Shan Khan's new film Honor could just as well be called Shame, for that is what the insistence of this horrendous code of ethics releases. In this case, it is the honor of killing a daughter to save family respect.
Honor by definition is a tricky notion. The maid of honor, the best friend of a bride is a distinction. But historically, the idea infuses all sorts of masculine concepts of group pride, respect and often for women, prohibition.
We have seen examples of the worship of this tribal philosophy across the globe today. Dishonor killings are not a religious matter, though misinterpretation of religion is often behind it. When the Knights of Yore committed to a duel in honor of a subject, at least the participant understood the dynamic though the indignity that ignited the situation may have been resolved more simply by discussion and debate instead of killing? Honor used in this way abuses the potential of mastery and strength which can work for the good of all -- instead it becomes the tools of subjugation, torture and death. Throw in pride and you've got a right old mess.
With these elements in mind, Honor's story takes a modern London family into the realm of darkest Shakespeare. Beautiful Mona, Alysha Hart, working as an estate agent begins a relationship with a Punjabi colleague Tanvir, Nikesh Patel. She is Pashtun, but this is no Romeo and Juliet. They are both Asian, but tribal or caste differences make their union dicey. When Tanvir is warned off by Kasim, Faraz Ayub, Mona's policeman brother, he reneges on his promise to run away with Mona. Now, all hell breaks loose, for Mona, no longer a virgin is seriously frightened to return to her home.
This is a story the West has only recently been exposed to as the shame of the families and the cabal of secrecy among groups has prevented much coverage. Worldwide the figures range from 5,000 to 20,000 women killed by their families. The data is difficult to collect because many of the deaths are written off as suicide.
Honor killings like female genital mutilation and rape are an assault against the feminine in every possible way and that these killings are often carried on with the compliance of local police is horrific. So when Mr. Kahn, instead of making a documentary that as he says, "will be seen only by already converted liberals," there's a reason. The Asian population must see it, too.
According to Mr. Khan, he only is telling the truth to "wake up the Asian community. Everyone has cool movies. In the. 21th century we Asians isn't sitting at that table. We were still waiting for someone who accurately represents us. "
Clearly it is not only an Asian problem, but this is his community and he wants Asian young men to see beyond the limitations of their community and family and really face the damages that are being perpetrated to their sisters. It is brave of him to make this film. And much better that it is made from someone of the community being depicted.
In honor killings, often the youngest son is asked to do the killing because he won't face the same legal problems being under age. In Honor, as the sweet younger brother Adel, Shubam Saraf, carries the emotion of the family but can't help but tell Kasim what he knows... it is the male law of the family. And yet the mother conducts the business, "because in the home, the Asian mother rules," says Kahn and this mother as played by Harvey Virdi is as cold as Lady Macbeth.
Paddy Considine, as a brutal man for hire, is amazing. He is a product of a harsh world and uses his disappointment and rage to make an ugly living. He is racist and remembers an England that was...t hough clearly he was never part of that one either.
In watching the film twice, the initial shock lessened of course, but the symbolism reveals itself more clearly... simple objects take on deadly meaning. A trap is being set on the daughter and the only way out is to chew her own leg.
Honor is a fast-moving, even exciting tale of injustice, family and redemption. Will it help to change anything? Let's hope.
Mr. Khan suggested that his next film is a comedy... about the Sharia Patrol, the troops who are enforcing Sharia policies in the community. Now that sounds like a real laugh.
The film opens nationally this week.