Na Maloom Afraad ****
Dir: Nabeel Qureshi
Starring: Javed Sheikh, Fahad Mustafa, Mohsin Abbas Haider, Urwa Hocane, Kubra Khan, Mehwish Hayat, Salman Shahid
Has new Pakistani commercial cinema actually arrived? A single movie may be too flimsy a piece of evidence to make the case but Na Maloom Afraad is not only delightful cinema but certainly shows us the way (or at least one of the ways) forward. It marries our elevated television aesthetics with a Mollywood sheen, subtly carries a social conscience and consciousness without turning into full blown social commentary or a social polemic, and is Pakistani to the core without devolving into agenda-driven, jingoistic fear-mongering. Humour is the movie’s main weapon and it also captures the grit and the grime, the energy and the excitement, and, yes, even the beauty (whatever there is left of it) of Karachi, the country’s commercial capital.
It may carry a hint of Delhi Belly and a dash of Tarantino’s subversive, violence-laced humour but Na Maloom Afraad is also totally original fare. The movie chronicles the misadventures of a trio of hard-luck losers, Shakeel (Javed Sheikh), Farhan (Fahad Mustafa) and Moon (Mohsin Abbas Haider) who come up with a daring little scheme to rake in some big bucks. Throw in some local gangsters, the Russian mob, a budding romance (or two), a young banker with a heart of gold, a dancer known as Billi (Mehwish Hayat in a small-ish role), sudden unexpected bursts of violence, and multiple twists and turns in the tale all put together to induce a belly full of laughs and you have a winning concoction.
One can quibble with some of the movie’s plot holes but the direction is slickly inventive, the pace doesn’t slacken, the cinematography (by Rana Kamran) is excellent and almost all the cast makes an impact. We all know what Javed Sheikh and Salman Shahid (playing Gogi, the gangster with a thing for dolls, and relishing the choice lines he gets to deliver) can do but Fahad Mustafa and Mohsin Abbas (he has a touch of Ranveer Singh about him) are equally good. Urwa Hocane and Kubra Khan as the love interests are easy on the eyes and Mehwish Hayat nicely brings the naughty to the screen. The songs (by Shani & Kami and Vicky Haider) are not exactly memorable but hummable enough and the Billi’ item number is certainly catchy.
Na Maloom Afraad had raised a lot of expectations with its trailers and promos. It lives up to every one of them. Kudos all around.
Cut to chase: Fun and funny. Everybody needs to see this.
Dir: Jami (co-director Summer Nicks)
Starring: Shaan Shahid, Ayub Khoso, Shamoon Abbasi, Aamina Sheikh, Tatmain ul Qulb, Joe Towne
021 is being hyped as a spy thriller. Well, there’s plenty of espionage going on here and there’s an interesting plot at the movie’s core – a computer chip containing sensitive data has to be smuggled out of Afghanistan – but, unfortunately, there aren’t enough thrills and the tension never really reaches fever pitch. You may have to concentrate to keep up with the plot but that’s fine with me because filmmakers should never underestimate their audience’s intelligence. The low key approach is also a certainly acceptable – think of it as more John le Carré than Ian Fleming’s James Bond. But with the le Carré approach characterisation is key and here we don’t really get under the skin of the characters. I liked the fact that Shaan’s Kashif Siddiqui, Pakistani spy/diamond smuggler/CIA asset/possible turncoat is not the proto-typical good guy but has all sorts of shades of grey to him. But I still wanted more meat added to the bones rather than clichéd “kewl” scenes and stereotypes serving as shorthand for actual good writing (the last scene with Aamina Sheikh made no sense to me, for example).
In addition, the movie needed some tighter editing even though I liked the way the movie was shot. The use of hand held camerawork added immediacy to the proceedings with the cinematography creating a visceral ambience. The action scenes, however, needed a bit more fizz and losing 20 to 30 minutes wouldn’t have hurt at all. Also, some of the scene shifts are a bit too choppy and the plotting lacks coherence at times, creating unnecessary confusion – having to strain to hear the dialogue at times certainly didn’t help (sound editing definitely needed work). And, of course, certain agencies would have been very pleased with the point of view of the movie.
Still, something quite different for a Pakistani movie. It raises the bar for any future action/spy thrillers to be made in this country but I just wish it could have raised it a just a bit more.
Cut to chase: Needed some streamlining and a bit more energy.