ISLAMABAD: Norwegian envoy Kjell-Gunnar Eriksen hosted a screening of What will people say, an award-winning film by Iram Haq, a Pakistani-Norwegian writer/director.

The film draws on Haq’s own experience as a teenager and is a tense, moving drama about women’s rights, immigrant identity and familial duties.

Mr Eriksen said: “We were very happy to show the film What will people say to a Pakistani and international audience. Iram Haq is a successful Norwegian filmmaker of Pakistani descent. She is one of many Norwegian-Pakistanis who have done well in Norway. However, the story she tells in her film highlights some of the challenges some young people with an immigrant background face. It is a strong story that deserves to be told, and I am glad it was well received here.”

The film follows the story of Nisha, who was raised in Norway by immigrant parents who socialised with other Pakistani immigrants only.

Nisha is clearly loved but certainly not understood. She rebels covertly with her friends, while in the home she is a good if not always obedient domesticated daughter.

Her life, however, takes a horrific turn when she lets her boyfriend into her bedroom one night and is caught by her previously gentle father, Mirza. Her father becomes insanely violent beating the boy brutally and hurling accusations at Nisha. She escapes to social services or the Norwegian equivalent where a counsellor tries to convince her that she is not at fault for behaving like a typical teenager and everything would be alright.

Mirza is pumped by his friends to punish Nisha to set an example before all their children are led astray. At the same time her parents genuinely believe that a western life would mean a lifetime of loneliness for Nisha as she would be an outcast from her own people. In their desperate need to conform and belong in the immigrant community, Nisha’s parents betray their own daughter.

While her father takes her forcibly back to Pakistan, it is her mother who calls her at the shelter to say all is forgiven and she should come home with her father; from there Nisha is taken to and abandoned in Pakistan to live with extended family, her jailers for all practical purposes.

Profoundly layered, Nisha’s interaction with Pakistani women is unnerving because their life experiences are so constricted. She has experienced a life where there were opportunities and hope, while their narrow worldview allows them to be happy, something that is no longer possible for Nisha.

A panel discussion followed discussing the challenges of growing up in two cultures.

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy said: “When people move from a village to a city in any country they also have to adjust to a city life. When people move from one country to another the unfortunate thing is that the parents often live in the country they left – they still watch the same news, they cook the same food and they don’t want their children to meet with anybody but the children of their own communities.

“But they forget that they have uprooted their children and brought them to an alien country and it is incumbent upon them to try to integrate into that society otherwise their children will not fit in.”

Farzana Bari said: “This is the story of many women, but not the story of all women in Pakistan. Even within Pakistan there are differences in culture, there are a few pockets where certain behaviours are accepted but not in most. We need to re-think the idea of assimilation because the world is diverse and people are different. Integration and respect for diversity are what we should foster.”

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2018