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No Land’s Man – London Indian Film Festival 2022

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer and Director: Mostofa Sarwar Farooki

This year’s London Indian Film Festival is jam-packed with exciting UK premieres of both features and documentaries about life, history and ecology in South Asia, and the festival also extends to screenings in Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester. Also extending its boundaries is Mostofa Sarwar Farooki’s new film that crosses continents and merges genres. Starting like an old-fashioned rom com No Land’s Man slowly moves into darker and more realistic territory.

But it begins with Naveen’s disappearance from a cemetery in Sydney, an area that he surprisingly declares as his favourite part of the city. At the cemetery’s gates he tells Cathy, his white Australian girlfriend, that he needs to use the bathroom. He never reappears. Cathy is worried, but the music by stellar composer A. R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) suggests that we shouldn’t be. His disappearance in underscored by a cheerful Irish-sounding jig.

Before we discover what has happened to Naveen we are whisked back in time and place to New York a couple of years before. Naveen has just started working in a restaurant downtown and Cathy is one of his colleagues. He woos her with magic tricks. She has a thing for India and South Asian men.

Their relationship is founded on lies. He tells everyone that he is Indian when he really is Pakistani. If anyone asks he’s Hindu rather than Muslim, though that doesn’t stop one woman on the Staten Island ferry accusing him of being a terrorist. He suggests he’s single when he is probably married. And he even hires an actor to pretend to be his father. Naveen does well in constructing his new life, but we learn nothing of his real past until the second half of the film.

We also don’t get to know much about Cathy either and so, at times, the onscreen romance between her and Naveen doesn’t always feel believable, but Bangladeshi director Farooki includes many tender moments between them in an effort to spark the chemistry. But Cathy’s distance is deliberate and, one day, when she stops talking to Naveen, we can only guess at her reasons. Has she discovered Naveen’s lies? Whatever, this episode of miscommunication is a predictable storyline for rom coms, a framework that the first hour of the film adheres to loyally. There is only the faint flicker of suggestion that No Land’s Man has a darker story at its core.

And when the past, and the present, are revealed more clearly, the film is quietly devastating, helped, no doubt, by the false security of the romantic plot. The switch in genres isn’t a smooth one, but nor should it be. The film forces the audience to sit up in its seats, to sit up and take notice. The subtle acting of the leads also helps here with Nawazuddin Siddiqui giving Naveen a shy, slightly nerdy personality. His magic tricks are both endearing and pitiful. His desire to fit in is best demonstrated in the scene where he buys a Trump baseball cap with ‘Make America Great Again’ emblazoned on its front.

As Cathy, Megan Mitchell has a tougher job, as her character is eternally bright and forever forgiving. Her journeys across the world are in stark contrast to Naveen’s, but apart from a few typical lines about the joy of travelling it’s unclear whether she is escaping from anything when she sets foot in an airplane. We never know what makes her tick, but eventually she becomes a solid foil for Naveen’s own reasons for travelling.

Finished just a few days before the first Covid lockdowns, Farooki’s film still feels very contemporary in a world where right-wing views are increasingly being legitimatised in politics. Take Rwanda and our own immigration policy as example. No Land’s Man is a clever and ultimately unsettling film, wrapping up a dark modern story in bright pink paper.

No Land’s Man is screening at the London Indian Film Festival 2022 running 23 June – 3 July.

The Reviews Hub Score:

A portrait of modern life

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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