My Pure Land

A family dispute over land escalates beyond control

The opening scenes of British-Pakistani director Sarmad Masud’s debut feature, My Pure Land, show a young Pakistani girl and her even younger sister, armed with Kalashnikovs firing from the rooftop of their home into the surrounding fields. It’s an image hard to recall being seen onscreen before, but then again there are not many people like Nazo Dhajero. She is something of a legend in her local region of Sindh in southeast Pakistan, a woman of unbelievable resilience who has continued to stand up for those who lack the resources to fight their corner.

In Pakistan there are over 1m land related legal cases currently in dispute, and Masud’s film looks back to an infamous local stand-off between Dhajero’s immediate and extended family. Dovetailing between present day and previous events, we see Nazo (Suhaee Abro) and her younger sister, Saeda (Eman Malik), standing resolutely alongside their mother and fieldworker against their Uncle Mehrban (Ahsen Murad), who has been desperately trying for years to get his hands on the house and land under their possession. Whether intentional or not, the Western parallels that run throughout the story stand out, developing into a tense impasse between the two sides.

The fractured movement across timelines gradually uncovers how the two half-brothers fell into such a bitter feud. Both Nazo and Saeda were given basic firearms training at a young age by their father (Syed Tanveer Hussain), whose firm belief in defending honour above all else helped them to retain possession of the land that was legally theirs. The growing band of armed men deployed by Mehrbahn in front of the house dismiss the idea that these women should be able to maintain control of their property, a claim they discover to their own cost soon enough. This masculinity is countered by Nazo’s steeliness and modern view of the world, reinforced by the strength of character instilled by her father. His Islamic beliefs are heard through his retelling of passages from the Quran and local parables, and Masud’s script naturally states how traditional and feminist view points can and do co-exist without conflict.

With little or no budget to work with, Masud makes the most of the bright natural light and sprawling landscape, with some breathtaking shots of the Sindh province adding power to the handful of poetical dream sequences that reveal Nazo’s inner struggle. These show how the family pride she is willing to die for isn’t misguided and pigheaded stubbornness. The land they are defending is suggested as being representative of more than just a stretch of land but a defining aspect of who Nazo is and can be. Suhaee Abro seems a natural fit as Nazo and the quiet fierceness she brings to the character forms a strong onscreen presence.

While rooted firmly on the soil of Pakistan, Nazo’s story has a universal appeal that stretches beyond its regional and feminist themes. There is a lot to like about Masud’s debut and despite a few hiccups and varying levels of performance from the supporting cast, it is an assured and confident piece of filmmaking. His short-film, Two Dosas, made it into the early running at both the BAFTAs and Oscars, and My Pure Land has also been selected as the UK’s entry into the Foreign Language section for next year’s Academy Awards. Given the small scale production and marketing behind the film, it will hopefully find some level of success through word of mouth and digital sales, as it deserves to reach a wider audience.

Steven Sheehan

Updated: Sep 14, 2017

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