Oscars bid for story of ‘Pakistan’s toughest woman’

This file photo shows Pakistani woman Mukhtiar Naz, left, known as Waderi Nazo Dharejo, meeting her daughters at her agriculture field in Qazi Ahmed in Sindh province on September 27, 2017. (File photo by AFP)
Updated 25 November 2017
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Oscars bid for story of ‘Pakistan’s toughest woman’

QAZI AHMED, Pakistan: As 200 armed men surrounded their house on a hot August night in 2005, Nazo Dharejo and her sisters grabbed their Kalashnikov and puny stock of ammunition and climbed to the roof.
The gunfight which followed earned her the moniker “Pakistan’s toughest woman,” and became the subject of a film which has been entered in next year’s Academy Awards, vying for glory alongside heavy-hitters such as Angelina Jolie’s “First They Killed My Father” and Joachim Trier’s “Thelma.”
A world away from Hollywood’s red carpet, at the ancestral home Dharejo fought for in Pakistan’s rural Sindh province, she described the night which could lead to Oscar glory.
“I will kill them or die here but never retreat,” Dharejo, now in her late 40s, recalled saying as assailants attacked her home.
Her husband begged her to stand down but she refused, facing down her own relatives — who were armed and had long sought to take her family’s property after her father died leaving no male heir, she said.
Her grandfather had several wives, and the male heirs in other branches of his family were laying claim to her inheritance.
But her family had defied rural Pakistani cultural norms of the time to educate their daughters and teach them they were as good as boys, and the sisters were willing to give their lives to prove it.
From their position on the roof their tiny army — the three sisters, Dharejo’s husband, and some loyal friends and neighbors — held off the onslaught, with household staff making daring runs for more ammunition until daylight broke.
A five-year legal battle over the land eventually saw her foes pay half a million rupees ($4,800) in compensation and offer a public apology — an act of utmost disgrace in rural Pakistan.
Born in a conservative feudal family, Dharejo was entitled to learn the Qur’an at home — and that was all.
She persuaded her father to allow her and her sisters to study English, which paved the way for her to gain her Bachelor of Arts in economics at Sindh University, where she could study at home and appear in public only for the exams.
But the modern justice system has made few inroads into rural Sindh, where little has changed for centuries in a society dominated by feudalism, and the bloody years-long fight over her family’s land threatened many times to derail her progress.
“It kept intensifying. Five, six murders took place and in 1992 my brother was also murdered,” she explained.
When her father died that same year, the women who visited to pay condolences taunted her mother and sisters that their family line had ended.
But Dharejo’s determination — particularly her defiant stand over her family’s property years later — slowly turned the tide.
Soon neighbors began to speak of her as “Waderi,” a new feminine version of the male honorific “Wadera” meaning something akin to a feudal “Lady.”
“She has become such a huge tree spreading soothing shade to the people around her,” commented Zulfiqar Dharejo as his wife, draped in a traditional printed Sindhi shawl, rocked gently on a nearby swing bed in their sparse drawing room, hung with more guns.
In 2013 Dharejo’s story came to the attention of a British-born Pakistani filmmaker, Sarmad Masud.
Fascinated, he got in touch. The result is My Pure Land, the 98-minute Urdu-language film version of Dharejo’s story starring Suhaee Abro, which became the UK’s official entry in the Oscar’s foreign language category.
It faces tough competition: a record 92 countries have entered this year. Other contenders include Jolie’s film on the Cambodian genocide.
Nominations will be announced in January, with the ceremony held in March.
Masud told AFP: “I was immediately inspired by (Dharejo’s) courage and heroism.”
But he conceded making the movie, filmed in some 30 days around Lahore, had been tough.
Temperatures touched 40 degrees during filming; both he and his wife, the production designer on the film, were briefly hospitalized; and the set was attacked.
Much to his frustration, they also never met their heroine in person, though they spoke often.
Despite its labeling by some critics as a “feminist Western,” My Pure Land has only a few action scenes in it, Masud said.
Ultimately it is a drama about a father’s loving relationship with his daughters, he explained.
“It was important to shine a light on characters and a part of the world which is very rarely accurately represented on screen,” he added.
Dharejo said she was “very happy” with the the final film, adding that the triumphant story belongs to Sindh and Pakistan.”
She said: “That is an honor for me.”


Pressures and pains that tear a couple apart

A still from the film.
Updated 19 July 2018
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Pressures and pains that tear a couple apart

DENVER: Like a gallery wall-sized enlargement of a microscopic image, “Scenes from a Marriage” is all about size, space and perspective.
Directed by Ingmar Bergman — whose birth centenary was marked this week — at 281 minutes long, its unwieldly length presents an intimidating canvas, yet the claustrophobic intimacy of its gaze is unprecedented: The two leads are alone in nearly every scene, many of which play out for more than a half-hour at a time.
Premiered in 1973, the work is technically a TV mini-series, but such is its legend that theaters continue to program its nearly five-hour arc in its entirety. A three-hour cinematic edit was prepared for US theater consumption a year later (it won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but was ruled ineligible for the corresponding Oscar).
Not a lot a happens but, then again, everything does. Shot over four months on a shoestring budget, its six chapters punctuate the period of a decade. The audience are voyeurs, dropped amid the precious and pivotal moments which may not make up a life, but come to define it.
We meet the affluent Swedish couple Marianne and Johan — played by regular screen collaborators Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson, both of whom clocked at least 10 Bergman credits — gloating about ten years’ happy marriage to a visiting reporter. This opening magazine photoshoot is the only time we see their two children on camera, and inevitably the image projected is as glossy, reflective and disposable as the paper it will be printed on.
The pressures, pains and communication breakdowns which tear this unsuited pair apart are sadly familiar. The series was blamed for a spike in European divorce rates. It may be difficult to survive the piece liking either lead, but impossible not to emerge sharing deep pathos with them both. Sadly, much of the script is said to be drawn from Bergman’s real-life off-screen relationship with Ullmann.
It’s a hideously humane, surgical close-up likely to leave even the happiest couple groping into the ether on their way out of the cinema.