What will people say
Interview with Iram Haq
Norwegian/Pakistani director, actor and screenwriter Iram Haq’s latest film What Will People Say explores the topics of ‘honour’-based violence and intergenerational conflicts in a Pakistani family. Iram describes herself as having a passion for art, storytelling and film.
Her first film, I Am Yours focussed on a single mother dealing with intergenerational conflicts. The second, in a similar vein, tells the story of Nisha, a young woman growing up in a Pakistani family in Norway, who clashes with the conservative values of her parents and their community. As a result of being caught with a boyfriend, Nisha is abducted to Pakistan in order to reassert her family’s control over her. Iram describes it as her most personal project to date. She’s ‘very happy’ with the reception.
‘Honour’ is a sensitive issue, often used by xenophobes to tar communities as violent, particularly Muslim communities. Iram was naturally aware of these sensitivities, but felt the importance of breaking taboos was more important. What Will People Say is not just a feminist drama exploring gendered oppression, it is also deeply personal: the story of a father and a daughter, which explores the interaction of their different social and cultural expectations. In a film which in some respects mirrors her own experiences within her own family, she takes a mature perspective, rejecting black and white understandings. What Will People Say does not restrict its empathy for the young lead, but also extends it to the parents, understanding their motivations, without excusing their coercive and violent behaviours. The film sensitively explores these contrasts – of tradition and modernity, the individual and the community, Norway and Pakistan.
Iram spent over a year casting the central role of Nisha before finding the perfect actor in Maria Mozhdah. Although being a ‘discovery’, Maria adapted rapidly to the demands of a professional film set, in a debut that was described as ‘sublime’ in Variety. Her strength and sensitivity is key to the central role.
The main dynamic in the film comes from the complex and conflicting relationship between Nisha and her father. The father is played by veteran actor Adil Hussain, who appeared in The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Life of Pi. Adil is tasked with representing a man who values the traditional values of his community, but who is, in his own way, just as trapped by the systems of family ‘honour’ as his daughter.
This role, explained Iram, also bore resemblances with her own relationship with her father, who has recently died. Over the last ten months of his life, Iram said she ‘finally got to know him’, and grew to understand his feelings of fear at the prospect of losing his daughter – the conflicts of a proud man, who loves his daughter and his family, and yet must bear the expectations of the wider family and community.
We asked Iram about the title of the movie – What Will People Say It’s a phrase that’s very familiar to women of Muslim heritage, and one which gets to the very heart of the idea of social control. ‘It’s a manipulating sentence, full of poison,’ she responded; a way to force women to sacrifice their own happiness for others, which ultimately diminishes them. This, says Iram, is one of the stated aims of the film – to develop the conversation about ‘honour’ and the control of women, and to show parents ‘the kind of pain their children are going through just to feed their parents’ need for ‘honour’ in their communities.
To young women looking to get into the film business, she has a simple message: ‘Tell the stories that you want to tell. We all need you.’
What Will People Say was released in cinemas nationwide across Norway and has also been shown at the Toronto International Film Festival. More international releases are planned in the future.
To keep up to date visit the official ‘What Will People Say?’ Facebook page.