At the very end of Roundabout, an overwrought drama-thriller, one dying character says: “Zindagi ne mujhay bohat dukh diye hain [Life has given me a lot of pain].”

Truer words had never been spoken … for the audience.

Roundabout is a whodunnit without the mystery, a romance that has no romance, a drama where people (well, mostly lead actress Mahi Khan) scream to get their point across, and a movie whose pre-intermission half is shorter than the post-intermission. It’s a roundabout way of saying: bad amateur film making.

Arbaaz Khan, the director and lead actor, pulls a dead rabbit out of the hat with the able assistance of screenwriter Saleem Murad. Their main lead, Anush (Mahi Khan, of Junoon-i-Ishq), is a rich girl who likes to attend rave parties in middle-class people’s drawing rooms (the budget didn’t allow for a party sequence, I gather). At one particular party, Anush meets old friend Sanam (Reena Ali), whose sob story — one that the audience never finds out — melts her heart. Overwhelmed, Anush invites Sanam to stay at her place indefinitely.

At the breakfast table the very next day, Anush throws a tantrum, insulting a visiting aunt and her rural mindset. The pissed-off aunt forces her son, Bhola (Arbaaz Khan), to go win the girl over.

Roundabout is a stabbing reminder of ’90s Lollywood: bad amateur filmmaking that ran Pakistan’s film industry into the ground

Sporting a dhoti, gandasa and heavily Punjabi-accented Urdu, Bhola comes to the city only to get petrified of escalators in malls. To combat his backward mindset, he undergoes a macho makeover that instantaneously changes his persona. No longer is he the country bumpkin. Bhola, now fully shaved, wears a Bluetooth earpiece and a jacket, and apparently smiles off camera at someone. Bhola’s entire body language has changed so drastically, it’s as if his past never existed.

At that very instance, the screenplay also gets amnesia. Bhola is suddenly referred to as Raja, and Sanam is now called by the actress’ real name, Reena.

The screenplay is careless about the whos, the whats and the wheres of …well, everything. It, instead, takes a brief one-line idea and expands it into an overlong, illogical, slapdash movie involving a 10 million dollar insurance fraud and murder, while adding comic relief characters who are somehow wedged directly into the main narrative. The songs, by music directors Ayaz Sono and Bilal Wajid, offer brief pockets of relief, despite being badly shot like the rest of the movie.

Personally speaking, I’ve seen — and enjoyed — movie experiences worse than Roundabout. Bad movies, even with their megatons of failings, at least offer a so-bad-that-its-laughably-good vibe that one can appreciate. The truly bad ones are like Roundabout, that offer an unashamedly middling experience, an unmoving story, and a very long runtime.

This, folks, is a stabbing nostalgic reminder of nineties Lollywood, that ran cinema (and cinema owners) into the ground. Imagine, once upon a time, this was all Pakistani audiences got. The idea alone sends shivers down the spine.

Published in Dawn, ICON, August 4th, 2019