Nazo Dharejo’s story is extraordinary.
It’s standard for films based on true stories to end with title cards that tell the audience what happened next. I was more moved reading that text at the end of My Pure Land than I was throughout the whole of the rest of the film.
My Pure Land ― which markets itself as a feminist western ― successfully exposes Pakistan’s corrosive patriarchal values. Nazo and her sister are taught by their father to defend against invading men who intend to claim their property.
They are fit with checked shirts and AK-47s when they practice defence; their father laughs and comments that he appears to have two sons. The fact that the film ― which is written and directed by a man, Sarmad Masud ― considers itself ‘feminist’, is at first worrying. Masud appears to be equating female empowerment with women adopting the traits of men.
However, as the film progresses it become clear that Masud intends to challenge that trope, which is initially held by some of the film’s male characters and internalised by its female ones. When the real danger comes, the girls aren’t in their ‘boys clothes’. They are dressed in saris. They are told that they are ‘better than sons’.
Masud should be commended for giving thought to his approach of his female characters. However, he still adopts the ‘feminist’ label a little too carelessly.
What My Pure Land needs is more focus ― and what it needs to focus on is Nazo. Instead, we chop back and forth between two timelines, with a lot of screen time devoted to Nazo’s father in prison. Switching between past and present is mostly unnecessary and confusing ― although it is occasionally effective when it powerfully contrasts life with death.
The best elements of My Pure Land come hand in hand with its worst.
Overuse of music sabotages real emotion in scenes that might otherwise have been effective. There are snatches of startling, arresting cinematography ― but Masud is unable to harness those images for their full potential.
I’m almost tempted to recommend My Pure Land because of the woman at its centre. Then again, skimming Wikipedia would be just as useful and far less time consuming. My Pure Land is frustratingly factual. I wish it was as interested in who Nazo is than it is in what she did.
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