Sandstorm (Mulaqat) ★★★★ HollyShorts Film Festival

Sandstorm (Mulaqat) ★★★★ HollyShorts Film Festival

Seemab Gul looks at how social indoctrination still impacts Pakistani teens in her latest film, Sandstorm (Mulaqat). Gul ensures that our young protagonist is not someone who will play the role of the victim for long. A poignant and contemplative film.

Director: Seemab Gul Cast: Ayesha Shoaib Ahmed, Qasim Ali, Parizae Fatima, Nabila Khan, Masuma Halai Khwaja, Hamza Mushtaq, Aun Ali Saleem 


Zara, a schoolgirl in Karachi, shares a sensual dance video with her virtual boyfriend, who then blackmails her. Caught between his manipulative behaviour and the desire to experience love on her own terms, Zara searches for the strength to reject the confines of a patriarchal society.

Growing up is hard; it is even more complicated when you put your young trust into someone, only for them to dismantle said trust with a sledgehammer. You can be left with few choices, adhere to what the person you trusted demands and go down a path that you may never get out of. Inform your family and live in eternal shame, as no matter what anyone says, an abhorrent incident like this stays with someone of any age, never mind a teenager. Or decide not to fall prey to this person and to be defiant no matter the consequences.

After seeing the documentary Caught in the Net, this technique by Omar in Sandstorm (Mulaqat) is part and parcel of how apparent predators treat their prey. Make no mistake; this is what young girls are to people like this, prey they can abuse as and when needed. Unfortunately for all involved, we know little about Omar, which only solidifies how terrifying the situation is for Zara. To us, he is a stranger, and this new version of him that she only realises after the video may as well be a stranger.

Interestingly though, Sandstorm (Mulaqat) doesn’t go all the way and demonise Omar; we find that he is a bit older than Zara, and Gul portrays him as maybe someone who was raised to be the way he is, to say the things he says due to who he is around. Perhaps if he had the forthright nature like Zara to break away, he too could be his own person. As said, this is an interesting line to go down for the film. If Omar and Zara had met in person before the video, would he be this way?

By asking so many questions without immediately answering them, Gul is leaving us to decide. Do we toss Omar in with males who want to take advantage of younger girls, or do we sympathise that he may simply not know any better? No matter, the situation for Zara is still a difficult one; as it is said in Sandstorm (Mulaqat), is it “a sin to be born a woman in Pakistan”? 

Gul shows us Zara’s state of mind via the world she is in; powercuts before the storm has Zara thinking there is no way out, only for the eventual sandstorm to come and clear away her fears, while others struggle to see into the distance from the storm, she is clear-minded. Goodness help anyone who gets in her way, or so we hope at least. Finally, we are given hope that Zara is moving towards freedom from what has held her and other women down for too long.

Ayesha Shoaib Ahmed gives a strong performance as the gullible Zara. Director Seemab Gul rightfully closes in on her face as she is forced to remove her scarf for Omar. It hurts you to see someone in such a vulnerable place that they had no interest in being in. The young actress must carry Sandstorm (Mulaqat), and you feel her frustration and legitimate fears from Omar and her father at the repercussions of a straightforward dance. A scene in the car with her father is racked with tension in case he checks her messages or, even worse, her videos. Yet, once Zara removes that scarf at Omar’s request, you sense that it frees her. Allowing her to be that person she wanted to be, finally liberated.

Zara is an excellent character for Shoaib Ahmed to take on, bold and non-conformist, she wants to tred her own path, only she is continually stuck in dilemmas, should she wear the scarf over her head because Omar likes it that way? Or should she do what she wants and feels is right for her? Pakistan is getting better for women, as Gul says in an interview, albeit slowly but surely and with films like Sandstorm (Mulaqat), with some hope this will further drive it forward. Make sure to add this to your watch list.


The annual Academy Awards® Qualifying HollyShorts Film Festival will celebrate its 18th year August 11-20, 2022. HollyShorts (HSFF) brings together top creators, industry leaders, and companies and has launched many filmmakers into the next stages of their careers. HollyShorts, a regular on the MovieMaker Magazine Top 50 Festivals Worth the Entry Fee list, also engages its community and spotlights short films year-round through monthly screenings, panels, and networking events. 

The most recent edition of HollyShorts had six selections nominated for Academy Awards this year with two wins for Aneil Karia and Riz Ahmed’s The Long Goodbye and Ben Proudfoot’s Queen of Basketball.

HollyShorts Film Festival will take place in-person at the TCL Chinese Theaters in Hollywood, and stream via Bitpix TV,  with the annual Awards Gala set to take place on August 20, 2022. 

For tickets to the festival please click here.

For more of our reviews of the festival, please check out below:


North Star


Act of God





How Do You Measure a Year?




Love, Dad

Paper Thin

Kickstart My Heart

Return to Sender

Skin & Bone


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