Academy Award-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (Saving Face) exposes the complicated and violent forces faced by women in Pakistan through her 40-minute HBO documentary ‘A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness’ (2015).
The film revolves around a 19-year-old Pakistani girl named Saba. Her story begins when she runs off to marry a man named Qaiser whom her family disapproves of since she fell in love with him. They didn’t want her to marry him since the man’s family did not have the same social standing as Saba’s family and did not share the same financial strata. Saba’s family had issues with her getting married to the man.
But Saba paid them no attention. She went and had a court marriage with Qaiser without telling them. The girl was persuaded by her father and uncle to board their car as soon as the wedding ceremony ended. However, the girl has to pay a high price for having faith in them. Saba’s relatives took her to the river where they tried to kill her for hurting the family’s honour. She was brutally abused before being shot with a gun and then stuffed into a sack, and dumped into the river.
Declaring that their family’s honour has been restored, they fled the scene. However, the girl just fainted and the bullet did not kill her but left her with a severe injury on her cheek and forehead. She manages to get out of the sack and sought help from a gas station and thus people called an ambulance to save her.
We see how doctors help her through the treatment and recover till the end. The only thing she can be certain of in light of all that has happened is that she will never be able to forgive her relatives for what they did to her, even though their religion approves of it. Even worse, Pakistan, which is responsible for thousands of murders each year, regularly prosecutes women for disrespecting their families. For this, Saba’s story serves as a great example of how the country’s rules permit its citizens to commit such heinous acts without being held accountable.
The protagonist, Saba, shows an inspiring spirit by refusing to give up and drowning herself in the river on that night. However, it is upsetting to see that she was shot by her father and uncle on the way home from the house of the in-laws after Nikah, despite taking vows on the Quran for her life and safety.
The film rightly explores high-risk journalistic storytelling, particularly as it relates to human rights and family honour.
The documentary was expertly written and shot at its original locations. The characters conveyed the incident honestly, keeping the audience interested the entire time. Saba’s family members and the police in the case all appeared to be effortlessly reliving the incidents as they had happened. The sad part is that this movie will forever serve as a strong reminder of the oppression women have endured and continue to experience in society.