Why we should care about Verna (please?)

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Verna poster. Source: Wikipedia commons.

Last week, the teaser for Shoaib Mansoor’s third film Verna was released. Last week, we also held a little poll on twitter (please follow us by the way!) about the upcoming film. And well, here are the results.

Yeah. Basically, most of our followers did not care about the teaser (and I’m assuming the film either) which is a bit upsetting.

Now, I understand the reaction. 2017 has been a bleak year for Pakistani films. We had the lacklustre performance of bi-budget projects (ahem Yalghaar). Then we had he monotony of the same-old (ahem ahem Punjab Nahi Jaungi). And finally, we had the downright bizarre (Chain Aye Na). Hence I totally understand why people didn’t seem to care. We’ve all been rallied up with the promise of an upcoming release. Only to have our expectations shattered.

But bear with me as I try to make you care about this upcoming film. Because (and trust me on this) Shoaib sahab’s Verna maybe the Pakistani film we have been waiting for.

 

‘Show don’t tell’ done right

So let’s begin with the teaser itself. Some time ago, I wrote about Pakistani film trailers and why they don’t work. One of the main issues I had was that they tend to tell the audience what we can expect as opposed to showing us. And since Verna is not the only local film to rely on a non-traditional female character, let’s just use its competitor as an example. This is the teaser for the film Parchi.

And this is the teaser for Verna.

The main difference between the two is that the former feels the need to iterate that their leading lady is not the norm. Hence the twenty second dirge about how she beat a man up for not listening to her. At the risk of sounding mean, this seems a bit desperate. And also doesn’t respect film as a medium. The art of visual story-telling is to tell the story visually. Or, show us what happens, don’t tell us.

The teaser for Verna gets this right. We are not told what happens; we are shown. It maintains the mystery, gives us a taste of what to expect, and most importantly piques our interest.

 

Female centric cinema

Women haters of the world, please put down thy pitch-forks, and step into 2017. Female centric films are having a bit of a moment. Just in the industry next door we’ve seen the likes of Queen, Kahaani and Dangal being released to critical and commercial success.

So the time is ripe for Pakistan to try its hand as well. Now, don’t get me wrong. We have had some incredible female filmmakers and films that put a woman at their epicentre. Movies like Josh, Khamosh Pani and Ramchand Pakistani are incredible additions to our cinematic heritage. But, all of these titles were independent films. And apart from Bol and Dukhtar, I can’t think of female centric films that made it to mainstream audiences.


Which is a problem. Mainstream filmmakers the world over tend to believe that films can only succeed if you have a man at the helm. This was certainly the case for Bollywood. That is until leading ladies began carrying entire projects to the glittering finish line. And that’s the trick. An ambitious few were willing to write scripts that relied entirely on a female lead and wager that they could still be commercial successes. Personally, I feel that we are ready to do this in Pakistan. And who better than Mahira Khan, arguably the biggest female star in the country at the moment, to carry the mantel? Which brings us to…

 

Mahira Khan’s Verna  

Let me preface this by saying that Shoaib Mansoor is a genius (more on that later) but this, more than any of her other projects, is Mahira Khan’s film. Ever since the Humsafar phenomenon took the world by storm, she has had a unique appeal that can only be compared to that of her co-star Fawad Khan.

Yet, we haven’t seen her take centre stage. In most of her projects, she has shared the space with other characters (and hence other actors). Don’t get me wrong, she has demonstrated range, take her turn for the weirdly Avant-Garde in Manto for example. But never has a project focused solely on her. That is, until now.

 

Let there be music

My love for music is unabashed and well-documented. That said, I do have to take Pakistani cinema to task here. Where are the catchy songs? Where is the experimentation?

Apparently, it’s all in Verna!

The teaser contains a snippet of the high voltage ‘Power Di Game’ (yay Pakistani rap!) and then they released a bit from the campy ‘Sambhal Sambhal Kay’. The juxtaposition of the music is actually my favourite aspect. Both songs could not be more different, which suggests that the film will not be one note either.


 

Shoaib Mansoor to the rescue (again)

Ah Shoaib Mansoor. Never has a more prolific mind made its way across Pakistan’s creative industries. Be it his cult classic Alpha Bravo Charlie, which transformed Pakistani T.V, or the 2007 Khuda Kay Liye which essentially reignited an industry. He has made some remarkable marks. This film seems no different.

By the early 2000s, Pakistani cinema was a shadow of its former self. Releases were few and far between. Simultaneously, industry insiders would often lament about the sorry state of affairs and how nobody was helping them. In the midst of all of this, Mr. Mansoor took the road less traveled and actually did something. Writing and directing a film that would become one of the most influential projects to come out of the country.

His latest project follows the same route. Amongst an array of action thrillers and bawdy romantic comedies, the man has opted to go against the grain.

So there you have it. I do want to mention that nothing can justify the price of a ticket more than the film itself. If the story is compelling, the creative choices make sense and there is genuine acting involved, that’s all that really matters. But Verna is making some bod decisions at a time when Pakistani cinema needs them. It is going against the grain, on purpose. And just for that, I hope we can all care a little bit about it.

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