Telling the true story of Pakistani activist Perween Rahman in her fight to protect the poor from water scarcity, ‘Into Dust’ is a film brimming with truth and adversity.
Into Dust focuses on the legacy of Perween Rahman (Indu Sharma), a Pakistani activist and architect murdered on her way back from work, due to her criticism of the land mafia in Karachi. The film particularly highlights the scarcity of water and corruption that riddles the city, and how Perween’s sister, Aquila Ismail (Shudha Bhuchar), sets out to continue her sister’s work. In fact, Rahman was an architect and head of the Orangi Pilot Project-Research (OPP) and Training Institute, which set out to achieve social change through housing and sanitation programmes. While the film is directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Orlando von Einsiedel (the director’s first scripted film), Ismail was heavily involved in production.
It’s a compelling story and though the plot is centred around Karachi, the film also engages with how climate change is aggravating issues of corruption and poverty worldwide. Into Dust recognizes that eventually the whole globe will succumb to similar situations, with the ending sequence in particular driving home this idea. The writing is focused and concise: the message is clear, with characters acting coherently and retaining authenticity. However, climate change and corruption are complex issues and at only forty minutes long, and at times this feels like a bullet point version of what a longer movie could have explored. For instance, there is a scene where a bureaucrat undermines Aquila’s understanding of the situation by pointing out that she no longer lives in Pakistan. This could have been an opportunity to provide Ismail dimension, while creating a more complex cultural background.
Into Dust is part documentary and part re-enactment. This blend is seen only towards the end, when interviews to both Aquila and Anwar Rashid, co-director of OPP, are featured. It is one of the more emotional and genuinely interesting sections in the film, as the viewers get to see the real-life activists that are still fighting to bring change. However, the jarring shift from re-enactment to drama can be distracting. Into Dust would have worked better had it chosen a clear genre. As a drama, it could have looked at familial relationships and cultural dynamics, and especially at Aquila’s choice to remain in Pakistan after her sister’s death. As a documentary, it could have given more specifics, particularly from the activists themselves about the corruption riddling Karachi and the impact of climate change. Instead, the approach taken makes the film feel disjointed.
The actors are convincing in their roles and could have really shone in a longer feature. Bhuchar plays Aquila with a necessary strength, one that reflects the community that is being exploited by corrupt and powerful men. It is not a feeling of helplessness that arises when watching Bhuchar perform, but rather one of hope. In one of the final scenes of the film, the real Aquila says about her sister “she made us into such good people,” echoing the feeling of confidence the actress channelled with her performance.
Into Dust‘s direction might not be suited to everyone, yet by sacrificing script and drama it delivers an honest and uncomplicated message through concise storytelling. Orlando von Einsiedel delivers on a hopeful film with strong performances and a clear message which is sure to draw viewers interested in social activism.
While Into Dust is by no means a perfect picture, it delivers its message with authenticity. Von Einsiedel’s film finally gives a platform to activists Perween Rahman and Aquila Ismail. Yet, viewers might demand more of its shortened runtime.
Words By Elisabetta Pulcini
Into Dust is now available on Amazon Prime
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