The day before Eid it gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling to see people lined up at the ticketing counter of the local cinema looking for seats over the next few days and going away disappointed. They weren’t being choosy – they would have gladly accepted tickets for any of the three big Pakistani movies being released on Eid day – Jawani Phir Nahin Ani 2, Load Wedding and Parwaaz Hai Junoon – but they were out of luck. There were no tickets to be had. The revival of Pakistani cinema seems to be in full swing now. There’s obviously an audience that has been built-up over the last few years for Pakistani fare, warts and all. Movie-givers are willing to show up for films with star-power and those that pique their interest and, particularly over holiday periods like Eid, big releases are fighting for screen space (so there’s definitely room for more cinema houses and multiplexes).
After a relatively fallow couple of years 2018 has seen an uptick. We’ve had a few really good films (Cake, Motorcycle Girl) and a box-office smash in Teefa In Trouble and now the trio of Eid releases seem set for success. All three have their merits as well as weaknesses but, bye-and-large, I don’t think viewers are likely to come out of the theatres (too) disappointed and this bodes well for the box-office chances of the films in the long run (an initial good turnout does not guarantee huge box-office success – witness the fates of the likes of Verna and Saat Din Mohabbat In).
Load Wedding is a welcome return to form for producer Fizza Ali Meerza and director Nabeel Quershi, the team behind the revolutionary Na Maaloom Afraad. That ground-breaking film which truly marked the beginning of the revival of Pakistani cinema for me was followed up by the middling Actor-In-Law and the very disappointing Na Maaloom Afraad sequel. So it is so good to see the Meerza/Qureshi duo almost hit the top notes again (I always knew that they had it in them and that the first NMA was not a one-off). Beautifully shot (the movie gives you a real feel for small-town Punjab) the film is a light-hearted romance with (that old chestnut) a social message. But the movie takes the care and the time (and in this Twitter-obsessed age with its limited attention-spans this is a not-so-small pleasure to be savoured) to build up its central relationship between Raja (Fahad Mustafa) and Meeru (Mehwish Hayat). Raju’s been silently obsessed with Meeru since childhood but can’t make himself profess his love until it’s too late. But now fate has given him a chance again. Will he be able to pluck up the courage to stand up to his mother (Samina Ahmed) for his chance at happiness? Or will his mother win the day with her demand that he can only get married after his elder sister, the somewhat-portly Baby Baji (Faiza Hasan) has tied the knot? This basic set-up gives us some good laughs, some great songs, some well-aimed shots at television game shows and their hosts (one in particular) as well as the pursuit of TV ratings. Plus the shameful custom of demanding dowries gets a good (if slightly over-the-top) dressing-down. There are some pacing issues as is the somewhat heavy-handed nature of the messaging but overall the movie is handled well and is buoyed by good performances by all, including Qaiser Piya as Raja’s best friend. However, the film really belongs to Faiza Hasan. She gets her best showcase since her titular turn in Burns Road Ki Neelofar and she does not let the opportunity go to waste. I’d love to see more of her on both the big and small screens.
Jawani Phir Nahin Ani 2
The first Jawani Phir Nahin Ani was a thoroughly enjoyable (if ever-so-slightly risqué) fare and proved to be a monster smash. So a sequel was inevitable. With any sequel you’re going to get more of the same and so once again we have four friends (or as it is this time around, three friends and a frenemy) in a foreign locale (or two) looking either for love or a good time while their better halves fret over trusting them or not. The movies even begin similarly with one of the foursome threatening to jump off a fearsome height to commit suicide and then rolling backwards to tell us how we got to this situation. But despite the similarities the team of director Nadeem Baig and writer Vasay Chaudhry (who also co-stars) wring enough variations, toning down most of the salaciousness, while honing the topical humour as well as the deadpan comedy (the farcical elements remain intact) to make the first half of the movie a laugh riot. An almost unrecognisable Fawad Khan is hilarious in his early cameo as a lisping rock star with a raging ego and a scene near the middle of the movie set in Rahat’s (Fahad Mustafa) apartment and involving gangsters as well as Rahat’s prospective bride and father-in-law is a classic in the making with its timing and poker-faced humour. The whole cast is generally in good form and the chemistry between the lead male trio (Humayun Saeed, Vasay Chaudhry and Ahmed Ali Butt) hums along nicely. Unfortunately, the movie goes off the rails in its second half with the humour getting overshadowed with unnecessary jingoism and playing-to-the-galleries.
The plot gets stretched wafer-thin, most of the genuine comedy goes AWOL and the story element involving Rahat’s wooing of Zoe (Mawra Hocane), which drove the first half of the movie, becomes an after-thought. JPNA2 could have easily lost half an hour (if not more) of its two hours forty five minutes runtime and that, coupled with slightly better plotting, would have made the film a perfect fun time at the movies. As it stands, it’s a movie of two halves – one hysterically funny, the other where the laughs are few and far in between. The soundtrack, however, is pretty decent.
Parwaaz Hai Junoon
If one puts aside some larger questions (like who funded the movie and why and how – a subject for an entire column on its own) and walks into the theatre with an open mind to watch Parwaaz Hai Junoon one should be walking out reasonably pleased. Yes, at one level, the movie could be discounted as being just a recruitment vehicle for the Pakistan Air Force but that would be doing it a disservice. The plot could just as easily be described as being about a young girl who finds a purpose in her life after a great tragedy. The backdrop could have been a medical school instead of the Air Force academy and the film would have worked just as well. Parwaaz doesn’t carry excess flab clocking in at just over two hours, has a great looking cast which does its job well, the soundtrack is brilliant, the humour is generally well-timed and the romance between Sania (Hania Amir) and the maverick PAF pilot, Hamza (Hamza Abbasi in full “hero” mode with chest puffed out and baritone deep but it suits his character) is convincing. Some of the emotional scenes also do resonate. And, yes, while PHJ does play up the patriotism element, it also does not devolve into simplistic and dangerous jingoism. It is also not a polemic on the causes of extremism but nor is it meant to be. So judging it for what it is, the movie works. The movie’s far from perfect – it is not particularly deep and the last fifteen minutes are especially weak with regards to plotting and character motivation but PHJ is, ultimately, able to overcome these flaws. Having the stunning Hania Amir in the lead only helps – not only does the camera love her but she’s a good actress too.
So take your pick of any of the three Eid releases – you won’t go too far wrong with any of them.
[email protected]; Twitter: @KhusroMumtaz