Pakistan is rarely known for producing films of any quality. Those that enter the limelight and are commercially viable are rarely of any artistic merit or do not carry global appeal. Dukhtar tries to break the mould by being topical and discerning, even if it remains thin on plot and characterisation.

Set in the beautiful Northern part of the country, where some of the highest peaks in the world are found, it tells of two tribes that have been at war. To make peace, the underage, 10-year-old daughter of one of the tribes is promised in wedlock to the old leader of the other tribe. This becomes the catalyst for the mother of the girl to spring into action, who takes her daughter and flees from the village, only to be chased by men from both the tribes for honour and revenge respectively. On the lam, the two run into a truck driver on his way to the Punjab region, who reluctantly agrees to give them safe passage away from their would be captors. In this, the film becomes a bit like the Argentinian drama Las Acacias, where the driver warms up to mother and child and risks his well being (and possibly livelihood) because he knows it’s the right thing to do under the circumstances.

Dukhtar’s biggest weakness is probably the wooden, almost mechanical acting by the little girl but after the first act, the focus really shifts to the mother, whose maternal instincts become the driver for the rest of the film. It doesn’t help that the threat posed by the tribesmen isn’t that ominous. They aren’t very good at following, nor it would seem searching, and while this means the runaway duo are always two steps ahead of them, it also results in a rather tepid series of chases. Thankfully, these drawbacks are countered by the stunning mountainous scenery of Hunza and Skardu and the sensible direction by Afia Nathaniel, whose judicious use of colour contrasts (such as in the opening scene) and poetic songs in the soundtrack add flavour to the proceedings. Even though it is positioned as Pakistan’s official entry at this year’s Academy Awards, it is unlikely to be nominated when it finds itself in the midst of other more powerful contenders such as Ida, Winter’s Sleep and possibly Force Majeure but it deserves to be recognized and seen for trying and at least partially succeeding.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

About Faizan Rashid

A veteran Dubai based film critic, Faizan has been reviewing movies for nearly a decade. His work has been published in local newspapers such as 7days and on prestigious online websites such as MSN Arabia and wearethemovies.com