I suppose some lambasting would be fair. I announced that I’d be turning this little bout of wishful thinking into a weekly thing. And then, promptly didn’t write anything in this vein for the first two weeks of April. But, I want to clarify that I already had a candidate for the second instalment of my series. With its ode to classic narratives, and penchant for stylised violence, ‘Basanti’ is begging for a cinematic release.
The problem is that, there is so much to gush about when it comes to this playful little rogue. In fact, I have already gushed about it in an earlier article. But, just one entry on a listicle isn’t good enough. Every aspect of this baby deserves some love. From Shamoon Ismail’s velvety voice, to the effective cinematography, to the multifaceted crime saga that it houses.
It is a particular treat, because it has such an obvious style. Classic Hollywood film-noir isn’t something that we see very often in Pakistan. And when we do, it can be a tad gimmicky. But here, everything serves a purpose. The stylistic elements are deliberate, and create a truly engrossing atmosphere.
And in a way, this is why it took me some time to belt out this article. This music video is truly inspiring. To the point that it compelled me to read up on early film-noir, in all its vintage Hollywood glory. And so, began a downward spiral. Before I knew it, I was neck deep in all things Bacall, Bogart and black-and-white.
Some films, and a number of articles later, I cannot consider myself an expert on the subject. But, I feel that I am now better equipped to express what, exactly, made me fall in love with ‘Basanti’.
What We Do In The Shadows
So here’s the thing; I realise that there are ongoing debates about film-noir. Can it be classified as a genre? Were such films made after the 1950s? And perhaps most importantly, how important are the stylistic elements?
I understand that many contemporary films could fit into this genre (because I do see it as a genre). But for me, the otherworldliness that vintage black-and-white injected into the stories, was part of the charm. There is something about the absence of colour, which draws many creative talents towards it.
Here is a charming video of Tapu Javeri explaining the appeal of black-and-white.
In the case of classic film-noir, I’d say that it could amplify the pessimism and mystery of the genre. And here, I have to note that there is an art to it. Simply applying a black-and-white filter isn’t enough. True talents will always use it to highlight their location, setting and their story.
For ‘Basanti’ Awais Gohar and Hamza Bin Tahir, were able to capture the interplay between light and dark beautifully.
I particularly appreciate the artistic use of cigarette smoke to blur the shots, or obscure characters.
They truly embraced the medium. Along with some gorgeous, early Hollywood inspired styling for the leading pair, and everyone else, it gives ‘Basanti’ its panache.
What would classic film-noir be without the fatal woman? Whether she was innocent, conniving, or downright destructive. She was the muse who turned the leading man’s world on its head. She pushed the action forward, and always seemed to be hiding something.
In ‘Basanti’ the titular lady is the focus of the song, and the video. And her introductory shot is all you need to establish her as the shadowy heart of this story.
We see her over our protagonist’s shoulder, accompanied by a puff of smoke.
From then on, her shifty character is played up to perfection. Shots of her in the rain, and in the dark, effectively raise questions about her motives.
I have to commend filmmaker Zoya Uzair, for really emoting life into this contemporary dark muse. From the onset, the glances exchanged between her and Shamoon Ismail’s character set the mysterious tone. Something is amiss, and we can tell that it won’t end well. For either one of them.
The Man of The Hour
Holding up the opposite end of that saga, is Shamoon Ismail himself. The leading man, simultaneously singing about the elusive Basanti, and yet hot on her secretive trail.
Again, while style isn’t necessary for effective film-noir, here it really does add to the overall ambiance. As a dapper leading-man in a pinstriped suit, with his hair slicked back, he is the obvious protagonist.
And going by the genre’s very nature, we know that this story cannot bode well for him.
But, until the eventual tragedy befalls, he has to exude confidence and charisma. And Mr. Ismail does this, with the gait of a panther.
Part of why I wanted to do this series, is because I’m often astonished by how cinematic some music videos are. Often outshining celluloid itself. Take the leading man for example. Very few Pakistani male leads adopt this kind of swagger, with such ease.
And that is the real tragedy.
Hey, Pakistani cinema, might I make a suggestion? Why don’t you just fund an Awais Gohar and Hamza Bin Tahir passion project? And, cast Shamoon Ismail as the leading man? It’s a cinephile’s delight, waiting to happen.
All That Jazz (Well, Not Exactly)
I have to reiterate the fact that this is a music video. So, I wouldn’t be praising it, if it didn’t work with the music in question.
As you may have already read, in my previous article, it works rather brilliantly.
I am new on the Shamoon Ismail hype train, so please don’t deride me for being a bit presumptuous. But, I’m going to wager that ‘Basanti’ is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to his brand of music. A brilliant anomaly, but an anomaly nonetheless.
It doesn’t have the quirky playfulness of ‘Jatt Blues’ or ‘Tuntuna’.
Nor does it have the lilting romance of ‘Taare’ or ‘Na Toon’ (the latter happens to be my favourite Shamoon track).
This one is dark, somber, pessimistic, but still engrossing, and even hauntingly romantic. I don’t know if the video fits the song perfectly, or vice versa. But at any rate, the music accompanies the story, beautifully. Essentially, it is a codependent match made in heaven.
Gal Sun Lay Basanti
I’ve been obsessing over ‘Basanti’ as an ode to classic Hollywood. But, its most obvious reference is made to a classic of an entirely different ilk.
Hema Malini’s rendition of a spritely Basanti was a salient feature of the Bollywood classic, Sholay. In the case of Shamoon Ismail’s song, that may be the famous leading lady who inspired the lyrics. Seeing as, over the course of the track, the titular Basanti asks ‘Veeray’ to not leave her. “Veeru” being the name of Basanti’s love interest in the Bollywood film.
Why is this reference in the song? What do these two characters share, apart from bad luck? What is their back story?
There are questions that remain unanswered. Perhaps because of which, ‘Basanti’ really needs to be turned into a film.