When you’re part of a small ethnic community, you’re always worried about how you represent your race or culture or ethnicity. That’s part of being a minority. In another time, “What Will People Say” might have been interpreted differently, but the global reach of the January women’s march and the #MeToo revelations have changed or should have changed how one views this movie.
“What Will People Say” (Hva vil folk si) is about a Norwegian family of Pakistani ethnicity and how the daughter, Nisha (Maria Mozhdah), wants to fit in but her romantic inclinations lead her into conflict with her father (Adil Hussain).
I don’t know about your household, but certainly my father would be enraged if I had been sneaking out of the house at 16 and roving around, smoking, drinking and meeting boys. Nisha is always careful to return before her father’s regular night time checks on his sleeping children. Her father isn’t all rules-and-regulations. One night when they are entertaining another Pakistani-Norwegian family, the father insists no dancing. That makes his wife (Ekavali Khanna) uncomfortable because men and women shouldn’t dance in front of each other.
Her father may be more liberal than her mother, but women are often held to more stringent standards. Nisha takes a chance one night by bringing back her boyfriend (Isak Lie Harr) to her bedroom and they begin making out–just kissing and necking. When the father discovers them, he beats the two. Think of that–strange kid in your daughter’s bed. That’s probably not the best introduction into any family.
The Norwegian equivalent of child protection services gets involved, taking Nisha out of the home. When her father calls her seeming so apologetic, Nisha wants to believe that all will be fine. Unfortunately, her father has her brother (Ali Arfan) drive them to an airport and Nisha is taken to Pakistan to stay with her aunt.
Does anyone believe that Nisha will fair well in Pakistan besides her father? About 200 miles outsode of Islamabad, Nisha finds herself under the strict control of her aunt (Sheeba Chaddha) and uncle (Lalit Parimoo). Her passport is burned when she’s discovered attempting to contact her friend in Norway. Rumors abound that she was sent to Pakistan because she was caught performing fellatio. Her cousin, Amir (Rohit Saraf), has undoubtedly heard those rumors and he takes her one night to an alley to kiss. Perhaps he expects more, but a group of law enforcement, accosts them and decide to humiliate both Nisha and Amir’s families and get something for themselves.
Disgraced, Nisha’s father is forced to come and collect her. She returns to Norway and faces some har d decisions.
Maybe a year ago, one could have considered this proof of the ills of another country and its treatment of women. Yet #MeToo has raised voices that indicate in Europe and the United States, women face harassment, assault and rape. The veneer of civilization has peeled away.
#MeToo has taken the Scandinavian country of Sweden; an article signed by 456 people in the film and theater industries was published on 8 November 2017. In Norway, former prime minister, Gro Brundtland stated that she had faced sexual harassment.
While sexual mores may differ, what controls women is the kind of sexual harassment that exists in Pakistan and other places. “What Will People Say” won the AFI FEST Audience Award for New Auteurs. In Norwegian and Urdu with English subtitles.