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FAMILIAR PEOPLE

September 10, 2017
Marina Khan, Mohsin Abbas Haider, Javed Sheikh and Fahad Mustafa - Photo: Kashif Rashid
Marina Khan, Mohsin Abbas Haider, Javed Sheikh and Fahad Mustafa - Photo: Kashif Rashid

As one of the golden rules of smart screenwriting dictates, one always starts a sequel where characters find themselves at a bad place. In Na Maloom Afraad 2 (NMA2), the sequel to Na Maloom Afraad (NMA), we see Farhan (Fahad Mustafa) and his former landlord Shakeel Bhai (Javed Sheikh) in midst of a financial jam. Shakeel Bhai’s wife has departed her earthly guise and her memory — and the millions they made at the end — has influenced the duo to start a pickle factory (achaar for desi folks).

Now that I think about it, the joke’s reference works both ways. While the quip about achaar was okayish — like most humour — the pickle is an interesting choice of word. Like most action-comedies the duo finds itself in a pretty sticky situation.

Their achaar factory is forced to shut down and kismet leads them to Cape Town, South Africa — a land that accommodates very few background extras for the filmmakers (we see a handful of them in skimpy bikinis in a song later).

NMA2 feels like a familiar breeze. It’s not even fresh, though in hindsight it is, by Pakistani standards

Moon (Mohsin Abbas Haider), the smarter friend of the two, had travelled the world and found love in Cape Town (his love interest is played by Hania Amir). This leads to the trio’s ill-fated reunion and the story of a bad-mouthed (and quite despicable-looking) Sheikh Al-Baklava (Nayyer Ejaz), his missing commode made of solid gold, a handful of pink diamonds and two underworld criminals (Saleem Mairaj and Nazar-ul-Hassan).

It’s a mix and, by classic narrative structuring, the best to come out of Pakistan.

Director Nabeel Qureshi has a knack for filmmaking technique, and the complex but uncomplicated flow of story he co-writes with Fizza Ali Meerza is a testament to their progress. Scenes zip in and zip out, never quite overstaying their welcome — a trait also adopted by supporting cast members Urwa Hocane, Marina Khan and Sohail Javed.

However, NMA2 feels like a breeze you’ve felt before. It’s not quite as fresh, even though in hindsight it perhaps is … by Pakistani standards.

Director Nabeel Qureshi has a knack for filmmaking technique, and the complex but uncomplicated flow of story he co-writes with Fizza Ali Meerza is a testament to their progress. Scenes zip in and zip out, never quite overstaying their welcome — a trait also adopted by supporting cast members Urwa Hocane, Marina Khan and Sohail Javed.

Yes, I know it sounds like a back-handed compliment.

As I wrote earlier, measuring by professional criteria, the story’s structure is flawless where the right details pop up at precisely the right instant. The obstacles Farhan, Shakeel Bhai and Moon find themselves in are always nippily resolved. However, there is never a sense of excitement, wonder or threat looming over them, despite what the film tells us.

When the commode gets into our trio’s hands, and later when the girls are kidnapped (no spoilers here, this is in the trailers), the characters’ plight feels like a put-on. One doesn’t root for them, nor do we have any doubt of the film’s eventual outcome.

I think, by focusing on structure, the writers forgot to add emotional weight to their dilemmas. One simply doesn’t feel for the characters in NMA2.

Young people — especially those easily wooed by flippant, pedestrian humour — will love NMA2. But even to this “target demographic” I ask: what would you remember in the long term? For reference: two days after the premiere, as I write this review I can’t really remember one stand-out moment.

I think the filmmakers realised this as well in the editing room. If you plan to see (or re-watch) the film, look for scenes where dialogues are re-tinkered in dubbing. The lip movement doesn’t match what the characters are saying (e.g. the Amir Liaquat quip) — or when the dialogue happens off-camera (the porn-star reference, also seen in trailers).

Published in Dawn, ICON, September 10th, 2017