Director Afia Nathaniel’s directorial debut feature film Dukhtar (she is also the co-producer and screenwriter) is a road movie. It could have been lost in the dust like many other meaningful ventures with lots of social relevance but no box office appeal of stars and gadgetry of formula film making, had it not been for Geo Films’ which extensively and widely promoted Dukhtar in the print and electronic media. If one were to give credit to Afia Nathaniel and her team then credit is also due to Geo Films for this bold offering.
As for timing, Dukhtar came out on September 18, just a day before Geo Films other release Dawat-e-Ishq and within a short span of two weeks of local Eid onslaught Operation 021, Na Maloom Afraad and Indian star-studded Bang Bang. Such are the ironies of theatrical commitments for new films.
Dukhtar has been screened at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival and it could also bow at the forthcoming Busan International Film Festival in South Korea. It also happens to be our nomination for Best Foreign Film for Oscar 2015, given every year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in Los Angeles.
Let us hope that fate of Dukhtar is different from Zinda Bhaag, our nomination from last year which fell from grace. It was the first movie nominated from Pakistan for the Oscars in the last 50 years. And so the nomination was seen as a cause for celebration, denoting the reemergence of Pakistani cinema.
Zinda Bhaag’s performance though should not discourage or disappoint Sharmeen Obaid, Samina Peerzada, Mohsin Hamid and the rest of Academy Selection Committee who have started to send out our nominations for Oscar. It includes some popular names of our industry: Ali Zafar, Mehreen Jabbar, Nadia Jamil, Rohait Hyatt, Akifa Mian, Imran Parveen Bilal, Meesha Shafi.
The selection of these nominations appears to be largely subjective, with no concrete criteria laid out or discussed. Another important consideration is that this committee is based in Karachi. This to some extent is justified because a majority of movies being produced today are released in Karachi — be it the more recent Na Maloom Afraad, Operation 021 or our previous nomination to the Oscars Zinda Bhaag.
The next step for Dukhtar is now achieving the final nomination by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Consisting of 5000 members today from all spheres of the Film Industry, the Academy was first established in 1929. A few members of this large group will now decide whether Dukhtar is worthy of being nominated to compete for the actual gold-plated trophy. One basic requirement for this is that the movie has to be screened in Los Angeles for at least three days.
In the Foreign Film Category it faces some tough competition from other movies produced in Czechoslovakia, Russia and most importantly Iran. Their film industries are far more developed in terms if cinematic experience and story line. Even India which produces close to 1200 films every year has not been able to win Oscar for Best Foreign Film. However, India did win three nominations for Mother India, Salaam Bombay and Lagaan.
Amir Khan toured the United States for six months, when visiting each and every cinema where Lagaan was being screened to promote his cricket saga during the British Raj. So the process does not simply end there.
With powerful performances from Samiya Mumtaz, Saleha Arif, Asif Khan, Abdullah Jan, Ajab Gul, Samina Ahamd, Adnan Shah, and Omair Raza, the film has a blunt script. It is rich in its technical disciplines, particularly breathtaking photography of Hunza, Skardu and Gilgit. The editing could have been sharper to fasten the pace and remove rough edges.
Sahir Ali Bagga’s score rendered by Rahat Fateh Ali (Ya Raham) and Shafqat Ali (Jeeney chaley) are soothing, but largely go unnoticed and even ignored for riches of box office returns.
The film could have been titled differently because for our mass audiences ‘Dukhtar’ is not a commercial film title .A worse would have been Lur, Pushto for daughter. If a tribal chief’s wife from Lahore could be named Allah Rakhi why not Beti for the story of their daughter who is about to be forced into living hell?
Dukhtar comes out with a relevant message of forced child marriage. It is just that according to a Hollywood studio executive, messages are for the Western Union.
Winning the actual award involves rigorous promotion and publicity, which in turn requires copious funds. This is something that our industry lacks. And if Dukhtar does reach that final nomination, this could be a serious hurdle.