Pakistani film has picked up speed. Sure it took us ten years (with the touted ‘revival of Pakistani cinema’ making local headlines in 2007). But come 2013, local films were being released at a regular, dare I say even steady, pace.
And yet, the curse of the mundane permeates the cinema halls. Far too many films fall into the comfort of what has been done before. Nowhere is this more evident than in characterization. Tropes are rehashed, recycled and repeated until almost every Pakistani film looks like a version of the same story. The ‘hero’ the ‘love-interest’ the ‘vamp’ all make an appearance, and very rarely are any of them not relying on stereotypes.
Despite all of this though, some gems have found their way to the mainstream. Be it a supporting character in a crime thriller, or an attempt to shake up the tried and tested romantic formula, these are the best eight characters to come out of Pakistani cinema. Why seven and not ten? Because I can!
South-Asian ‘dons’ are supremely repetitive. The word itself may have resulted from misunderstanding an exotic title (courtesy The Godfather). But once the the titular character saw Amitabh Bachan use his husky voice to menacing effect, a cinematic trope was born.
Decades later, gangsters in Indian and even Pakistani films are (or try to be) replicas of the Don act. All masculine, menacing and with a tirade of women at their beck and call.
Which is why Tony is such a treat. Yasir Jaswal’s Jalaibee is one of my favourite films to come out of Pakistani cinema’s new wave. Not claiming to be anything more than entertainment, the film inadvertently ensured that its characters were one of a kind. Tony is an excellent example. Played by renowned fashion photographer and host, Tony Navaid, this mafia don is uber-effeminate. He likes dancing to vintage Punjabi songs, with a fluffy purple scarf wrapped around his neck.
But his playful exterior makes him all the more terrifying.
Sprawled over his decadent settee, he gives commands to torture and murder without hesitation. He just does so with a flourish of his manicured fingers.
Another score for the Jalaibee roster. This one is meant to be a cold-blooded assassin type figure. But singer Uzair Jaswal’s take on the role has the boyish charm of an urban college student. No, really.
Jimmy is a ruthless character whose morality (or lack thereof) is seriously suspect. But he is also a dutiful younger brother, who only kills when commanded to do so by his brother Ali. When he isn’t “taking out the trash” for his older sibling, he can be seen at video-game arcade or watching a Bollywood comedy in an upscale cinema hall.
See, he’s just like us. (When he isn’t killing people that is.)
Okay, I’m just going to say this. Shoaib Mansoor is a national treasure.
While many were complaining about the dismal state of local cinema, Mr. Mansoor actually did something about it. He gave us Khuda Kay Liye which, even if you didn’t think it was perfect, was what put the possibility of a local film industry back on the map. And then, he gave us a surprisingly sensitive second film. Bol is remembered for Humaima Malick’s stunning performance. And rightfully so.
But I feel that Iman Ali also deserves some love. Particularly as her character was such an interesting rendition of the “lady of the night”.
Meena is a red-light area dweller. And she loves Bollywood’s romantic notion of a courtesan.
Iman truly shines in this under-appreciated role. In one scene her shift from Urdu to Punjabi and back again is so effortless, that you can’t help but laugh.
Moti (Karachi Se Lahore)
Oh this one could have been such a steaming, hot mess. Which is why, the fact that the character somehow worked, and even had an arc, deserves some appreciation.
Long story short, I hate this film. It is loud, copies better movies and relies way too much on offensive jokes. Sure, people loved it. Everyone laughed. But that doesn’t take away from its insensitive execution of Pakistan’s most bizarre stereotypes. How many Pakistani films include a violent Sindhi feudal, a drunk Pathan truck driver and a lusty Punbjabi security guard within fifteen minutes of each other?
But despite all of this, Moti, the hapless stuttering side-kick is a winner. The joke could so easily have been his speech impairment. And let’s be honest, we’ve all seen a Pakistani production make fun of stuttering characters. But Moti’s quick wit coupled with his relation with wonder-kid Zeezo (another win for the film) makes him the un-acknowledged hero. Throughout the movie I kept wondering why he and Zeezo were not the focus.
Zoya (Jawani Phir Nahi Ani)
Now, I watched my first Wassay Chaudhary sit-com when I was nine. And since then I have believed that his work is much better than he lets it be. Far too often, he gives us really interesting characters and genuinely intelligent comedy. But then for some reason has to inject a convoluted romantic angle into it.
Zoya in Jawani Phir Nahi Ani is a prime example. Part scathing satire of the millennial mindset, part subversion of the ‘love interest’ trope, amplified by Sohai Ali Abro’s knack for comedy, Zoya made this film so much better. Why the story about ‘husbands gone wild’ and a sermon about marital harmony had to steal her thunder I will never understand.
Bari Bua (Zibakhana)
The scariest thing about a monster is his origin story. Case in point Zibakhana. I love this film because it took Pakistan back to the horror route after decades. Omar Ali Khan opted for a slasher film as it wasn’t really something that the country had experimented with before. The film’s “Burqa Man” became a desi rendition of Leather Face and a cult sensation. But in our haste, we seemed to have overlooked the monster’s crazy mother.
Shunning modernity and literally raising a killer, Bari Bua is the stuff Freudian nightmares are made of.
Also a win for Pakistani horror, and unfortunately another example of a truly remarkable character being overlooked. Ahad begins as the film’s framing device; a journalist looking for some answers. But by the end, his arc has lead us into the abyss.
Ahmed Ali is rare talent. He really can do anything. He was one of the three things I liked about Karachi Say Lahore and his Hum Style Awards opening act is still unparalleled.
Here, his shift in the last scene is psychological horror gold. Despite the demonic possession angle, his five-minute dirge was the most terrifying part of the story.