Night Of Henna

Writer-producer-director Hassan Zee's self-pronounced "first Pakistani-American film," a drama about young people trapped between their own American dreams and their Pakistani parents' determination to hold on to centuries-old traditions, is earnest and clumsy in equal parts. It opens with a bride (the stunningly beautiful Pooja Kumar) in traditional wedding...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Writer-producer-director Hassan Zee's self-pronounced "first Pakistani-American film," a drama about young people trapped between their own American dreams and their Pakistani parents' determination to hold on to centuries-old traditions, is earnest and clumsy in equal parts. It opens with a bride (the stunningly beautiful Pooja Kumar) in traditional wedding regalia, her beautiful face a mask of unhappiness. The story then flashes back to six months earlier, as the same young woman, Hava, arrives at the San Francisco airport, where she's reunited with her parents, Abdul (Girja Shankar) and Rafia (Ponni Chesser), and her sullen, thoroughly Americanized younger brother, Shani (Giuseppe Distefano). Having spent the last nine years living with her grandparents back home, learning to be "a good Pakistani girl," Hava dreams of going to college and enjoying the various small freedoms American women take for granted. What Hava doesn't know is that her parents have already promised her in marriage to her cousin, the handsome Salman (Suhail Tayeb), whose sister disgraced Abdul's wealthy, ailing brother (Azhar Shah) and his formidable wife (Noor Shic) by running away with her American boyfriend. Hava knows her father would disapprove, but goes behind his back to get a job at a local coffee bar, take classes and — worst of all — start keeping company with the sensitive, supportive Justin (Craig Marker). Meanwhile, Salman can't work up the nerve to tell his parents that he loves an American woman, Molly (Jeanette Penley), and wants a love match, not an arranged marriage. Adding further pressure to the situation, Shani gets into a drug-related car accident, and Abdul must appeal to his brother for money, as he has done many times in the past. There's no questioning the worthiness of Zee's intentions; having studied medicine in Pakistan to please his parents before pursuing his own ambitions in America, he's clearly sympathetic to young adults chafing against the strictures of tradition. But though his sympathy for women forced into unwelcome marriages is evident, his ham-fisted moral tale — the title refers to the elaborate, temporary henna tattoos an East Asian bride gets before her wedding — is awkward and obvious. It's also seriously undermined by some amateurish performances, notably those of Marker and Nancy Carlin, who plays Justin's sexually predatory landlady. Were it not for Kumar's luminous charisma, the film would be unwatchable.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Writer-producer-director Hassan Zee's self-pronounced "first Pakistani-American film," a drama about young people trapped between their own American dreams and their Pakistani parents' determination to hold on to centuries-old traditions, is earnest and cl… (more)

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