What Will People Say is extremely sensitive and deeply disappointing at the same time. Sensitive – courtesy the brilliant portrayal of the suffering and tyranny of a young second generation Pakistani girl Nisha by the terrific Maria Mozhdah, with her trauma, fear and sense of loss presented with brutal honesty. Maria is in sensational form here, and owns the entire film with effortless ease, engaging you well in her journey!
But its very disappointing to see the motivations (or lack of it) of her first generation immigrant parents staying in Oslo, and how extremely they react to the pressures of society prioritizing it so much ahead of their love for their child. Their level of conservative compulsions becomes especially difficult to justify given that they have been staying in Oslo for years now. They perform their parts well and evoke all the frustration and anger from the audience though. Adil Hussain especially excels being able to convey so many emotions with his range of expressions, and is adequately supported by Ekavali Khanna, Sheeba Chaddha and other coactors based on their limited scope.
What they are not supported by is the problematic script laden with poor character arcs transforming them suddenly from compassionate, loving family to the worst enemies of the girl taking honor shaming to most extreme levels. I did read that the film is close to real life experiences of filmmaker Iram Haq and she wanted to tell this unbelievable story of what she went through. But even then its extremely difficult to accept that parents can be so brutal to actually send a daughter to such an exile and then stay on for months even without calling her once, or later pushing her to the edge of a tragedy in multiple shapes and forms!
There are other holes in the script too, like how does Nisha go back to Oslo with Mirza within 24 hours after her passport is burnt down, or why would a man be shown taking a passenger bus with his daughter to reach his native home (other than exploring a cinematic visual of contrasts possibly). The sudden climactic stance is also inexplicable after all that has transpired on screen before that and further adds to the clumsiness of writing. I am also unsure why this was selected as the Norwegian entry at Oscars for best foreign language film from their side because almost three quarters of the film is in Urdu/Hindi!
Otherwise well crafted, the film does make a powerful statement on shallow regressiveness of conservative cultures, and our sense of false safety in apparently secure environments. It also makes you feel fortunate on how blessed your life has been in all the security of a loving home. But the lasting emotion that it leaves you with is frustration overshadowing pain, anger eating up sensitivity, and that does not help.