Keswick Film Club - Reviews - My Pure Land

Reviews - My Pure Land

My Pure Land

Reviewed By Pam Newns

My Pure Land
My Pure Land
In the week when we celebrated International Women's Day, it is appropriate that Keswick Film Club screened what has been described as a 'feminist western', a convenient label for an impressive thought-provoking film about patriarchal Pakistani society, with a steely warrior heroine.

'My Pure Land' is set in lawless rural Pakistan – a barren landscape where rights over land are asserted by the gun; an introductory statement reveals the huge number of land ownership cases pending and the bias against women who inherit land. British- Pakistani director Sarmad Masud tells the true story of Nazo Dharejo, a teenager whose tale of successful armed resistance became a local legend and who was dubbed 'the toughest woman in Sindh' by the Pakistani press.
The action centres on the family home and surrounding land where Nazo (Suhaee Abro) her sister, mother and a friend of her brother are under siege from Mehrban, her uncle and associates who are attempting a land grab, following her father's death. As the forces outside build up, the tension increases, but we learn that the women will never give up fighting, despite the enormous odds against them.

From the opening gun battle we see flashbacks which reveal the relationships between family members, their history and the events which brought them to this stage. Nazo and her sister have been brought up their father to be equal to any man and, of necessity, been taught how to use guns to fight for their land – the land is the family's honour and they will defend it to the death. Her mother states during the siege that she is determined she will never leave her home alive.

Although the flashbacks lead to a sometimes rather confusing mixture of past and present, they offer many interesting insights. We learn about the family dynamics: Nazo's strong relationship with her father (Syed Tanveer-Hussein); her determination from a young age to read books, learn English and travel the world; her brother's amiability but lack of the sisters' spirit. We also see the police corruption endemic in the area – local police are portrayed as siding with Mehrban in his attempts to gain control of the land, and imprison Nazo's father and brother, even beating the brother and killing him in front of his father's own eyes.

At one stage during the gunfight, Zulfiqar, the friend of Nazo's brother, asks Nazo to marry him if they ever make it out alive. Her answer is that she will only do so under three conditions; that they live in the house rather than with her in-laws; that she is allowed to study and work and that she is free to travel. His response, "So, you don't mind if I take a second wife?" is a moment of humour amidst the tension and our awareness of the lack of opportunity of many Pakistani women.

One of the film's strengths is its authentic atmosphere; western elements of the badlands (swathes of barren landscape, good versus evil, the dusty compound under siege as huge forces build up outside), are tempered by the realism of the Pakistani setting and the grassroots approach to film making and casting. There is tension enhancing music and marvellous cinematography with some dreamlike sequences such as that of a colourful wedding party (gate-crashed by gunmen) as well as long dark figures of fighters with rifles silhouetted against the sky. Nazo is a determined and defiant heroine who beats the system against all odds, strongly played by Suhaee Abro. We are informed at the end that Nazo is now involved in politics and still lives in the house that she risked her life to defend.

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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