Dukhtar – the highway to hollowness

Published: September 18, 2014
Dukhtar had its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival 2014. PHOTOS: FILE

Dukhtar had its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival 2014. PHOTOS: FILE


The term ‘parallel cinema’ doesn’t serve a purpose in Pakistan; not because there aren’t enough stories to tell but simply because of the very meaning of the word ‘parallel’. For a parallel to exist, two things must run along side each other. Till the time that mainstream cinema persists in the country, parallel cinema can’t exist by a long shot.

Afia Nathaniel’s Dukhtar is a film that, due to its ‘interesting concept’, will possibly be categorised as a product of parallel cinema. But it’s films like this that make us realise that Pakistani cinema is more in need of ‘unparalleled’ quality of storytelling than mediocre films that are lauded in the name of ‘parallel’ cinema.

Dukhtar opens with a woman, dressed in white, rowing a boat as we cut to the medium shot of another woman cooking food as her husband comes and sits in the same frame. With their backs facing each other, they seem like strangers living under one roof. With no words spoken, the visual treat of a scene instantly grips one’s attention.

The housewife is Allah Rakhi (Samiya Mumtaz) who also has a 10-year-old daughter Zainab (Saleha Aref) with her estranged husband Daulat Khan (Asif Khan). What’s antithetical to the couple’s relationship is the bond between the mother and daughter. Allah Rakhi and Zainab share a playful moment when the latter tries to teach her mori (mother) the English words she learnt at school.

Now enters the most twisted character of the story, Shehbaz Khan (Ajab Gul). Khan is a close associate of Daulat, but knows Allah Rakhi since ‘their’ childhood. When he finds Allah Rakhi alone, he reminisces about the time he first saw her and professes that he would have asked for her hand in marriage had she not tied the knot with Daulat. One wonders where the two met for the first time. If it was in Lahore (the city Allah Rakhi was brought up in), then Shehbaz’s Pashtoon accent and attire don’t add up.

What follows is an expected chain of events, where Daulat ends a tribal feud by pledging to get his daughter married to an opposition member —30-something Ghorzang Khan (Adnan Shah Tipu). The news reminds Allah Rakhi of how she was made to marry Daulat when she was only 15 and decides she wouldn’t let her daughter suffer a similar fate. And so she escapes with Zainab.

And then we meet a truck driver named Sohail (Mohib Mirza) who becomes the mother-daughter’s only ray of hope as they run from the enraged tribal men. From this point onwards, the story becomes practically inert.

This is essentially because the script doesn’t have anything that decent actors like Mohib or Samiya can capitalise on. It relies on half-baked back stories, which, firstly, are never-ending, and secondly, surface just when you are anticipating a twist. The child star, Saleha, is inarguably brilliant and can prove to be an asset for the industry.

What is saddening is that a film, entirely shot in northern areas as serene as Skardu, Hunza, Gilgit, Ghizer and Kallar Kahar, rarely managed to deliver visually-captivating scenes or, in film terms, ‘beauty shot’. .

How sloppy the film’s editing is can be seen by the number of shots in which Shehbaz is shown driving a jeep with an ‘I’m-content-with-this-pain’ look on his face. Whatever happened to the ‘less is more’ mantra?

Although, the film is primarily a visual medium, a good background score can often save the day by providing a new dimension to the story. All in all, Dukhtar fails to generate any form of emotional response from the audience, which is eventually going to reflect in local box-office collections.

Verdict: Dukhtar’s portrayal of child marriages in Pakistan is tedious, especially since it’s nothing new for local audiences. The director may have avoided making a Pashtoon woman do an item number, but the substitute she offers is not engaging at all.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (28)

  • Basim
    Sep 18, 2014 - 10:03PM

    Agreed. Didn’t like it at all. There was no plot.


  • Bushra Mustaf
    Sep 18, 2014 - 10:49PM

    This harsh brutal review indicates the hollow aspect of people who claim to work for ET as film reviewers. Looking through the narrow scope of Pakistani eyes we demand so much from our infant film industry when only a few years was non-existent. Our Pakistani expectations are so high when we forget our film makers are working against all odds with challenging conditions when there is no structural or financial institutions to assist them. They should be so lucky as to have New York Times be their financial support partner !
    Other reviews compared to this* What is spectacular is the rugged landscape which is imposing, dangerous and beautiful all at the same time. The production crew has made the most of the on-location settings, especially, when travelling through the mountain passes.ION CINEMA _ CANADA
    “Set amidst the stunning landscapes of Pakistan and northern parts of it , Dukhtar is a beautiful story of love and strength.A definite Oscar contender from Pakistan for 2015
    “* – **Toronto International Film Festival – Discovery
    So you be the judge are we going to accept this mean vicious review By Rafay Mahmood or international reviewers?


  • Asif
    Sep 18, 2014 - 11:02PM

    Yeah, that’s why it’s rated 9.1 on imdb, right? Idiot.Recommend

  • Ahsan
    Sep 18, 2014 - 11:03PM

    Give the new cinema a chance, keep expectations low. People who are making films in Pak have to start from scratch. There are no facilities and support whatso ever. Let them experiment, let them evolve. A negative review won’t help anyone!


  • rahul
    Sep 19, 2014 - 12:03AM

    @Bushra Mustaf Relax Man!! Most film which goes to film festival get praised,they are only for niche audience.Not everybody will like them.


  • really
    Sep 19, 2014 - 12:24AM

    Mr Mahmood you are harsh but some times its the need of the time. I had foreseen such a review coming keep the organisations that had funded the film in mind


  • Parvez
    Sep 19, 2014 - 12:25AM

    Surprised……all the other reviews I’ve read are good……indicating a movie worth watching.


  • Asif
    Sep 19, 2014 - 12:38AM

    Hmm, I don’t think I’ve read a positive review from this guy in ages. It’s like he actively tries to be the Simon Cowell of film criticism – news flash: Simon Cowell works because he has the expertise to back up his radical views, and he just says what everyone’s thinking in more blunt terms. Mr. Mahmood, on the other hand, seems to believe that the only way to keep his job is by tearing down any quality film that comes through the Pakistani film industry. Advice for RM: you ain’t no Ebert, so stop tryin’.


  • OldSport
    Sep 19, 2014 - 1:13AM

    i have never seen a positive review by Rafay.


  • Awais
    Sep 19, 2014 - 2:11AM

    This highly tainted review, specially once compared with what other reviews say ultimately boils down to one reasons perhaps; the film was released by Geo Films.


  • Aamir
    Sep 19, 2014 - 2:24AM

    Don’t take this review seriously as this guy is a complete joker. He did the something with Waar last year. All the reviews which I have come across so far have been very positive. There is even a blog on ET about Dukhtar which again has a positive review about the film.

    Everyone just go and watch the film and support Pakistani Cinema.


  • Adnan
    Sep 19, 2014 - 2:54AM

    No matter what you do this dude (Rafay Mahmood) is never happy. Get a life man. You gave thumbs down to Waar and it ended up one of the best Pakistani movies ever. Take it easy and encourage readers to go out and watch movie.


  • Aboo John
    Sep 19, 2014 - 3:41AM

    Wish it would have not been produced by Geo Films.
    No matter what they do, I can never expect anything positive from them for Pakistan. (examples: the way Dhoom 3 was publicized over WAAR, Mein Hoon Shahid Afridi, Josh etc).


  • Faisal
    Sep 19, 2014 - 5:29AM

    Sometimes we seem to utilise opinions generated through years of watching Bollwood and Hollywood films and using these opinions on our own film industry!! Unfortunately our industry is still in it’s growing stages and without trial and error the industry will not be able to grow. If the movie was a documentary I would understand and appreciate the director showcasing Skardu, Gilgit and Hunza but the movie is set against the backdrop of the north of Pakistan not the movie is about the north of Pakistan.

    The fact that the director has taken a genuine issue and portrayed it with Pakistani identity means we have a movie which depicts a social issue. Sometimes we need to give our industry a chance and see the film for what it is as opposed to attempting to compare it with a mindset created for Bollywood.


  • Shameela Kaleem
    Sep 19, 2014 - 6:32AM

    @Basim – Did you think maybe you missed the plot, sometimes to get it there is a necessity of having bare intelligence!


  • Anjum Arshi
    Sep 19, 2014 - 10:24AM
  • lol
    Sep 19, 2014 - 11:19AM

    had tyo be yet another saving face guys. Watch the film guys than talk. The reviewer has used harsh words but that probably is the need of the time.


  • Shah
    Sep 19, 2014 - 12:08PM

    Biased review…!


  • hasan
    Sep 19, 2014 - 1:11PM

    http://www.dawn.com/news/1132747 this is what we call a balance and honest review…


  • Mir Jamshed Ali
    Sep 19, 2014 - 1:46PM

    advice # 1: Never give spoilers in a review
    advice # 2: At least get characters ages, names & relationships right !!
    advice # 3: Never make it sound so obvious that you got your invite at the last minute


  • SAS
    Sep 19, 2014 - 2:25PM

    Its very cliched film so unfortunately have to agree with the review.


  • Raja
    Sep 19, 2014 - 4:33PM

    Why you guys don’t have any topic to make movie on other than Acid Throwing on Women, Child Marriage, Terrorism and Islam, Honor Killing etc that always create bad impression about Pakistan… I know these are bitter truth but enough is enough.. bring positive thing about this country..


  • Sep 19, 2014 - 5:13PM

    @Bushra Mustaf:
    In total agreement with you.


  • observer
    Sep 19, 2014 - 10:00PM

    How can we see this movie in the US? Any ideas?


  • muhammad rashid
    Sep 20, 2014 - 4:11PM

    Everyone just go and watch the film and support Pakistani Cinema


  • Akhan
    Sep 21, 2014 - 1:05AM

    Good step in reviving the Pakistani Cinema. Great roles played by all characters. Esp Mr. Asif Khan, Mr. Ajab Gul. ET’s tainted reviewers should watch it twice before coming up with such negativityRecommend

  • Zaeema
    Sep 24, 2014 - 4:21PM

    @Bushra Mustaf: Coudlnt agree with you more.. Its literally the rebirthof our cinema.. be patient and let things slowly but surely get better.. I liked all the new pakistani movies they made. they were excellent efforts by very very young inexperienced but hardworking and courageous people.. Hats off to Afia Nathanial for truly having the immense courage for making this film


  • Awais
    Oct 4, 2014 - 9:43AM

    I strongly agreed with criticism of Rafay Masood’s review in comments UNTIL I watched the movie. Every word of the review gets the writer right. For any serious movie watcher the disappointment starts to roll in as scene after scene you are treated with cliches. It’s a disappointment in direction, editing and script which is no more than just banal. The current Pakistani cinema has proven that it is capable of producing much better films. The worst part is that all actors were capable of doing a wonderful work. It was th poor director who couldn’t capitalize in their talent.


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