Pakistani Movies and the All-Too-Convenient Sub-Plot!

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Screen-grab from Janaan's official trailer

I’ve been staring at this blank page for so long, my poetic sense has gone tel laney. So I’m going to just hop right in. I recently saw Janaan for the first time. Shameful I know. What self-proclaimed movie buff puts off watching a movie for months, only to watch it when there’s nothing else on?

(Points at self) This guy!

Anyway, I recently saw Janaan and it made me realize something.

 

The Problem With Pakistani Movies

While yes, Pakistani Cinema is going through a much needed but long and painful revival (anyone watch Chain Aye Na? No?)

From Chain Aye Na’s trailer

And yes, for the most part our films are looking way better than they used to. Though, most Pakistani movies now have one recurring problem; the story.

Obviously bottom of the barrel stuff like the aforementioned Chain Aye Na wouldn’t be big on story. However, it’s some of the better ones, you know the ones with actual production value, that have dismal stories.

While some try to fit far too many characters into one movie, the recurring issue I found is that most so called ‘stories’ have no singular plot. Instead we get a hodgepodge of subplots. Tied together by concurrent events and songs, they have little in common with each other. And ultimately, all the ends are loosely and all too conveniently tied together to give us a movie.

If the Pakistani Film Industry is indeed going through a revival, then this lazy approach to storytelling has got to go.

But is it really a trend?

Oh yes, it is. In fact, here is a list of few of the films guilty of this cardinal transgression, based on the type of transgression.

 

  1. Too Many Characters to Showcase: Yalghaar

The slo-mo trailers of this Shaan starrer had us believing that it would be a true, blue spiritual successor to Waar. A movie that would be packed with action, drama and a whole lot of patriotism.

Instead what we got was a weak narrative comprised of several storylines that failed to connect. Yalghaar’s biggest fault was that it had way too many characters.

With such a huge cast and a slew of talented actors, the filmmakers wanted us to care about each of them. Thus, they made sure everyone got screen time. Thus, each character had their own little arc. Like, Bilal Ashraf and Armeena Khan’s awkward romance, Adnan Siddiqui’s marital dilemmas and Shaan being Shaan.

Inevitably so, the filmmakers also ended up ensuring that every character was half-baked. So while we saw them all, we didn’t really care about any of them.

 

  1. Subplot Used Just to Push the Story Forward: Janaan and Chaley They Saath

I didn’t just name drop this movie at the start of this article for nothing. While Yalghaar’s sins were more noticeable, Janaan is the movie that actually inspired this list. Coincidence would have it that its crimes are similar to that of Chaley They Saath. so rather than repeating myself, even though I love to, I’m having them share the limelight. Enough suspense.

The jury (of one person) finds both Pakistani movies guilty of using a subplot, conveniently added to drive the action forward.

What’s worse is that both actually use pertinent issue of great human tragedy as subplots. In that sense I find Chaley They Saath’s transgression to have more gravity. It used the formation of the Ataabad Jheel, an incident that displaced thousands of Pakistanis in the country’s north as a means for the main couple to unite.

From Chalay Thay Saath’s trailer

Kind of like how Ross ran to the airport to stop Rachel.

But that wasn’t shoehorned in.

That doesn’t mean Janaan is completely off the hook though.

Especially with the unfortunate incident in Kasur. I find it disheartening that it allowed child abuse to be reduced to a plot device. Though I must add, it did try, hard, to not let this be the case. And for a mainstream movie like Janaan to be brave enough to tackle such a subject, I do applaud the filmmakers.

 

  1. Unnecessary and Distracting Subplots: Ho Maan Jahan and Rangreza

Hey! So what if I idolize Mahira Khan? She’s only human too. Ho Maan Jahan was far from a perfect film, no matter how enchanting Mahira was in it.

Aside from the Coke Studio plugs, there was the lack luster arc of Shehryar Munnawar Siddique and Sonia Jehan’s characters. It felt like it could have been a separate film and distracted a lot from the main plot. Beyond that, it never came to any real fruition. It’s almost like the filmmakers here just wanted to fill up the runtime and the holes in their plots. So, they chose the laziest way to do so.

Rangreza is a much newer film, with a much newer way of making the same mistake.

From Rangreza’s trailer

This time it’s concerning Bilal Ashraf’s character getting shot. What could have been a mugging gone wrong or any other street crime was turned into a long, drawn out political rivalry arc. Which, aside from getting the main character shot, served no other purpose.

Rangreza is slightly better off because the subplot was not nearly as large. But then, Ho Man Jahan’s subplot wasn’t as unnecessary.

 

  1. The Forcefully Shoehorned Subplot: Arth

If you haven’t read my review of Arth, you probably don’t know how I felt about it. But it is one of the most abysmal movies to come out of Pakistan this decade. In my opinion at least. It reduces everything, even the brilliant Humaima Malick, to mere plot devices.

From Arth: The Destination’s trailer

But its biggest failing will always be the forcefully added-on subplot. I standby what I said in my review; this arc seems to have only been added so Shaan could star in the film. And it throws the film off the rails, completely. So much so, that not even a brilliant performance from Humaima could save it.

All the other films on this list added subplots to fill plot holes. Arth added one where there was no room for it. Had it stayed true to the original story of a wife who finds out her husband has been unfaithful and deals with it, this could have been a great film. It’s a shame that our need for self-indulgent subplots could in fact be ruining Pakistani movies.

While this has been a chronic problem in the Pakistani Film Industry (I refuse to call it Lollywood), there are a few rays of hope. Dobara Phir Sey, Verna and Parchi, while having their own set of issues, all have coherent plots. The hope now is, that movies yet to come, like Cake The Film also deliver.

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