In a quick cut somewhere in the second act of Iram Parveen Bilal’s directorial debut Josh, a “madari” makes a monkey flip on the hood of a car. If this is a consciously placed subconscious subtext, then it didn’t gel – or maybe yours truly was feeling a tad “thick” the day of the screening.
“Josh,” which focuses on Fatima (Amina Sheikh), a young woman who willingly – and stubbornly – digs herself into a socio-political scrape, is filled with such allegories that are either too quick to cut away or hit without the right emotional wallop. But by the time the simian jumps, this particular subtlety has become a recurring theme in an otherwise straightforward, pizazz-less performance play that feels like an NGO-backed propagation reel.
I know this sounds harsh, and given the no-nonsense context and execution of “Josh” maybe it is. However, a motion picture has a different set of cinematic requirements, most of which fall drastically short here. And I am not talking about the commerciality of the endeavor – mainly because there isn’t, and secondly because there’s no room for it here.
Ms. Sheikh’s Fatima, the anchor of Ms. Bilal’s screenplay, is a fine lass with an unpretentious humanitarian-gist. At one point, she bulk buys a number of paintings from a street-side artist for Rs. 50 each, because she sees him being bullied to sell them at Rs. 35. So, I guess, it’s rather apparent that she rallies up to unearth the mystery of her nanny’s (Nyla Jaffri) demise when she goes back to her place in “Khuda Ki Basti”.
The settlement is pseudo-owned by Khan (Kaiser Khan Nizamani, engaging), a local “wadera” with a cinematically clichéd power-hold. As it happens, the wadera/blow-em-up peculiarity is a genetic gift that even Khan’s 7 year old Shera (Abdullah Khan, armed with his annoying blinking toy-gun), is already quite well-versed with.
For some strange reason, Shera has it in for Fatima – which leads to one of the few genuinely comedic moments in “Josh”. Actually, all of Shera’s scenes– and one scene with Fatima’s walk-away escape from kidnapping – are laugh riots (the latter wasn’t intended as one).
However, the buck stops here.
Apart from Fatima and Shera, everyone else in “Josh” is either too stereotypical by themselves, or too stereotypically placed in the screenplay to work.
The supporting roll-call goes like this: Khalid Malik plays Adil, Fatima’s artistically frustrated beau; Mohib Mirza is Uzair, a young-blood politician who gets smitten by Fatima – even though the screenplay presents a lack of support for either his, or Adil’s affections (they almost scuffle once, but more as an after-thought of a previously stuffed-in scene).
Then there’s Salim Mairaj’s inconsiderately utilized school master, Khalid; Ali Rizvi’s Ahmed is a youth, whose presence doesn’t make a squat of a difference; Adnan Shah Tipu’s Gulsher is Khan’s conflicted and emasculated lackey; Parveen Akber plays Parveen – the woman who becomes Josh’s latter point-of-inspiration, without apparent buildup.
Josh’s sense of ephemerality is an omnipresent enemy – Khan’s wrath, or menace, are simply McGuffins to get the wheels moving.
While Ms. Bilal’s intelligence as a director shows a clear understanding of the filmmaking process, and the cinematography by Nausheen Dadabhoy presents a frame-accurate distance of space and characters (not to mention, skilled shots of sunsets with layered horizontal depths). Alas, the film’s self-serious rebellion to be “seriously indie” with a “message” takes a lot out of these two gems.
Josh is then, about 30 minutes too long, and too superficial and flat to stir up reactions. Characters talk about unity, and they marshal behind Fatima by the climax – which they ought to, to get the right word out to the film’s audience – but that’s all they do … get the “message” across.
Released by The Platform.
Presented by Nadeem Mandviwalla and Muhammad Jarjees Seja, Josh stars: Aamina Sheikh, Mohib Mirza, Khalid Malik, Navin Waqar, Khalid Ahmed, Parveen Akber, Nyla Jafri, Kaiser Khan Nizamani, Saleem Mairaj, Adnan Shah Tipu, Ali Rizvi and Faizan Haqquee.
Directed by Iram Parveen Bilal; Executive Produced by Hany Abu-Assad; Produced by Ms. Bilal and Kelly Thomas with Associate Producers Mehnaz Alavi Diwan and Oscar Hernandez; Co-Produced by Saad Bin Mujeeb; Line Produced by Saqib Chawla; Music by Shahi Hasan, Andrew T. Mackay; Cinematography by Nausheen Dadabhoy; Editing by Jochen Kunstler; Production Design by Ms. Alavi Diwan.