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Allah Rakhi (Samiya Mumtaz) and her daughter, Zainab (Saleha Aref), go on the run in Pakistani thriller

DUKHTAR (DAUGHTER) (دختر‎) (Afia Serena Nathaniel, 2014)
Cinema Village
22 East 12th St. between University Pl. & Fifth Ave.
October 9-15

Afia Serena Nathaniel’s Dukhtar is an important film in many ways, but it’s too bad it isn’t just a little bit better. A hit at festivals around the world and Pakistan’s submission for the Academy Awards, the Pakistan-U.S. coproduction deals with the very serious topic of women’s freedom. In modern-day Pakistan, two local tribal leaders, Daulat Khan (Asif Khan) and Tor Gul (Abdullah Jaan), are trying to end a generations-old Hatfield and McCoys-like battle. The elderly Tor Gul offers peace in exchange for Daulat Khan’s ten-year-old daughter, Zainab (Saleha Aref); he’ll take her as a wife, and the feud will end. But Daulat Khan’s own wife, Allah Rakhi (Samiya Mumtaz), who herself was forced to marry at the age of fifteen, decides that she does not want her daughter to live like that, so she and Zainab head out on the run, trying to escape the young girl’s fate. They are chased by Tor Gul’s vicious enforcer, Ghorzang Khan (Adnan Shah Tipu), as well as Daulat Khan’s brother, Shehbaz Khan (Ajab Gul), who is in love with Allah Rakhi. They hitch a ride with Sohail (Mohib Mirza) in his fabulously decorated truck, but Sohail soon realizes he is in deeper than he ever wanted to be as well. Inspired by a true story, Dukhtar features beautiful cinematography by Armughan Hassan and Najaf Bilgrami, showing off the lovely vast desert and mountain landscapes of Gilgit-Baltistan in northern Pakistan, and television veteran Mumtaz is riveting as a strong yet vulnerable woman who wants to change long-held traditions, to be a person rather than a thing, but the narrative feels choppy and too direct, telegraphing its themes, and the plot makes too many jumps and has too many holes. In her feature debut, writer, director, producer, and coeditor Afia has a gripping story to tell, but its power is muted by the more melodramatic aspects of this feminist road-trip thriller, which nonetheless has very touching and powerful moments.

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