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Pinky Memsaab, the debut film by writer and director Shazia Ali Khan, is a well-acted look into the lives of two women, a young Pakistani maid and her socialite employer in Dubai, and an interpretation of the various cultures and societies within Dubai.

It follows Pinky (Hajra Yamin), a young woman from rural Punjab who moves to Dubai to work as a maid for Mehr (Kiran Malik), a socialite, who she refers to as Memsaab.

Mehr’s life and family fit the stereotype of an elite household in Dubai, complete with a successful banker husband, a Filipino housekeeper and a South Indian chauffeur. The couple rubs shoulders with the movers and shakers of Dubai, and Mehr’s social persona is nothing short of perfect.

At the same time, the film depicts the problems in Mehr’s private life – her rocky marriage with Hasan (Adnan Jaffar), her strained relationship with her father (played by Khalid Ahmad) and her own struggle to find success as a writer.

On the other side of the story is Pinky, who from the time of her arrival develops a friendship with chauffeur Santosh (Sunny Hinduja) while also ignoring his hints for a more serious relationship.

Pinky and Mehr’s lives intertwine when Mehr takes Pinky under her wing, teaching her how to fit into Dubai society by giving her English lessons and giving her a makeover.

Pinky Memsaab is a bittersweet urban drama rooted in the kinship between two women from two different worlds, who are struggling with class barriers and preconceived notions in order to discover their own identity, as Pinky struggles with the culture shock of moving abroad and Mehr struggles with her married life and her professional aspirations.

The film also goes beyond the stereotypical image of the glittering and ostentatious Dubai, depicting the extremes in its society. Known as a treasure trove for people with money, Pinky Memsaab attempts to show that the reality is uglier than it seems.

The scenes in Bur Dubai, a lower-middle class settling, could serve as an eye-opener for many who have not seen such a version of Dubai on screen before.

It is clear that Shazia Ali Khan has drawn on her own experiences as an expat in Dubai even if the story of the film is not her own.

The film focuses mainly on the characters and does not spend much time on the Dubai skyline.

Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2018