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Channeling Trauma: Iram Haq talks about What Will People Say

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Trevor Hogg talks to Norwegian filmmaker Iram Haq about her sophomore effort What Will People Say which was inspired by a real-life incident that happened to her as a teenager…

Transitioning from acting to directing, Iram Haq has taken the opportunity to explore the cultural divide of growing up in Norway within a traditional Pakistani family; as a 14-year-old she was forcibly taken to live in Karachi, Pakistan for a year by her father which resulted in them not resolving their fractured relationship until shortly before his death.  The real-life incident inspired the filmmaker’s sophomore effort What Will People Say.   “I was born in Norway and have parents from Pakistan so I understand the way they think.  I wanted to get deeper into this issue to understand the struggle the parents are going through; they’re in pain and frustrated.  The children are also frustrated and trapped in-between [the two different worlds].  It’s about getting out of the comfort zone.  Things become scarier when you’re full of fear.”

Iram Haq with Maria Mozhdah during shooting What Will People Say

Nisha (Maria Mozhdah) lives a double life as a Norwegian and Pakistani teenager until Mirza (Adil Hussain) believes she has dishonoured the family which leads him to kidnap his daughter to live with relatives in Pakistan.  “They love each other but it’s an impossible love,” notes Haq.  “They belong to two different generations and worlds.  It’s hard to please each other because they are trapped by what will people say. Western culture is individualistic.  You have to follow your heart and dreams. Whereas in South Asia you have to think about your family.  These two worlds collide in this story and the situation is happening to many immigrants living in Western countries.”

Critical was making Mirza not a villain as he shifts from being a caring parent to a tyrant.  “Adil Hussain was suited for that role because he’s a strong and warm man,” states Haq.  “Adil did such a great job.  We worked closely together.  It’s about loving someone and being afraid to lose them.  You see the love and fear in him.  Mirza starts doing wrong things against his daughter because he’s so scared.”   A year and a half was spent trying to cast the part of Nisha.  “I was happy when I finally found Maria Mozhdah.  I felt that we had a good chemistry and she’s such a talent.  It was lot for Maria to carry on her shoulders.  She’s a young girl and did a great job.”

What Will People Say was intended to be the feature length debut rather than I Am Yours for Haq.  “I needed to do another one before because I wasn’t ready to make it.  I started to write in 2014 for real.”  The focus was in getting the script right rather than creating storyboards.  “Every scene had been planned.  It’s not shot as an improvisation.”  Initially, the project was to shoot chronologically.  “I shot Pakistan first then Norway afterwards.  It would have been natural the other way around but things happened differently.  We shot three weeks in India.  There was a Christmas in-between.  Then we shot half of January and February 2017 in Norway, Sweden and Germany.”

A documentary shooting style was used by cinematographer Nadim Carlsen with a single ALEXA XT.  The Norway scenes have a bluish colour pallet while earth tones dominate the Pakistan section.  “That also makes a contrast about these two different worlds and are the natural pallet for those two places,” observes Haq.  “I had two different production designers [Vintee Bansal and Ann-Kristin Talleraas] and costume designers [Rohit Chaturvedi and Ida Toft] for the Pakistan and Norway sections because I wanted the movie to feel as true as possible.”

A much talked about sequence is when Nisha is arrested by Pakistani police and forced to strip in front of them.  “It came late to me while I was writing and is something that happens,” reveals Haq.  “The scene was disturbing to make and is uncomfortable for everyone.”  Another dramatic moment is when Nisha gets into a car that contains her father and driven by her brother with the expectation of reconciliation but then gradually realizes she is being kidnapped by them.  “I keep it simple when I worked on that scene.  I wanted it to feel claustrophobic.  I didn’t want to doing any arty that would take us away from the story.  I work closely with the actors who knew what they were going to do.  It was about collaboration.”

The narrative of What Will People Say evolved in the edit suit.  “I had two great Danish editors, Janus Billeskov Jansen and Anne Østerud, who worked on my previous movie as well,” remarks Haq.  “Sometimes editing is like rewriting the whole film.”  Extensive production sound was incorporated into the audio.  “I had a great sound designer from Norway [Tormod Ringnes] who also worked on I Am Yours and we had real sound from Pakistan,” explains Haq.  “I chose to have music composed with European and Scandinavian influences by German and Danish composers Lorenz Dangel and Martin Pedersen.  I love both of their music and didn’t want to choose one over the other.  I enjoyed working with all three of them.  They did a great job for me.”   The project has encouraged Haq to be daring with her choices as a storyteller.  “One thing that was important for me was the good relationships I had with my actors and crew.  That’s something I appreciate and hope I can bring with me on the next movie.”

Many thanks to Iram Haq for taking the time to be interviewed and for more information visit the official website for What Will People Say.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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