In the sweeping fugitive drama, Dukhtar, an obedient and seemingly submissive woman married to a tribal leader in the remote mountains of Pakistan receives the shocking announcement that her 10 yr. old daughter is to be married off (in a matter of days) to the grisly old leader of the warring tribe, a child marriage peace pact, in effect. Having been herself a 15 yr. old child bride and feeling that the narrative arc of her life basically ended the day her childhood was taken away, this mother will take things (namely her daughter) into her own hands and make a run for it. With no plan or strategy other than escape, the two find themselves on the road at the mercy of a truck driver onto whose vehicle they sneak, unsure if he will save them or turn them over to their pursuers when he soon realizes they are marked bounty. In this part of the world, the only law is that of the tribes and the punishment for dishonoring the leaders is swift and final.
Despite the men on cell phones, driving in Jeeps and modern trucks, the sense that we are seeing an ancient, misogynistic world before our eyes is never shaken throughout the film. That dichotomy is captured on the luminous face of the mother, Allah Rakhi (played by Samiya Mumtaz) whose expression of servitude and modesty, once she takes off with her daughter Zainab, organically transforms into a kind of defiance mixed with hope.
Dukhtar (translated from Urdu means ‘daughter’) was director Afia Nathaniel’s first feature film, shot on location for two months in the stark yet majestic ‘disputed territory’ between Pakistan and India, a turbulent region in which tribal feuds like the one portrayed in the movie have been going on for generations. Dukhtar was Pakistan’s official entry to the 87th annual Academy Awards, and seems to herald a burgeoning film industry in this part of the world. In fact, Nathaniel has publicly entreated her native Pakistan to provide some (any) support for struggling film makers attempting to do something other than the Bollywood-type, male fantasy product, citing the current climate as one in which the art-house indie community is completely on their own. For a female first-time director making a film about two female protagonists, getting the funding to complete the project was extremely challenging. As well the challenging physical terrain, shot in winter on and off road, and if that weren’t tough enough, even a bomb blast occurring directly after her crew had just finished shooting in one remote location.
In an ending that is anything but a foregone conclusion, we are left with a feeling about the bonds of family. Some families are forged in free will while others are arranged by forces more powerful than ourselves. And even still, some families are forged between strangers on a perilous road, thrown together to meet a destiny they could never have imagined for themselves. And in the end, it’s the bond between a mother and daughter that prevails, like a prayer, or a dream that may just come true.
Dukhtar is presently streaming on Netflix.
Full Movie also available on YouTube:
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YouTube Trailer Courtesy of: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zo5xat8WLjU
Full Movie on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzdyEK5DMPU&spfreload=1