So I know that Nusair has already posted his review of Pinky Memsaab. And just to keep things interesting, I’m not reading his before writing my own. To give you some context, me, Nusair and my sister went to the Pinky Memsaab premier. We also misjudged timing (slight melodrama was to blame) and went into the film thirty minutes late.
But, I had expectations for this film. My love for any cinema that tilts slightly left of centre is pretty well documented. And here was a movie that delved right into Pakistan’s best kept secret.
The vicarious position of domestic labour, classicism and elitism aside, is such an interesting topic. There is so much to be said, and I suppose that’s where Pinky Memsaab went wrong. For most of its runtime, this film can’t decide what story it is telling. And what we end up with is confused and confusing.
This isn’t to say that the film is without its merits. Genuinely lovable characters and strong performances kept me somewhat invested. But overall, I left the theatre underwhelmed, disappointed and slightly confused.
My score: 5.5/10. And please be warned, there are spoilers in this review.
Pinky Memsaab: The Main Story (I Guess)
The titular character is a young girl from rural Pakistan, affectionately known as ‘Pinky’ (Hajira Yamin). Pinky leaves Pakistan to work as a maid for the beautiful Dubai based socialite Mehr (Kiran Malik).
Mehr and her investment banker husband Hasan (Adnan Jaffar) are the upper echelon elites of legend. Hosting cocktail parties and providing an expensive education for their son, theirs is a charmed life. But, it soon becomes apparent that there are many cracks beneath the surface.
Part of their dysfunctional household are the affable chauffeur Santosh (Sunny Hinduja) and the witty housekeeper Grace (Mariel Bianca Salazar).
In the midst of this rag-tag bunch of unlikely comrades, Pinky sets out on a path of self-discovery. She embraces the many differences that a new place and its people throw at her. Stumbles multiple times, and eventually finds her footing.
This, based on its title, is the story that the film wants to tell. Or rather, it is the story I expected it to want to tell. But, it is paired with a multitude of subplots that take up precious screen time.
Everything Else That Makes An Appearance
We are not merely given a glimpse of Mehr and Hassan’s shaky marriage. Rather, we are taken along for the entirety of their journey. We are dropped into their passive aggressive relationship, watch it escalate to a meltdown, and then see them recover. All while getting shots of their young, socially awkward son and his anxious tennis practice sessions.
Mehr and Hassan also get individual subplots. Mehr is a published author, who seems to have lost her own ambition under the weight of being a trophy wife. Hassan is a successful executive, who is haunted by the passions he extinguished for a better life.
Their turbulent relationships with their parents also come into play. In fact, Mehr’s father and stepmother even make it into the film.
And while all of this is happening, we also see Pinky trying to manoeuvre her way to a better life. Not understanding what position she occupies, and even exposing her naivety at times.
Pinky and The Curse of The Sub-Plot
A bad movie will usually have a sub-plot that is more interesting than its main plot. But this isn’t the case with Pinky Memsaab; because all of its plots are compelling. This is in part down to how the characters are written and presented. The script goes out of its way to present the many facets of these characters, within the film’s runtime.
Pinky is a very interesting, fleshed out protagonist. While her economic situation is what brings her to Dubai, it isn’t her only characteristic. Instead, we see her want more for herself even as she works to pay for a family left behind in Pakistan.
In the most materialistic actions, the complexity of Pinky’s character comes to the forefront. Something as annoying as a makeover montage, essentially chronicles a naïve yet courageous young woman coming into her own.
What makes her all the more compelling is that we have seen this girl. Her plight is real, her ambition understandable and the innocence of her desires heartening. Hajra Yamin literally breathes life into Pinky, presenting all her facets with a childlike wonder. She is a spirited lead that you really root for.
The Other Key Players
But then, so is Mehr. Kiran Malik punctuates all of her scenes with an understated quality, making her compelling, in her frustrations and her flaws.
Albeit presented as a member of the notoriously wealthy, she is also humanised. There is a scene when she goes to meet with her publisher, and is told that her recent manuscript isn’t good enough. The publisher then politely suggests that she should write as a hobby. Silently Mehr protests, “but this is what I do.” Right after this, she goes into a bathroom and sets fire to her writings.
A few minutes later, the same woman is encouraging a distraught Pinky to recognise her own strength. Reminding her that she is providing for her family, and simultaneously taking on a new life. That Mehr reminds someone else of their self-worth, while questioning her own, is what makes her as gripping as Pinky.
I could say as much for Hassan as well, who is treated as sympathetically by the script. Barring one argument where he crosses the line, he is for the most part our guy.
Adnan Jaffar’s portrayal of Hassan forces you to root for him. We sit through his monologue about falling in love with a headstrong Mehr and how it went downhill from there. We watch him try to console his son, clearly out of his depth. And finally, we watch him rediscover his love for tennis, something he had abandoned en-route to corporate riches. And all the while, we are on his side.
A Never Ending Spiral
Having three unrelated stories fight for screen-time would have been bad enough. But, Pinky Memsaab takes it a step further. Because we are also given Santosh, his unrequited feelings towards Pinky and his overall adorable demeanour.
And in the final thirty minutes of the movie, we are given Mehr’s family. Her ailing father who quotes classic Urdu poetry without pause. A stepmother, Jehanara who we would dislike, if she wasn’t the most wonderful matriarch in the world. And, a young Christian woman who fulfils the role of their pseudo-daughter.
Again, these characters are lovely, and performed perfectly. Mehr’s difficult father Qutub is particularly memorable. Khalid Ahmed takes someone who could so easily be disliked, and makes him lovable. His tirades about how stupid young people are, seemingly come from a place of love.
There is a scene where Mehr visits him after a long time, which is pure gold. He begins reciting the words of a famous ghazal, waiting for her to finish it, which she does. In that one exchange, we get the measure of their turbulent dynamic.
Yet, these great characters and strong performances actually weaken Pinky Memsaab, because they confuse us. Film structure necessitates focusing on a single narrative. We can have multiple protagonists, but they have to revolve around the same plot.
Here, not only do we have more than one main character, but they all are following different stories. And we are stretched thin, as we try to keep up with all of them.
When It All Came Crashing Down
Strangely, the person who suffers the most because of the film’s unclear direction is its leading lady. I went in to this movie expecting to watch the coming of age story of a young maid. And in a way, I got that. But I also got a spate of competing narratives.
Eventually this lead to an unsatisfactory end.
Within the last fifteen minutes of the movie, new pathos is injected. Pinky gets a new job, realises that her employer is creep and narrowly escapes his clutches. She then realises that her seemingly thriving companion Kulsoom (oh, did I not mention her?) leads a very shady life.
Simultaneously, Mehr’s stepmother dies, and her father is heartbroken. There is also a bit about religious divisions in Pakistani society, which comes out of nowhere. A poignant bit, but still a confusing bit. We then have a phone call between Mehr and Hassan, which basically signals that their relationship is saved.
Mehr then goes back to Dubai, finds Pinky, chases her across a busy street. And then, the movie ends with Pinky narrating a letter, that informs Mehr of how she has evolved.
And yes, this is how the ending played out; almost exactly. And I was left scratching my head. By the end, I was in the company of some wonderful characters, and more than one interesting story. But when, in the last few minutes, the film gave me endings for all the stories, I was ambushed.
Pinky Memsaab is a conundrum, because it is a collection of lots of little things done right that went horribly wrong. The characters are interesting, the dialogue really well written, all the performances are strong. Even the multiple social messages are all poignant. But as a film, it is a puzzling patchwork.
I like all its bits and pieces, but I don’t like it as a whole.