In Noor, the film adaptation of Saba Imtiaz’s novel Karachi, You’re Killing Me, Noor (Sonakshi Sinha) is a miffed journalist in her late twenties whose prerogatives involve a lot of grumbling self-pity. Like Bridget Jones (the novel’s template), she isn’t happy at her job, her boss’s douche-ness and her lacklustre sex life. She mostly finds solace in alcohol.
Many people thought a film of the novel would be un-filmable (or rather, un-screenable) in Pakistan. The novel’s protagonist Ayesha Khan (renamed Noor in the film) has a lot of quirks censors would probably cry ‘Astaghfirullah’ over. She drinks and smokes excessively, sleeps around and throws F-bombs with liberation. For a Bollywood film though, that would have worked fine — except Sonakshi’s character gave up smoking before the film began and she doesn’t curse.
As a Bollywood film Noor swaps Karachi for Mumbai — a city that already has its own version of angst (then again, all cities around the world do). But Mumbai, as Karachi’s replacement, only stays believable to the extent of potholes.
The Bollywood film adaptation of a novel set in Karachi hits all the wrong marks
For a good 40 minutes, the screenplay dilly-dallies around the premise set in the first five minutes. Noor moans about her existence (her dad treats the family cat with more love), and fights her editor boss (Manish Chaudhary), because she is desperate to do something meaningful. She is, instead, sent to interview Sunny Leone — and single-handedly turns it into a fiasco.
Her actions have all the gravitas of today’s young people: the ones who grumble a lot on social networks. Fortunately — and I mean that with all the sarcasm I can muster — she has rich friends and a lack of maturity. When in a rut, Noor’s best friends Zara and Saad (Shibani Dandekar, Kanan Gill), whisk her away from her work into rave parties that double as cues for Bollywood dance numbers.
Noor — apart from all of her flaws — has bad judgement in men and grows up emotionally after being slapped in the face by her own actions. Her solution is to escape the city for a while and, when out of her slump, attempt a little investigative journalism.
Like all super journalists proactive for truth, justice, and (um), the Indian way, she ends up writing a harrowing op-ed feature that pings everyone’s thumbs and fingers into action. Hashtags, retweets and mentions blitz animatedly on the screen near the film’s climax, until one screams “OK, we get it!” By then, she’s become a celebrity journalist with a conscience. Yay for her, I guess.
Director Sunil Sippy’s predominant focus on Noor’s self-squabbling is fatiguing — one can only see so many beauty shots of Sonakshi (fine and natural as she is) stretching herself out every morning and then cussing out her life with zesty dialogues. The filmmakers should have realised that 15 minutes of snappy quips would have sufficed instead of 50 as in Bridget Jones’ Diary. Bridget, at least, had a spiffy screenplay backing it up. Noor is an idea that passes itself off as a story. One that gets nowhere — slowly.
Noor’s dual pre-and-post intermission narratives are disjointed. One’s interest dies a lingering death long before the film reaches its high-point about illegal organ sales. By then, only the film’s cast would care — and only because they get paychecks for the job.
Published in Dawn, ICON, May 7th, 2017