Dukhtar (Daughter) is set in the rural mountains of northern Pakistan. There tribal rules govern everything about a woman’s life. The practice of allowing child brides is still in effect. Beware the spoilers.
From writer and first time director Afia Nathaniel, the film is an exquisite visual treat. The cinematography is gorgeous. From interior shots of women squatting over wood fires to sweeping vistas of mountains and barren plateaus, everything about this film is beautiful. The lighting and the color palette are lovely.
The film opens with a dreamlike shot of an endless lake. A woman clothed all in white floats in a red boat across the water. I didn’t understand the message of this image until the end, when we see it again.
The woman in the boat was Allah Rakhi (Samiya Mumtaz). We next see her in her home, where her daughter plays happily and dreams of marrying a prince. Allah Rakhi has accepted her existence as a wife in a traditional world where she has no rights. Then her innocent 10 year old daughter Zainab (Saleha Aref) is promised in marriage to the head of a rival tribe as a peace offering. She takes her daughter and runs.
Instantly men from both tribes chase after them. The men coordinate with cell phones and own fast cars. Allah Rakhi and Zainab hide on top of a brightly decorated truck. The truck owner, Sohail (Mohib Mirza), finds them. Instead of turning them in, as you would expect, he helps them. He protects them. He takes them to a remote village where they can live and be safe. Sohail is an enlightened man who gave up being part of Pakistan’s wars.
Free for the first time since childhood, Allah Rakhi longs to see her mother. Her husband has not allowed her to see her mother since their marriage. She begs Sohail to take her to Lahore to see her mother. It’s a foolish mistake with armed men after her.
Allah Rakhi’s mother is being watched. When Allah Rakhi and Zainab meet her on a busy street filled with music and shopping and food carts, they are seen.
The ending is not a good one for Allah Rakhi. Zainab’s fate is unknown – she’ll be taken if she stays in Lahore with her grandmother. Is Sohail her savior? Did Allah Rakhi manage to save her daughter? I hope for Zainab’s freedom from a sentence as a child bride, but the film doesn’t give us an answer.
The film is currently available on several streaming services. While it has some holes in the plot and an unresolved end to the story, it is definitely worth watching.
Pakistan is building a fledgling film industry. Dukhtar (Daughter) was the country’s entry in the Best Foreign Language film at the 2015 Academy Awards. As a setting with stunning vistas, crowded cities, mesmerizing music, and brilliantly colored costumes, Pakistan is perfect for films. Cheers that a woman director, Afia Nathaniel, got this acclaimed project made. I look forward to more films from Afia Nathaniel and Pakistan.