Premiere: Trouble in Khuda ki Basti

Updated August 09, 2013

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A real life story told in the film Josh is about a young woman’s struggle to end oppression in a place called Khuda ki Basti. The opening frames tell us of a strong relationship between Fatima (Aamina Sheikh) and her mother-like nanny Nusrat Bi (Nyla Jafri). Fatima is an independent young woman, who works as a teacher. Her boyfriend Adil (Khalid Malik) is an artist who wants to go to America, because his talent isn’t valued in Pakistan (at one point she argues that he can study in Indus, rather than at an American university).

The plot One day Nusrat Bi goes to her home in Khuda ki Basti for social work and doesn’t return. When Fatima, against her father’s wishes, travels there, she finds out that Nusrat Bi was killed in an accident. However, seeing the awkward atmosphere in Nusrat Bi’s home, Fatima knows that there is more here than meets the eye.

Khuda ki Basti lives under the influence of Khan (Kaiser Khan Nizamani), a local rural lord who doesn’t shy away from reminding people that they are indebted to him. Khan’s influence is so strong that even his seven-year-old, Shera (Abdullah Khan), goes about ratta-tatting with a toy gun — just because he can.

Amongst the people suffering from tyranny is a teacher (Salim Mairaj), a conflicted flunky (Adnan Shah Tipu), a youth hunted by Khan’s men (Ali Rizvi) and Parveen (Parveen Akber), the woman who is the inspiration behind Josh.

As the film moves forward, Fatima struggles against the odds to end Khan’s reign over Khuda ki Basti.

The film There is lot of slack in Iram Parveen Bilal’s directorial debut. While Bilal is one of the more confident women directors in the field, her screenplay (which she also wrote) lacks emotional impact. Except Fatima almost everyone feels like window dressing because they only appear to help move the story forward without making us feel anything about the cause the film propagates. Also, there’s a lot of inclusion of subtly placed subtext, which sticks out like a sore thumb more often than not.

At the premiere show, I came across scenes that are cut too early, or appear stuffed in because another scene warrants its inclusion. For example, in one scene we see Fatima and Uzair (Mohib Mirza), a young politician who fancies her, talk about Adil’s imminent departure from Pakistan. He asks her if she’s okay with him leaving. Following this, we immediately cut to a scene between Adil and Uzair, continuing the same conversation. The abrupt order of the scenes takes viewers away from the narrative of the film, which by this time has graduated from just being about Nusrat Bi’s death.

While some people may find much to applaud about the idea behind Josh’s undertaking — and yes, there is much to appreciate here — as far as the film itself is concerned, the execution is hampered by what seems like a long running time (even when the film is just about two hours long) and lack of tension. We find no sympathy for any of the characters, and wish that some of the actors get more weight to their roles. Mohib Mirza, Salim Mairaj and Tipu, all excellent in their brief, clunky bits, seem somewhat lacking here (Kaiser Khan Nizamani is fine too as the wadera).

Aamina Sheikh, who is present in almost all of the scenes, then has to do the heavy lifting — and she is quite adept at what her role throws at her. We know she’s a pro-Pakistani with a genuine humanity to her. One scene has her helping out a struggling street artist, just because his talent was being ripped off by haggling pedestrians. Though we are shown that her relationship with Adil is a long-standing one, we don’t see the spark between them as people in love — which is intentional. However, her relationship with Uzair also doesn’t get any prominence.

The only relationship that gets us stimulated is the one between Shera and Fatima. Although it is just one scene, Shera seems to hate Fatima with his guts (he fires his gun on her non-stop, which annoys Fatima and gives us an unspoiled reason to guffaw).

Conclusion Should Josh have addressed the shortage of real emotions and given space and respect to the film’s remaining cast, then it would have been an immediate hall-of-fame entry in Pakistani cinema. As it is, the film doesn’t really get anywhere in particular other than giving us a “message”.

There is, of course, also Nausheen Dadabhoy’s first-rate cinematography, but that only takes Josh so far. Released by The Platform, Josh is an Eid-ul-Fitr release.