In Kaaf Kangana (KK), Kangana (Eshal Fayyaz) — or as she calls herself, Kung-Unn-Naa, broken in three forcibly split syllables — a young Indian SAARC quiz winner falls in love with the competition’s Pakistani runner-up Ali Mustafa (Sami Khan), the film’s patriotically-inclined pacifist chocolate hero who will do anything in his power to win her back from her home in a small backwater town in India.
I say backwater town because writer-producer-director Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar’s (KRQ) depiction of India is visually and mentally on par with American media’s interpretation of Pakistan. While Pakistan is often shown in the West as a slightly modern version of war-torn Afghanistan, KRQ’s India is a lifeless, nearly unpopulated barren land governed by a nefarious 1990s Bollywood-ish villain (Sajid Hasan; mediocre).
Actually, KK is quite a vociferous ode to early ’90s Bollywood films, brimming with high-strung dialogues, over-amped drama and a collection of disposable supporting characters. This is a fantastically mediocre film — if, that is, one is in the mood to enjoy it for what it is.
KRQ’s heavy-handedness is quite apparent in everything from the songs (he wrote the lyrics as well), to the thematic and political relevance of the plot, and the belligerent tone of his actors’ performances. KK is fun and guffaw-worthy in parts — especially where comedy is concerned. Actually, one finds ample opportunities to laugh in the film, sometimes even during scenes of intense drama and even action (the climax is one example).
Ayesha Omar, as Gulnaaz, has as much room to flesh out her character as KK’s other supporting lead, Abi Khan, who plays an appealing local ruffian with a heart of gold. Sami Khan finally feels like a hero while Fayyaz cozily fits into her syllable-breaking character who almost never blinks on-screen (sorry — somehow that’s the only way I remember her).
KK is a Grade A, patriotically-inclined emulation of old Bollywood formula that’s fueled entirely by the genre-specific quality of its dialogues.
Two Pakistani films just released. In Durj the characters eat people in an uncooked story. In Kaaf Kangana the overcooked film eats the audience
Writer-director-cinematographer-editor-actor (yes, that’s nearly every department in the film), Shamoon Abbasi’s Durj is easily defined in one small word: raw.
Like the word’s literal meaning, Durj is a partially uncooked meal. Like a very rare-cooked piece of steak, Durj, a story of two cannibals, is succulent in parts.
Immersive cinematographically (his camera operator has a helluva eye for composition and lens choices), Abbasi’s two central characters Laali (Sherry Shah, also the producer) and Gul Baksh (himself), roam the inhospitable mountain wilderness in the north-eastern areas of Pakistan, eating people and doing carefree, expressionistic fire dances in the dead of the night.
It would be a perfect film about breaking free from societal restraints — of finding and holding on to love in the midst of a maddening, orthodox world.
Imagine, then, a sigh of disappointment when you read: if only.
Durj’s plot thickens disproportionately, forcing the narrative to run to and fro between love-struck, mentally-damaged cannibals and a psychiatrist (Maira Khan) who kidnaps Gul Khan from a special police division, and forces him to tell the truth behind her husband’s disappearance.
The lurching, half-thought-out drama splicing through the narrative introduces storytelling inconsistences, some of them quite ‘raw’ — in an amateurish way.
Nevertheless, Abbasi particularises Durj’s macabre theme with the flourishes of a madman director, a genius-in-the-making whose inner voice got the better of him — very much like his character in the film.
Published in Dawn, ICON, November 3rd, 2019