‘I HAVE TO TELL A STORY SO WE CAN BUILD BRIDGES’

Di­rec­tor Iram Haq chats with Linda Barnard about tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from her own life for her lat­est film

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE - The Plat­form pro­gram fea­tures 12 films from eight coun­tries with a CAD$25,000 (Dh75,307) Plat­form Prize for the jury-se­lected best film

Nor­we­gian ac­tor­film­maker Iram Haq tells a per­sonal story about hon­our and fam­ily with drama What Will

Peo­ple Say, that screened at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val’s mar­quee Plat­form slate last week.

Like the pro­tag­o­nist in her film, strug­gles be­tween liv­ing a typ­i­cal teen’s life in Nor­way and pres­sures from her tra­di­tional fam­ily cul­mi­nated in Haq be­ing taken to Pak­istan against her will for a year at the age of 14.

“It took a lot of years to de­velop and to be ready to tell the story,” says Haq dur­ing a press day in Toronto, where the world pre­miere of her film has gar­nered solid re­views from in­ter­na­tional me­dia.

“I very of­ten find in­spi­ra­tion from my­self, and I like to talk about feel­ings of shame and about what it does to us – lone­li­ness, iden­tity, be­long­ing, love and not feel­ing loved and feel­ing re­jected,” she ex­plains. “All these emo­tions are so im­por­tant for me.”

Along with praise for Haq’s work as a writer and di­rec­tor, new­comer Maria Mozh­dah is be­ing sin­gled out for her nat­u­ral por­trayal of 16-yearold Nisha. Her con­flict over want­ing to fit in and de­vo­tion to her par­ents leads to her dot­ing fa­ther (Adil Hus­sain) kid­nap­ping her to si­lence wag­ging tongues. Nisha’s sense of be­trayal is dev­as­tat­ing and her time in Pak­istan has shat­ter­ing con­se­quences.

Haq, 41, says the film is a fic­tion­alised ac­count of her year in Karachi. It left deep scars, and it wasn’t un­til a year be­fore her 82-year-old fa­ther’s death that the two made peace when he apol­o­gised. “Noth­ing needs to stand still,” Haq ob­served. “Things can change.”

The di­rec­tor saw lit­tle of her fa­ther af­ter she be­came an adult, but wanted to tell him about the film. “I said it’s im­por­tant to me that you sup­port me in this and he said: ‘It’s im­por­tant that you tell this story. You have to do this.’”

Time also al­lowed Haq to write the script in a bal­anced, wiser way, “not just like an an­gry teenager, but to have an un­der­stand­ing of what the par­ents are go­ing through.”

She’s a mother of a 21-yearold son and be­com­ing a par­ent brought an­other per­spec­tive. Talk­ing about is­sues around hon­our and shame are im­por­tant, Haq points out.

“It’s hap­pen­ing in so many places in the world,” she says. “We can­not lose any more girls. We can­not have more so­cial con­trol. We need a change.”

As a Nor­we­gian-born child of im­mi­grants, hav­ing a foot in both worlds gave her unique in­sight as a film­maker. It al­lowed her to tell a nu­anced story. “I used the knowl­edge I have to tell a story so we can build bridges and open up a di­a­logue, be­cause I don’t be­lieve in mak­ing good guy­bad guy and we’re done. That cre­ates a big­ger gap.”

Haq would like fam­i­lies to see the film to­gether so that both teens and par­ents can have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what each are go­ing through. In­dian stage, tele­vi­sion and film ac­tor Adil Hus­sain (Life of Pi and

English Vinglish) plays Nisha’s fa­ther, and Haq doesn’t de­monise the char­ac­ter. Rather, she ex­plores his strug­gle, too. “He suits the char­ac­ter so well,” she says of Hus­sain’s per­for­mance. “He’s the right fa­ther for this film. He’s re­ally great.”

Haq has been at Tiff pre­vi­ously with an­other film that ex­am­ined a woman caught be­tween cul­tures, with the fea­ture I Am Yours in 2013. It went on to be­come Nor­way’s For­eign Film Academy Award sub­mis­sion. “I hope this film can open up the di­a­logue and be an eye-opener for some­thing new that peo­ple start to think about a lit­tle bit, and also for the Western world to see that maybe the girl who is sit­ting next to you in the class is car­ry­ing a much heav­ier bur­den than look­ing good or hav­ing good grades or friends,” she says. “It’s so much more.”

Tiff

Maria Mozh­dah, top, and above, with Adil Hus­sain in ‘What Will Peo­ple Say’

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