My Pure Land

T hey say the difference between truth and fiction is that fiction has to make sense. Truth is true, no matter how improbable it sounds. Such is the story of Pakistani teenager Nazo Dharejo, who had to defend her land against a gang of 200 armed bandits. Nazo (Suhaee Abro) and her younger sister Saeda (Eman Malik) are aided in their night-long gun battle by their mother Waderi (Razia Malik), who would rather die than be forced off her land.

My Pure Land is based on the true story of a family feud that left three women guarding their ancestral land. At its heart is the perception women are not rightful owners of land, and that when men are gone, property is up for the taking. But these women believe their land is their honour, and honour is even more important than life itself.

The story starts with happy family moments with the girls’ Baba (Syed Tanveer Hussain) and brother Sikander (Atif Akhtar Bhatti). Through well-placed flashbacks, we slowly realise how the men became incapacitated, and how their parents trained the girls to fight with guns. Images of the teenagers running around in shirts and trousers raises the poignant question of whether a woman’s strength is ever enough, or whether they must act like men to be respected in patriarchal societies.

The film creates nail-biting suspense as the women find themselves surrounded by their uncle Mehrban (Ahsen Murad) and his henchmen. Taking stock of their arms they realise, with a sinking feeling, that they don’t have enough. Braving the bandits, they stealthily steal their weapons. The women in the audience feel a chill down their spine when the armed bandits realise there are only women in the house, and ask if they can “go in.” Women treated as spoils of war, sounds familiar?

Amidst the staccato of gunfire is a little romance that even delivers some laughs. Voluble and fiery Nazo finds her match in the silent, almost poet-like Zulfiqar (Tayyab Ifzal). Only after setting the condition she should be free to study and travel, that is.

At this point one wishes the director had not left the story hanging, and had gone beyond the single battle to tell us how Nazo actually managed to take control of her land. Some of the flashbacks seem prolonged, because one would have liked to see how Nazo continues to fight, how her example has inspired other women to question patriarchy, and how she successfully acted on the aforementioned conditions she set before marriage.

The director seems to have taken a few artistic liberties with the material: portraying the women as more outnumbered than they were (when Nazo’s recounted to other media. she spoke of a dozen people in the house), and by portraying the family as innocent victims rather than active agents in the family feud. He has delivered an engaging thriller that has not only been called a “feminist western”, however, but also lays bare the struggles of women in patriarchal hinterlands of South Asia. The movie succeeds in showing how women must go the extra mile in a society that makes them vulnerable, and how they muster courage from within to do so.

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