Okay, so the above video details a number of reasons for my obvious excitement regarding Shoaib Mansoor’s latest film. It has a lot of potential. It will certainly do wonders for Mahira Khan’s career (which let’s face it is already in pretty great shape).
There is a tiny risk with a film like this though; the question of whether it will be a gratuitous revenge fantasy. I have touched on this in the video briefly and I want to use this article to reiterate why I don’t think that is what it will be.
Exploitation and Film
The thing about films that place a revenge narrative at their core is that they are often, though not always, exploitation films.
Quite simply, exploitation films are as the title suggests films that exploit the subject they are focusing on. So, if it is a film about a violent incident, expect really exaggerated violent scenes. The issue here, as you can imagine, is that such cinema is not the best place to look for nuanced commentary. And please, don’t take this to mean that exploitation films are bad. One of my favourite filmmakers is unabashedly in love with exploitation films (that’s Quintin Tarantino by the way).
Personally, if a filmmaker is honest about the exploitation (that is, she indulges in it and is honest about indulging in it) then I can overlook the garishness as a difference in tastes. On the other hand, when a film is billed as some contemplative critique and what you get instead is exploitation, that’s not okay. To put it mildly.
Also, again this is a personal taste, I don’t really do well with violence. And I do feel that you can talk about violent subject-matter without being insensitive.
To illustrate all my grievances let’s try an anecdote. When I was around fourteen years old, I chanced upon a Bollywood film titled Jaago. It is inspired by true events, and follows the rape of a child on board a train and the events that follow. I was way too young to be watching this film (thank you pirated films and cable television). And, unfortunately didn’t know just how violent it would get, and how quickly this would happen. But let’s just say this film scarred me for life (please don’t watch it, it is ridiculously insensitive).
As I grew older, I came across cast interviews where the director and actors stated that they wanted to make a socially relevant film. Yes, as violent as it was, their intent was to educate the masses. I hadn’t been educated. Terrified? Sure. Sick to my stomach? Absolutely! Educated? No. Not at all.
The Promise of Verna
The marketing for Verna is pushing it as Mr. Mansoor’s “darkest film”. And at the risk of dissenting for the sake of it, I’m a bit unsure about this title.
Firstly, how do you measure the “darkness” quotient?
Now, I love Mr. Mansoor’s work, I respect and admire him. But, let’s face it; he is a really dark individual. And let’s just look at his work as an indication of this.
Khuda Kay Liye, what about this film wasn’t at least slightly morbid? We have kidnappings, murders, sexual violence (implied, but still) torture scenes.
Then you have Bol, and again; murders, sexual violence (not just implied anymore) infanticide.
Verna I’m sure is dark, but his darkest film? Okay.
Secondly, allow me to contradict myself and say that his films have been really dark and yet not dark at all. And this is where filmmaker intent comes in. I have always seen Shoaib Mansoor’s brand of cinema as one that tries at least to ask questions rather than make statements.
Nothing projects this more perfectly than his brush with intersectionality. Often filmmakers will zoom in on one issue, probably in an attempt to not clutter and confuse the film. But Shoaib Mansoor doesn’t really do this. I mean let me ask you, what was Khuda Kay Liye about? The post 9-11 situation? The position of women in Pakistan? Religious questions in the country? The liberal and conservative divide? I’d say all of the above.
So while the teaser for Verna pushed the revenge element to no end, I don’t think that is the only thing the film will look at. In the past, Mr. Mansoor has taken multiple issues to task at the same time. There is no reason why Verna won’t do the same.
Watch Anupama Chopra’s review of Maatr here.
Read about feminism and ‘rape and revenge’ films article here.