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Samiya Mumtaz and Saleha Aref in "Dukhtar"
A still from "Dukhtar"
A still from “Dukhtar”

Set in a village in Pakistan where people use cell phones and drive cars but otherwise live largely traditional lives, “Dukhtar” is a moving feminist film by New Yorker/Pakistani filmmaker Afia Nathaniel. Beautifully shot and acted, the movie includes some actors who are well-known in Pakistan. “Dukhtar,” incidentally, is the Urdu word for “daughter.”

When Allah Rakhi’s (Samiya Mumtaz) husband decides their ten-year-old daughter, Zainab (Saleha Aref), will be married to a man in his 60’s, Allah Rakhi kidnaps her daughter and runs from her husband’s family and the groom’s henchmen. The mother and daughter are very much in danger – especially Allah Rakhi, whose life is considered expendable by the men involved.

Luckily, Allah Rakhi and Zainab run across a a truck driver (Mohib Mirza) who reluctantly agrees to give them a ride. Little does he know that he is going to end up the prey in a dangerous chase. The result is an intense, frightening, and tender story of a mother’s love.

Nathaniel is smart in that she creates a film that has enough western sensibility to appeal to audiences worldwide (even though it’s subtitled), but she also avoids a lot of the American traps that could have cheapened the story. This is all the more impressive considering that it’s Nathaniel’s first feature, and she managed an all-male crew of 40 during filming.

“Dukhtar” was shot in below freezing conditions in 30 days in remote disputed territory between Pakistan and India. The chase scenes were filmed on the world’s highest altitude roads. We get a chance to see a little-known landscape, which, despite the harrowing subject matter of the film, is nothing if not majestic.

Nathaniel has said, “The seed of the film is inspired by the true story of a mother from the tribal areas of Pakistan who kidnaps her two daughters and seeks a new future for them. The story resonated with me deeply because in Pakistan, I come from a humble family of very strong women, women who have endured extremely tough lives in hope of a better one for their children. So while studying Film Directing at Columbia University in New York, I penned a fictional screenplay for this road-trip thriller. The mother’s journey into the unknown would raise important questions about the price we are willing to pay for freedom, dignity and love in a time when modernity, tradition and fundamentalism have come to a head. In the ten years that it took me to make this film, I became a mother to a daughter myself and the issue of child marriage became even more personal. Every year, around the world, nearly 15 million girls lose their childhood to marriage and for me this is an unacceptable reality. And so the determination to make the film and have it seen by audiences never left me.”

“Dukhtar” was Pakistan’s entry for the foreign language Oscar in 2014. It has now been released in New York on Oct.9 and will be released in Los Angeles on Oct. 16. A national release of the U.S./Pakistani production will follow. I highly recommend it, so look for it in your area.

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