Toronto Film Review: ‘What Will People Say’

Variety | 9/11/2017 | Staff
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A first-generation Norwegian teen clashes with the traditional values and expectations of her Pakistani émigré parents in the compelling coming-of-age drama “What Will People Say,” from director-writer Iram Haq. Like her feature debut “I Am Yours,” Haq’s sophomore work smartly probes the problems of a character caught between cultures, while the nuanced screenplay once again draws on her own harrowing life experience. Audiences and critics alike should say good things about “People.” The kinetically shot film brims with authenticity and immediacy and benefits from a deeply sympathetic turn from sublime discovery Maria Mozhdah as the lead. Niche arthouse play looks likely in many territories.

The story unfolds in three acts. When we first meet her, pretty 16-year-old Nisha (Mozhdah) is living a double life. Outside the home, she appears to be a normal, well-adjusted, Western values-oriented high-school girl who hangs out with friends, shoots hoops, dances at clubs and flirts with boys; she’s even unafraid to sample a little alcohol and weed. Meanwhile, at home, she pays lip service to the role of dutiful Pakistani daughter, greeting friends and relatives in Urdu and passing around home-cooked delicacies. Her sour, nagging mother (Ekavali Khanna) constantly worries about how the rest of the community regards their family and her perhaps too-assimilated daughter, but since bright, destined-to-be-a-doctor Nisha is the apple of her father (Adil Hussain), Mirza’s, eye, she can get away with a lot. Thus, she finds time to slip out and join her friends, but always slips back to bed before dad performs his nightly check on his sleeping children.

Night - Nisha - Chance - Boyfriend - Daniel

One night, Nisha takes a big chance by allowing her handsome boyfriend Daniel (Isak Lie Harr) to follow her back to her room. By Norwegian standards, she’s doing nothing wrong, just a little cuddling and kissing, but when her father discovers them, he...
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