Sixteen-year-old Nisha lives a double life. At home she is a devoted Pakistani daughter, at school and with friends she is just like any other Norwegian young girl. One day her father catches her with a boy. They are just holding hands, but Nisha’s worlds collide and explode. Her behavior brings shame on the family. Her father sends her to Pakistan, where her uncle burns her Norwegian passport, but even there she is at odds with social life. Just by being an ordinary girl she seems to invite shame on her family. Even though she loves her family, they punish her again and again. In the end, she has to run away in order not to be married off so that her family can escape the shame she has brought over them by just being an ordinary Norwegian girl.
What Will People Say by Iram Haq was the 2017 sensation in Norway. An artistic and economic success, the film manages to convey the desperate situation Nisha is in, the cultural conflicts of her family caught between Pakistan and Norway, and the insensitive child protection system in Norway. Iram Haq’s first feature, I Am Yours (2013) also became a big success in Norway, and also deals with the problems of young women of Pakistani descent trying to live in two worlds in Norway.
What makes What Will People Say so heartbreaking and moving is not only how Nisha is treated by the ones who love her but also how Iram Haq shows how the whole family is caught between two completely different sets of expectations. They all blame Nisha, the victim who just wants to be an ordinary Norwegian girl, and they are unable to really see the young woman.
Iram Haq’s film is like an unexploded bomb. We expect Nisha to rebel, to fight back, to scream and shout, but she never fights back. In the end, back in Norway, she leaves her young baby sister and sneaks out into the snowy darkness in order to survive. What Will People Say is one of Norway’s best films and hard to forget.
Gunnar Iversen is professor of Film Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He has written extensively on Norwegian and Scandinavian Cinema, documentary filmmaking, and sound in cinema. His latest book is the co-edited collection Unwatchable (Rutgers University Press, 2019).