WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY is a moving drama about the complex relationship between a father and daughter. It is the story of a young Pakistani-Norwegian girl who must find her own way in life. Her father is played by Indian actor Adil Hussain, who has previously acted in a long line of Indian and international films like ENGLISH VINGLISH and LIFE OF PI.
Congratulations on the great work done in ‘What Will People Say’? How did an Indian actor, a Pakistani director and a German producer come together to create What Will People Say’. Are international collaborations the way forward in a world torn apart by strife?
Whenever there emerges a brutal force to divide us, there also emerges an alternative counter force to bring people together. We often forget that all life is sacred; we are not a part of nature, we are nature. We are all born out of mother earth and there are people who seem to forget that we are an integral part of nature, and not a superior species as we often think of ourselves as, the planet will survive with or without us, very happily, I guess. We have the audacity to say, let’s save the planet, instead of saying, let’s save ourselves. In human beings as well, especially amongst those who are aware that we are nature, there is an affinity to come together. It is natural to come together, this is how human beings have survived for centuries. Art is a powerful medium that has brought people together and I think it is much powerful than guns and wars. So, yes, this was a natural coming together.
How difficult was it playing 18 year old Maria Mozhdah’s conservative father for a liberal like you, or is the question non-relevant for a trained actor like you?
(Laughs). It is amusing to see how these authoritarian, father-figure roles come to me when I am completely the opposite in real life. It is a relevant question for there must be some reason why I consistently get offered such roles—maybe because I grew up in a conservative household where the men were never questioned about their choices, unlike the women, and I have internalized some of it (laughs again) . But then, that is true for 99.9% of Indian men.
Is the film much more than the tussle between the traditional and the modern..(the traditional Pakistani father’s role as essayed by you and your daughter, Maria, who is more of a modern Norwegian teenager..)?
Yes, this is a deeply personal film based on the director’s own experiences as a Norwegian-Pakistani but it also goes beyond the personal, and binaries like the traditional and the modern. An individual is the result of his circumstances, no doubt about that, there is a history and background to each of the characters, an essential element of the film. We are history, so to say, but, ultimately, the conflicts in the film are more internal than external. As you watch the film, the layers peel away scene after scene. The focus is also on two societies that function differently, without bias or judgment.
Is it also ultimately a film about the relationship between a parent and a child?
I would say it is more about the conflicts that surround this bond. The clash of ideas and of lives lived differently. Can there be reconciliation..? To know that, you have to watch the film!
Is there a risk of looking at the issue from ‘western eyes’ that see honour killings and atrocities against women as exclusively something that only happens in the third world..?
I don’t think so. I have lived and studied in India as well as spent time in different parts of the world and even the western world is no longer exclusively ‘western’! You and I were educated in the western liberal system of education and the way we look at the world is influenced by that. In a world that is changing so much everyday in terms of diversity, I hope I can say that the film is not ‘exotising the east’, it simply takes you on a journey of ideas, some of which you might not agree with, which is fine.
What has been the reception to the film worldwide? Is it meant specifically for the festival circuits or will it be screened in theatres in India and Pakistan?
Films like these in the West, specifically in Europe, are considered mainstream films, and so should find an audience in theatres. In India or even in Pakistan, they fall into a bracket called ‘arthouse’ cinema and so will probably find audiences in festivals and smaller circuits rather than compete with big budget films. Most Bollywood films are made for college kids rather than mature adults! In the west, on the other hand, cinema has evolved.
As an actor, you keep surprising the audience with your sheer depth and versatility. What are some of your upcoming projects we can look forward to..?
Thank you! There are quite a few films, one is called Love, Sonia which is on trafficking, the film travels from India to LA. It also stars the Hollywood actor Demi Moore apart from top Hindi film actors and is by the same producer as Life of Pi. Then there is Tagore’s Kabuliwala in a contemporary twist which has me in the role of Minu’s father and Danny Denzongpa as the Kabuliwala, two Northeasterners in one film. There is also Neeraj Pandey’s film Ayyari and a French film lined up.
Finally, there have been a slew of films from NE India in recent years. Which are the ones that caught your eye?
It is so so heartwarming to see these young filmmakers doing such great work with little resources. I have seen Rima Das’s Village Rockstars of late and I was impressed. Chaknoya (The Whirlpool) where a dear friend Dhananjay Debnath played a leading role also moved me. We seem to have left behind our earlier inhibitions, many many new voices are coming out and it’s a great time for cinema in the NE.
Watch the YouTube trailer here:
What is the story about?
Sixteen year-old Nisha lives a double life. At home with her family she is the perfect Pakistani daughter, but when out with her friends, she is a normal Norwegian teenager. When her father catches her in bed with her boyfriend, Nisha’s two worlds brutally collide. To set an example, Nisha’s parents decide to kidnap her and place her with relatives in Pakistan. Here, in a country she has never been to before, Nisha is forced to adapt to her parents’ culture.
Interviewed by Nasreen Habib
you can follow her on twitter at @NasreenAssam