Land Gold Women
Dir: Avantika Hari
Cast: Narinder Samra, Neelam Parmar, Chris Villiers, Hassani Shapi, Ali Zahoor, Renu Brindle, Richard Kelly
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)
Sincere intentions do not a good film make.
This is a line every film student should drill into their heads before they set out to make their first feature. No doubt that Hari -- a London Film School grad who makes her debut with Land Gold Women -- is probably aware of this. It shows, in bits in pieces, in this heavy-handed drama (a 2010 National Award winner) about multiculturalism and morality, that Hari set out to make a very good film. The characterisation is bang on. The costumes are well chosen. Even the casting is well done.
What fails in Land Gold Women is the actual storytelling. It introduces us to a British-Indian Muslim family in Birmingham, UK, who seem fairly progressive. The father, Nazir Ali Khan (Samra), is a soft-spoken professor of History at the University of Birmingham and a doting father to his two children, 17-year-old Saira (Parmar) and 14-year-old Asif (Zahoor). Nazir and his wife Rizwana (Brindle) speak in chaste Lucknawi Hindi and cling on to their traditional values. The children, however, grow up completely British. While Asif broods and prizes his PlayStation above all else, the focal point of the story involves Saira's desire to go to college and her clandestine affair with David Reid (Kelly), an aspiring writer.
This is familiar territory that has been covered in a number of Indo-British ventures, including favourites such as Bend It Like Beckham and East is East. An Asian family struggling to find the balance between east and west is hardly something we aren't familiar with - a large number of Indian families have relatives in the UK or the US who face this on a daily basis. It is this, coupled with annoyingly contrived dialogue and a plodding pace that makes Land Gold Women (a literal translation of the Afghan proverb 'Zan, Zar, Zameen', which states that a man can kill to defend either of the three) a tedious watch.
The narrative, which flashes back and forth between two prosecutors questioning Nazir for conspiring to murder his daughter Saira in the name of family honour (this cannot be a spoiler since the film reveals it right at the outset) and the actual plot also proves problematic. While the gory climax is chilling nonetheless (because of the way it is carried out), one can't help but reference Dibakar Bannerjee's seminal Love, Sex Aur Dhokha as a superior example of the same. Also, what filmmaker in their right mind would hire Amar Mohile, the man responsible for those obtrusive and jarring background scores in recent Ram Gopal Varma films, to score their debut?
The performances are sincere and consistent, ranging from Parmar's gutsy turn to Brindle's emotionally charged performance. The message is loud and clear and the sincerity is evident in every frame, even the poorly lit ones. Unfortunately, one wishes the rest of the film were as effective as its denouement.