Rangreza: Expectation Vs. Reality

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Screen-grabs from Rangreza's official trailer

Ah movie reviews, oh how I missed writing thee. The rush to get you out on time would give me such a rush. However, it seems that The Kollective has gotten me bitten with the experimental bug. So, I thought I’d try something different for this review. I will still give my score in the first couple of paragraphs, but the content will be slightly different. Instead of the age old formula of softening the blow with the good, before ripping into the bad, I will instead be implementing a new method of analysis. Essentially turning the film against itself. After all, the internet does appreciate expectation weighed against reality.

Thank you Ushah Kazi for providing the expectations for tonight’s victim: Rangreza. Oh, and the obligatory spoiler warning goes without saying.

It boded extremely well for Rangreza that I watched it first and Arth afterwards. For the sheer frustration of that experience would have affected this review. Rangreza was frustrating in its own right, but nowhere near Arth in its scale of frustration. There were several things that I flat out loved about Rangreza, scenes that had me clapping. There were also equally as many scenes that had me feeling lost and bewildered. Wondering why would the filmmakers put us through such nonsense. Wholly though, Rangreza barely inches out of the realm of depravity in which so many recent films lived. My Score; 6/10.

Now how well did it live up to the expectation of the audience? Let’s have a look, shall we?

Note; the expectations were based on the trailers, and pre-release marketing.

 

Expectation: Saba (Ghana Ali) is there for less than fifteen minutes in the film (she has a very, very unimportant role)

No, Saba is actually pivotal. She, for most of the first half is how Ali and Reshmi communicate. Reshmi flat out refuses to make direct contact with Ali, out of loyalty to her father. And fear that should her cousin/betrothed, Waseem find out about Ali, he would create a massive issue. Though she isn’t fully utilized.

Saba had the potential to be a fantastic supporting character. Being both Reshmi’s friend and Ali’s cousin. She could have been the facilitator of a romance which could have then taken off in the film’s wholly disappointing first half. She could have also been an advocate for Reshmi, whose entire life has been dictated for her by her family. And societal constructs, as represented by Waseem.

She could have been the one to ask; “why doesn’t someone ask Reshmi? How she feels, who she wants to be with?” Instead, aside from a couple of effective scenes, she’s just there. And the audience is left wondering, why doesn’t anyone ask Reshmi instead?

 

Expectation: The film borrows a plot point from Ashiqui 2; established rock-star meets talented, pretty amateur and wants to make her a star

Not at all. The plot isn’t wholly new though. It’s very much a typical Cinderella story. Where a prince (read; established rock star) falls for a commoner, and is utterly enraptured by her. So much so that he names his next album after her.

There is also a wicked stepmother, in the form of Waseem. Who has made it a point to ensure, albeit poorly, that Reshmi would be wed to him. A somewhat stuck-up father of the prince who eventually comes around, after his stubbornness gets his son shot. I guess, you could call Saba the fairy godmother, but she doesn’t do much. She does get Cinderella, I mean Reshmi, to a party to meet Ali though. That’s something.

 

Expectation: Waseem, Reshmi and Ali love triangle

Again, not really. Waseem remains the highly annoying and sometimes terrifying third wheel, in the love story of Ali and Reshmi. It’s well established that neither Reshmi nor Waseem harbor any real feelings for each other. They were betrothed because their grandfather wished to keep his dilapidating home in the family. A home that is unwillingly shared by his two Qawal sons. The younger of which (Waseem’s father) resents living in the elder’s shadow (Reshmi’s father).

What drives the plot is Waseem’s insistence that Reshmi belongs to him and only he can be wed to her.

An insistence so strong, and one that his character later admits was not born out of love, but hubris, that he was willing to go to any length to claim Reshmi as his. That hubris is ultimately his downfall. In some of the best displays of poetic justice in recent cinema, Waseem is burned by his own hand, with acid intended for Reshmi. This raises so many valid social issues about acid attacks and false pretences of honour.

Yet it is only felt in that one scene, with the audience wondering what was the point of it all. Another opportunity missed.

 

Expectation: Waseem is a qawal but also some kind of a criminal/gang-lord  

Reality: the court finds Waseem not guilty in both counts. Though he comes from a Qawal family, he himself actually is a tablah player. The only time you see him play though is after a tea-house (because bar-houses are frowned upon in Pakistani culture) brawl. After having his behind thoroughly handed to him.  It’s a rare moment of humanization for Waseem, and one where the incomparable Gohar Rasheed really shines through.

It’s one of two scenes that even attempt to explain why Waseem is the way he is. That is uncouth, arrogant, but full of pride with regards to who he is and who his family are. It’s also another example where the issue of familial honor is touched upon before being forgotten for the rest of the film. Yeah, this pretty much is going to be a list of opportunities lost in this film.

 

Expectation: Waseem kills someone

Nope. A person does die in this film. But, and it’s a big but, it’s a few things. It’s of somewhat natural causes. It could pretty much have happened off-screen and not made a huge difference to the film. And, the funeral procession scene from the trailer does not happen.

Underline that last part because we can play a game in this movie. No I mean it. Sit down. We’ll start the movie and play another thrilling round of “watch what was in the trailer but got left on the editing room floor!”

There are several scenes. But the one I am most miffed about is Waseem’s big ‘item number’. The trailer had him dancing around with members of the transgender community. A move that would have helped against the constant marginalization of that community. And yet it was gone, without a trace.

The song doesn’t even show up in the soundtrack. So there is another death here, of expectations and opportunities.

 

Expectation: Ali and Reshmi have a falling out

No…. I mean their romance barely gets started in the second half, after stoppage after stoppage. Whether it was in the form of Waseem creating a scene at a party. Or Ali’s father referring to Reshmi’s as a mirasi (in a derogatory way). The climax of the first half revolves mostly around Ali once again being unsuccessful in showing Reshmi how he really feels.

While that has some very real consequences for them, it is eventually resolved after Reshmi is made to realize that Ali will love her regardless of being with her or not. Once again, Saba to the rescue.

 

Expectation: Saba is in love with Ali

It is never explicitly stated, so what we see and assume is that it is strictly platonic. Though it would have made her a much more interesting character. A friend carrying out the ultimate sacrifice for her unrequited love. It would have given her and the movie some much needed depth. Something the filmmakers were seemingly hell-bent on avoiding. Ultimately they avoided making a great film.

 

Expectation: Waseem loses his mind, is institutionalized

Yes, and no. Waseem is pretty much uncouth and unhinged but not nearly enough to warrant the mental illness. He mostly acts out of a displaced sense of honor. However, he does end up in prison, for a little while.

 

Expectation: There is a riot/fight

There are a few actually. Waseem getting beaten up in the start of the film. Waseem beating up a friend of Saba’s after forcibly inviting himself to a party, or trying to beat up Ali’s dad.

Also, Waseem beating up hospital security guards and police officers. And Ali getting accosted by his dad’s political rival’s henchmen for turning down said rival’s daughter’s hand in marriage. Yeah there is a very awkward political subplot in the film. It pretty much only exists to get Ali shot and get everyone back to reality. If that is even possible.

 

There Isn’t Enough Music

This is an understatement. Remember how I said Arth had too many songs? Well, it could have easily given a couple to Rangreza and both would have been better off. Rangreza lacks music on so many levels, it actually becomes ironic that all the main characters have something to do with music.

Reshmi is the daughter of a Qawal but aside from one scene where she admonishes Ali’s music, it is never brought up again. Waseem is a tablah player who we see playing exactly twice. And Ali, aside from the fact that he only gets to ‘sing’ twice in the film, music could very much have just been a hobby of his, rather than a profession.

The soundtrack of the film is also an issue. In the three times we hear it, it is stellar, especially Reshmi’s song (Bagiya Mein Mor). I’m even willing to look past how little Jay Ali’s voice matches Bilal Ashraf, if only I got a little more. And Yeah, I am still miffed that Waseem’s item number took off like Gone Girl.

 

Why The Film Still Works

So if Rangreza is such a myriad of missed opportunities, how can I justify giving it a 6?

Simple, Waseem Wallay. Gohar Rasheed is sheer magic on screen. While Waseem himself represents all that is wrong with our society, Gohar Rasheed plays him to a tee. He makes it hard to root for Waseem but also very hard not to feel bad for him when he meets his eventual end.

Urwa Hocane too I thoroughly enjoyed. I do however feel she was done a grave injustice to. Given close to nothing of consequence to do. What little she does have, she carries it well. In fact, her song was the highlight of the film, for me.

Bilal Ashraf however is the weakest link. He is simultaneously baritone and monotone, which I guess is no mean feat. Though when the supporting cast outshines the lead, I guess the feat is misplaced. From the supporting cast, Saleem Mairaj in particular, as Waseem’s instigative phupha/friend was thoroughly enjoyable. Though it would have been delicious to see his mischief meet a similar end as Waseem’s.

The film itself is beautifully shot, showing Karachi in not just all it’s glory, but in all it’s contrasting shambles. If anything, the locations themselves, be it Sea View or Empress Market or Frere Hall, are characters themselves. Almost as important as the film’s leads.

In the end there was a lot that I loved and a lot that I hated about Rangreza. I just appreciated what I loved a touch more.

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