By Michael McNulty
A beat up car barrels down a dusty road in the remote bad-lands of rural Pakistan, a group of sweaty men, armed to the teeth, sneer as they approach an isolated house. Standing tall, proud and brandishing a Kalashnikov of her own is the young, beautiful Noza (Suhaee Abro). The men pull up and pile out, weapons drawn. They’ve come to take the home. But, Noza won’t go easy; this is her family home, her land and her honour. And so Sarmad Masud’s first feature film, My Pure Land unfolds, a taut, tense and visceral Pakistani western, with a tender touch and a powerful insight into the gender politics of the country.
Masud Intricately weaves into the real time action flashbacks to tell the story of how Noza has come to find herself defending her home. Her father, referred to as Baba, is in dispute with his brother, Uncle Mehrban (Ahsen Murad), over the family assets – namely land and property – after the death of their father. Both first born sons, but to different mothers, Mehrban, embittered by the infertility of the soil on his land, feels he is entitled to Baba’s.
Grounded in fact, the story is based on true events and the stripped, minimal, docu-realism of the siege on the property, My Pure Land also possesses a magical quality, lightly coated in a sentimentality that’s never overbearing. The relationship shared between Baba (played with wonderful warmth by non-professional actor, Syed Tanveer Hussain) and his two daughters is beautifully tender, as he prepares them for the world they are growing into.
The film is made all the more powerful in its portrayal of the role of women in a male dominated society. Noza, her younger sister Saeda (Eman Malik) and mother, Waderi’s (Razia Malik), strength is only amplified by the automatic rifles they carry. Their true strength is in their spirit, fighting against a hoard of men (at one point there is an almost comical amount of them spread out amidst the brush) and standing up to the patriarchal ideals they represent.
The action is heart thumpingly lean, stripped back to its minimal core and heightened by the crack and whizz of bullets lodging themselves into the claustrophobic interiors of Noza’s home. Musad confidently pulls off some astonishing set pieces, a dream sequence that involves an advance on the property and a wedding celebration is particularly impressive.
My Pure Land is a superb debut from a director who clearly possesses tremendous talent.