WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY – movie review

WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY (Hva vil folk si)

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Iram Haq
Screenwriter:  Iram Haq
Cast:  Maria Mozhdah, Adil Hussain, Rohit Saraf, Ali Arfan, Sheeba Chaddha, Lalit Parimoo, Ekavali Khanna
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/26/18
Opens: July 13, 2018

It’s lucky that President Trump does not read movie subtitles or he’d be sure to boot up “What Will People Say” into his propaganda machine.  With the backing of our reactionary Supreme Court, or at least 0.56% of it, he has succeeded in justifying his travel ban on Muslims in several countries.  So what would be better than to show what it’s like to try to assimilate people of a different culture from our mainstream?  Not too promising according to writer-director Iram Haq, a woman who is in her métier, having previously made the film “I Am Yours,” about a Norwegian Pakistani woman looking for love in the wrong places.

“What Will People Say,” or “Hva vil folk si” in the original Norwegian, is a thoroughly absorbing tale of Nisha (Maria Mozhdah) a sixteen-year-old woman of Pakistani descent living in Norway, perhaps since birth. Her father Mirza (Adil Hussain), who claims to live for his daughter who he hopes will become a doctor, is now doing factory work “which Norwegians do not want to do.”  In school Nisha has assimilated with white Norwegian friends, especially Daniel (Isak Lie Harr), a redheaded boy who has his sights on her.  One night, she allowed him to climb through her window doing some kissing, though when her father discovered the two together, he assumed that they had sex and gave the boy a beating while insisting that Nisha marry the lad (unusual, isn’t it, that he’s willing to allow a cross-cultural matchup so that her neighbors won’t talk?)

Nisha pushes the conflict up a notch by signing into a safe house, courtesy of a friendly social worker, but then misses her family, goes back to them, only to be kidnapped by Mirza forcing her to return to Pakistan with him and to put her up with his extended family there.  She is treated poorly by her aunt (Sheeba Chaddha) and uncle (Lalit Parimoo), is later picked up by her father whose plans for her are not paternal especially when hearing that she was caught kissing her cousin Amir (Rohit Saraf) and humiliated by three rogue cops who make her strip and threaten to put her photo on the ‘net.

Yes, President Trump, there is a wide gulf between the culture of a place like Norway (Trump likes!) and Pakistan.  And our President can point out that Muslims might put a great burden on social workers and teachers in the U.S. when cultural gaps turn bloody.  Still, Nisha dad is not an altogether bad guy, but his fear of neighbors’ talking turns him into a tyrant—though one wonders why the fight with his daughter need be made public, specifically his catching Nisha with a guy in her room.

Lots of comedies have been made about cultural differences between Christian residents and Muslim immigrants, but this is no “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”  Do not expect a Hollywood ending for this remarkable indie, filmed in Norway and India with English subtitles for Norwegian and Urdu.  This is serious stuff, an eye opener even for those of us who are already aware of points of friction between immigrant communities and natives, wherein in this case the daughter could be called a Norwegian native out of step with her extended family.  Top notch acting come from the ensemble with gorgeous photography of mountains in India, contrasted with the benign look of a village outside Oslo.  Special kudos for Maria Mozhdah in her stunning freshman role in a feature film which, by the way, is autobiographical (the director was really kidnapped back when!)

Unrated.  106 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – A-

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