When this writer went to the cinema ticket window, the attendant said: “Take any of the seats that aren’t black.”

The man had a keen sense of humour. There was only one ‘black’ (occupied) seat.

Fifteen minutes into the film, a young couple walked in and then, some five minutes later, another couple made its way to the seats at the far back of the hall. Soon, they were squirming.

With a cut on her cheek and a bruise on her chin, the film’s namesake character Sheenogai (Marina Syed) vlogs on the big screen and to the limited audience in the cinema hall. Using her camera, she conveniently breaks the fourth wall with a message. A dramatic one, at that.

Battered and raped twice, she tells us that she is a rebel to the system. She smokes, has tattoos (badly drawn by markers by the looks of them), dresses in jeans and t-shirts and screams and cries incessantly about daddy and mommy issues.

Writer-director Abu Aleeha’s Sheenogai is self-indulgent filmmaking at its nastiest

Her mother only has time for her when there isn’t a social event in the city, she pines. Her father, a rich middle-aged man whom we don’t get to see, is having an affair with a girl who is one year younger than Sheenogai. The said girl also has better gadgets, she complains.

Her father named her Sheenogai, she tells us twice in the film. It means the girl with green eyes. Her eyes aren’t green; her dad’s previous girlfriend had green eyes, she exclaims.

So, she is angry. Sooo angry. And her reason stretches to a convenient “Just because I can be.”

Apparently, it’s also writer-director Abu Aleeha’s reason for making this movie. Just because he can.

Sheenogai is another of his “independent” movies. In Pakistan’s film industry, the going definition of independent means ‘without the backing of a television network, the support of a major distributor or big-name actors.’

It’s a term I beg to differ with: with exception to a few films, by, say Hum Films and ARY Films, almost all movies in Pakistan are independently produced. So, in a manner of speaking, Pakistani cinema runs on independent filmmakers. The only two differences between most widely-released films and those by Aleeha are the budgets, and in consequence, well-known actors (that, however, will change with his next two films).

While, other films have budgets in tens and hundreds of millions, Aleeha’s make do with just a million. Also, while others have losses in tens of millions, Aleeha’s producers only suffer a million — if at all, according to his distributor. And yes, he has a distributor — how else would a film make it to the cinemas?

Aleeha’s previous and upcoming wares are distributed by Metro Live Movies, a distribution label that supports low-budget films and has previously released titles from time-honoured filmmakers such as Syed Noor.

I feel the best label for Aleeha’s films would be low-budget cinema — and in-keeping with his past endeavours Kataaksha and Tevar — they would have the sub-label of “exploitation films” (some would call them revenge thrillers, thrillers, or even horror; all of them do come under the wide umbrella of exploitative — or B-Grade movies).

Even at that, Sheenogai is a pretty bad example of an exploitation film. Badly written with profane, unrealistically delivered dialogues, the film has no act structure, no high point or character growth. There’s only an endless stream of indignant refutation and some bad fight choreography. This is self-indulgent filmmaking at its nastiest.

Terrible aesthetics get complimented by even worse technical decisions. While Aleeha forces his cinematographer Junaid Mehmood to take long shots on a gimbal, they’re horribly framed, are over- or under-exposed and mostly just out of focus. Also, editing (by M. Muneeb) just means sticking scenes together.

And let’s just not talk about performances: they’re god-awful.

Just because Sheenogai has a budget of 1.6 million rupees doesn’t mean that filmmaking could be compromised to such a ludicrous, rank-amateur degree.

Aleeha’s principal character — who fights with mom and dad, rides her sports bike to Kund Malir Beach, gets raped by the only three men she meets, and then kills them in retribution — is merely a puppet for Aleeha’s statement-making angst against the system, society and the world in general. It gets old and boring pretty fast…even for a film that has an 80-minute run time.

But at least it gets a response — even if the response might not be what the filmmaker anticipated.

“It was you who wanted to watch a Pakistani film in the first place!” the female of one of the two couples sitting behind me at ME Cinemas taunted her male companion. Unlike Aleeha’s heroine, the young man didn’t have a comeback. He simply stood up, picked up his popcorn and they made their way out of the hallway.

Released by Metro Live Movies, Sheenogai stars Marina Syed, Ayaz Ali, Bilawal Baloch and Kunwar Mudasir Shehzad. The film is inexplicably rated ‘U’ (it says so on the ticket) — and it may not be in cinemas by the time you read this

Published in Dawn, ICON, December 5th, 2021

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