script a more personalised experience for her. “I explored this deeply personal journey. It was only natural that the film be called Dukhtar. I love the poetic feel to this word,” she explains.
The director was born and raised in Quetta, which is a predominantly Pashtun city. This has not only helped her understand the soul of Pashtun culture, but also draw a parallel between the film’s protagonist and her grandmother; she belonged to the tribal areas, but chose to stay in Quetta after becoming a widow, making a living as a school teacher. “[My grandmother’s story] mirrors the qualities of my female protagonist. So, I felt very close to the character I had created on paper,” she elaborates.
Through Dukhtar, Nathaniel intends to revitalise the stereotypical image of Pashtun culture in films. “You will get to see a strong Pashtun woman in the lead role in a film (Dukhtar) that doesn’t require her to do an item song. How often do you get to see that depiction in Pakistani cinema?”
The film is shot in Skardu, Hunza, Gilgit, Ghizer and Kallar Kahar, all the way down to Lahore. There are chase scenes in the film, which are shot on the Karakoram Highway — the highest paved international road in the world. For the director, the locations used in the film are as pivotal as the characters and the journey they embark upon.
“Articulating an emotional journey through surreal landscapes was an important task for me. The film has a heart and it’s got the cinematic oeuvre and that’s why Dukhtar is different from other films in the Pakistani market,” she says.
The film features Samiya Mumtaz, Mohib Mirza, Saleha Aref, Ajab Gul and Samina Ahmed in prominent roles. Nathaniel had Mumtaz is mind when she was penning her character, but Mirza happened to be cast in an interesting way. “I deliberately pitched him a smaller role to see if he would fight for the main role of the truck driver. And he did. There was a spark in him that I was looking for. I gave him a difficult audition, which is a hard part in the film and he was fantastic,” shares Nathaniel.
Dukhtar seems like a captivating story, but what poses a real challenge to the film is that its release date clashes with that of Shaan’s Operation 021 (August 14). And what’s worse is that if a distributor agrees to import it, then Rohit Shetty’s Singham Returns is slated for an August 15 release. Nathaniel compares Dukhtar to critically acclaimed film The Lunchbox, explaining that it has its own unique appeal.
“A good film is one that stays with you long after you have left the cinema theatre. I’m pretty confident that Dukhtar has that kind of potential. Once the film is released, it belongs to the audience. And so, I leave my trust with them,” says a hopeful Nathaniel.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2014.