Land Gold Women (2009)

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A man can justify an act of murder if he is protecting any of  three things, the saying goes: land, gold, and women (zan, zar, zameen in Urdu). Last week in Bombay I went to a preview screening of this movie, and despite its grim subject I am glad I did. Honor killing is a practice that continues today—crossing borders, culture and religion—and this is a compelling watch if you get the chance to see it (more on that later). Most people’s views (including mine) of honor killing have been skewed by misconceptions which the film takes pains to clear.

The concept of honor killing has its roots in the tribal code above which predates religions and cultures, but has been adopted by societies where the idea of woman as man’s property is embraced. This conceit is of course nothing new, not even in American society (where women are often part of an equation alongside fast cars and big houses as a sign of a man’s success). The belief that honor killing stems from Islamic tenets is simply not true; in fact honor killings take place in Latin America and other places where male-dominated culture also prevails. It is chilling to me sometimes what a very thin line separates “us” from “them.”

Warning: spoilers are here throughout although I’ve kept the synopsis short!

The Indian Muslim family at the center of this story live in Birmingham, England, where 17-year-old daughter Saira (Neelam Parmar) has been brought up. Her father Nazir (Narindra Samra) is a highly educated university professor and on the surface anyway, somewhat liberal; as a result, Saira has grown up with more freedom than some of her Asian peers.

lgw_saira_david

She is an intelligent girl planning to go to college, and she has an English boyfriend named David (Richard Kelly) whom she has kept secret from her family although they are serious about each other. Her father has encouraged her studies, and they share a close bond, but she knows that he will disapprove of her relationship with a white boy.

The situation is brought to a head—and a tragic conclusion—when Nazir’s more conservative elder brother Riyaaz (Hassani Shapi) arrives from India with a marriage proposal for Saira. He insists that Saira cover her head with a scarf in his presence, and chides Nazir for indulging her. He sees no reason for her to study any further and he convinces Nazir eventually that she will be better off married and living in India.

lgw_men

The film presents this narrative as a series of flashbacks intercut with meetings between Nazir and the lawyers appointed to defend him in court, one of whom is a Pakistani woman. When her male English colleague suggests they defend him on the grounds of cultural differences, she digs into the history and practice of honor killing because she doesn’t want her religion and culture to stand as a validation of it.

The excellent performances by everyone in the cast contribute to the many nuances in the story and characters which surface throughout. Narindra Samra, particularly, gives the conflicted Nazir a fine edge to walk on, and sensitively portrays the pull that his homeland and culture still hold for him—a potentially difficult thing to do, since his compliance in Saira’s killing despite his love for her has to be believable for the film to work. And Neelam Parmar perfectly plays out Saira’s bewilderment as her world changes completely, and her inability to grasp that her lifelong hero and beloved father has become her enemy. Kudos also to writer/director Avantika Hari for making this important film so competently! 

After the screening I spoke briefly with the producer Vivek Agrawal. He is looking for ways to distribute the film and get it out to a wider audience, so if any of you have ideas let me know! You can visit the film’s website and there is also a blog. I would really encourage anyone who has a chance to get out there and see this!

The whole woman as man’s property conceit, and its insidious and pervasive presence, is one of my very biggest pet peeves, and this movie perfectly illustrates why. In the future when someone tells me to “get a sense of humor” on the subject, I hope I have a Land Gold Women DVD to first throw at his (or her) head, and then make him (or her) sit down and watch. (Yes, Vivek, that is a broad hint.)

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30 Comments to “Land Gold Women (2009)”

  1. sounds like a good movie.
    honour still plays a big role in many societies and what honour means can differ much in different societies.
    thank you for bringing this movie to our notice on your blog.
    i hope the film can be distributed well and get it a proper audience.
    Good luck, Vivek!

    And I do hope that such crimes come to an end!
    It is so bitter to see that hate triumphs over love. Love which is same in all religions and forms the core of all living beings!

  2. Yes, so-called “honour killings” is a widespread practice – an honour killing happened just round the corner from where I live in London a few years ago. The term “honour killing” sounds too light – it is basically murder.

    As for the film, I’m bored of British Asians and South Asians in general shown in such a negative light in films both British and Hollywood, even if the subject matter somewhat reflects a small part of reality.

    • I can understand that, although this film was actually made by Indians :-) Just filmed in the UK and set there. And this film actually highlights that it isn’t a Muslim issue, or an Indian or Pakistani issue; it’s a global issue, and it has nothing to do with religion. Here in the US we are more likely to hear about honor killings taking place in Brazil, where the laws even support “honor” as a mitigating factor. It IS murder, though.

      • I did some research on it – it is a British film and many of the cast and crew are British.

        http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1270267/

        http://www.aricherlens.com/

        Since I haven’t seen the film, I can’t yet agree with you that a film depicting South Asians alongside the subject matter of honour killings highlights or represents a global issue. I believe this film would reinforce a negative stereotype or would fail to emphasise clearly that the problem is universal. In the UK, like the film portrays, honour killings, forced marriages and strict overprotective conservative parents with unhappy children are usually (and wrongfully) attributed to South Asians (particularly Muslims). Unsurprisingly, the clichéd “illicit love interest” in the film is of a different race/caste. This is definitely not a film that I’m eager to see, not because I’m oversensitive, but because I’m bored of the same storyline involving depressed British Asians. If I hear that it’s entertaining, then perhaps I’ll watch it if it comes on television.

        • The writer/director and producer are both Indian. I HAVE seen the film, so I can tell you with certainty that it emphasizes clearly that the practice of honor killing is not sanctioned by Islam or particular to South Asian culture. I would probably have to quibble with you over the use of the word “wrongfully” as it pertains to honor killings and forced marriages being attributed to South Asians in the UK. Is there another population there where they are more common? I think that the reason the film is set in England with an immigrant South Asian family is because it reflects reality. Of course it isn’t every South Asian family’s reality, but it is reality for some. And it’s an important issue to raise awareness about, so I am glad someone stepped forward to address it.

          In any case, I would not want to force anyone to see any film if they had no interest in it; but I am glad that I saw it! I learned a lot from it.

  3. If you have watched old Hindi melodramas (and you have!), you must have noticed one of the hoarist (but sadly true) cliches apart from heroine being in danger of getting raped is heroine nearly getting shot by her furious father for spoiling the family name by going out with the hero. As a kid, it used to strike me as laughably unrealistic. Then one fine day, I woke to a story of a genuine honor killing in (removed place name) and I was shocked. These old melodramas were actually far truer to life than I had suspected.

    • Yes, one of the hard things for me about older Hindi films (and not always that old either) is how women are treated in them. It can really ruin an otherwise good movie for me!

  4. Hmmm…sounds thought-provoking. Though personally I’ve never stuck with the `honour is everything’ theory, I’ve come across too many instances – even in minor matters – among relatives and acquaintances where a warped sense of honour led them to acts that are, in my lexicon at least, simply despicable. Not killings; no – but just selfish, unkind, terribly rude behaviour that can in no way be condoned.

    Will look out for this.

    • It was obvious that Nazir did not come out a winner in all this, even if his “honor” was intact! Unfortunately the word “honor” can be twisted all out of reason too.

  5. I think it will be good one to rent in this week end.

    • I do hope it makes its way to DVD one of these days, but right now you’ll have to see it in a theater…here’s hoping it finds a wider distribution too.

  6. Memsaab, coming from a country where honour killings still happen and in fact if the reason is “namus” (I don’t have an English replacement for this word) then the perpetrator will get a deduction.

    I too am very sensitive about this matter.

    In my culture (and this is from before people accepted Islam as a religion) men say that there are three important things – in that order- “horse, woman, weapon”. And even though the words may not really apply, the mentality is still very much present. And it has nothing to do with religion.

    A relatively recent film made on the subject I think deserves a watch. It is called “Bliss (Mutluluk)” directed by Abdullah Oguz and even though its somehow polished air takes a way just a little bit of sincerity, it nevertheless deals with the matter in a very realistic manner and many of the scenes are true, happening to real people on a frequent basis.

    • The whole idea of women = horses, weapons, land, gold, whatever is so pervasive in every culture. I like to think that I’m a fairly reasonable person with a good sense of humor, but it really does get to me sometimes. Words have power, and the ease with which those phrases are used still says a lot about where we stand in society.

  7. I’ve always wondered why women “misbehaving” offends men’s “honor” whereas NO male transgression ever appears to be a slur on male “honor”!

    I’d love to watch this movie but it doesnt seem to be coming to Calgary! :-( Have the film-makers thought about releasing the film online? I know Rajshri realeased Vivah on their website at the same time as its theatre release, and it was a big hit online. They could probably put it up on their website for paid viewing, like Rajshri does with its premium downloads. It would be really helpful for those of us who cant access it in the theatres.

  8. You should leave that suggestion on the blog I linked to! :-)

  9. After all that wonderful happiness of a joyous trip to India and meeting Shammi, time to come down to reality with a thud is it Memsaab? I mean the choice of a topic for discussion (an obviously painful and awful subject for most of us).

    Seems to be a good movie, however, painful the subject. Such movies are not shown on the big screen down under – some of us are lucky to even find a DVD. Lets hope i do get lucky to come across a DVD.

  10. Ha ha! Coming home to jet lag and real life (ie my job) was a painful thud too!!! But really, I wanted to write about the film because it impressed me a lot, and if I didn’t do it now then my memory would begin to fail me—and I don’t have the DVD to fall back on in this case :-)

  11. i really want to see the movie here in Germany….!

  12. ps: linked your post to my blog…maybe someone reads it and has an idea how to bring it to Germany?

  13. I don’t think the writer/director and producer being Indian would make it an Indian film, especially since most of the companies involved are based in the UK – it’s like saying Blade Runner is a British film. Anyway, let’s settle that it’s an “international co-production”.

    Honour killings are also known to happen amongst the South-West Asian population, such as the case of Banaz Mahmod and Heshu Yones, and the non-Muslim population, for example in Surjit Kaur Athwal’s case. However, honour killings aren’t limited to elders versus children or older brothers versus younger sisters, and not all are arranged and approved by more than person. People of other ethnic groups in the UK do also commit this crime and it’s not always based on one’s perceived faith, culture and tradition. It is usually committed because of their humiliation caused by disobedience, typically through what they see as indecent or breaching their “morals” and “codes of conduct” in other ways, thus tarnishing their reputation whether or not anyone else knows or cares about the “misdeed”. The misdeed is not always about forbidden love and the victim is not always female or a member of the family. Honour killings in the UK aren’t at all common in any community.

    Reality is, as you said, honour killings occur everywhere and aren’t restricted by ethnicity and religion. Also, not all murders for the sake of one’s reputation are labelled “honour killings” even when they technically are. I think the reason why the film is set in England with an immigrant South Asian family is, of course, the writer is Indian and because the audience won’t believe a story of an honour killing committed by a White person. Despite this, the subject matter shows negative stereotypical aspect of British Asian life, a negativity which had been constantly portrayed in cinema, and that, like I said before, bores me. Hopefully one day, there would be a British film which shows a positive and progressive portrayal of South Asians, giving a true representation of those who surround me right now.

    I don’t believe this film would significantly raise awareness about honour killings – at least not in the UK – since most people are already aware of it. Furthermore, I highly doubt it would make the audience, particularly the British audience aware that honor killings are practised by non-South Asians. Perhaps I would find the film entertaining when and if I see it on television.

  14. While it’s obvious that the issue of “honor killing” is not limited to Islam/Muslims, what are the laws in Islamic countries regarding “honor killing”? Do the laws call for punishing the parents/adults for “honor killing”? Is “honor killing” treated the same way as any other murder with the same/equal punishment?

    If the answer is that the punishment for “honor killing” is lenient than punishment for murder, and if the laws get their sanction from religion, then I don’t see how religion’s role – however indirect – can be ignored.

    If the punishment is the same as any other murder, then religion plays no role in “honor killing”. Simple as that.

    • Well, actually, even in that case I think it’s more about the culture being to blame than religion. Nowhere in Islamic writings is honor killing condoned, and if law even in so-called Islamic countries has been written to condone it (and even if the people who have written that law call it Islamic), it still doesn’t make it a religion-driven problem. People distort religion for all kinds of purposes, but in my opinion that doesn’t make the religion wrong, only the people (and culture they create) wrong. In Brazil, where honor is a mitigating factor in murder, Islam has nothing to do with it. It’s that “macho” culture again. I think it’s safe to say that many people who follow Islam would not condone honor killing—just like the Muslim lawyer in this film.

      • LOL.
        I’ll keep your above explanation in mind next time we discuss Christianity and religious right in the US, and their pro-life stance. ;)

        BTW, culture doesn’t grow in a vacuum, and religion – all religions – contributes to that, for good as well as bad.

        • Their pro-life stance has absolutely NOTHING to do with Christianity. In fact very little of their dogma does.

          Of course religion contributes to culture, but that doesn’t mean you can blame it for everything. And I say that as a person who is not very fond of religion in general!

  15. There is no honour killing in Islam. Yes, there is a system of punishment for adulterer, adulteress, and fornicators as per the Shariah or the Islamic jurisprudence.

    Honour killing is a complex issue. Even in India sometimes we do have such instances. Once such incident I do remember watching on a TV Channel. In this incident, the boy was killed by his own people or family, and the girl was killed by her family. Both were Hindus.

    When I was in my teens, I remember my father narrating an incident of honour-killing – only he didn’t use those words. He had this friend who was the owner of a furniture mart. To his surprise one day, he found his teenage daughter missing. He learnt that she had eloped with one of his workers who used to make furniture. He traced the couple to some remote village in Uttar Pradesh. He killed the girl there and buried her there. My father remarked: “What was the need for killing his own daughter? He should have allowed her to stay with her husband.” This had a great impact on me, and I am persuaded to believe it was atrocious to murder the girl who had married his worker. If my father were to state otherwise and justify the honour killing, I would have harboured a different opinion. In other words, family values and liberal attitudes do count.

    Now, in a sense, it does hurt the ego of the parents when, contrary to their wishes, their daughter elopes with a boy. If the family is rigid, fundamentalist, egotistic, and self-willed and influential there are chances that they will resort to honour killing. On the other hand, if the family has a modern outlook, and they have watched a lot of Hindi movies, then maybe they will exercise some restraint and accept the inevitable.

  16. All this discussion is all very well! But how can one get to see this film? Will it be broadcast on TV? When will it be distributed?

  17. Keep an eye on their website or blog, I am sure they will update it when they find distributors!

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