Oh, how Maira Khan (Mansha Pasha) wishes that she had a choice in calling the snide, bald man sitting opposite her, her dad.

The man, an uber-rich corporate magnate, wants his daughter to move back into his mansion, presumably on whose lawn they’re having breakfast. It would just break up his new marriage, she retorts with equal snideness. Obviously, she wants nothing to do with the man, except keep pretences of their relationship alive in front of the world.

Relationships, their worth and pretences are the omnipresent, undercurrent themes in Kahay Dil Jidhar (KDJ), a drama that propels friendship up and above familial blood ties.

Zipping back and forth between the present, where Maira is a well-known, easily corruptible, current affairs anchor on television, and the past, where she is somewhat idealistic, KDJ fixes its attention on her troupe: Sheheryar (Junaid Khan), the son of a wicked politician (Sajid Hasan); Sameer (producer, Kamran Bari), the son of the Deputy Director of the Anti-Narcotics Force (Atiqa Odho); and Naina (Roma Michael), a wide-eyed beauty whose parents aren’t mentioned, but they’re obviously well-off as well.

Relationships, their worth and pretences are the omnipresent, undercurrent themes in Kahay Dil Jidhar, a drama that looks at what maturity really entails

They also have another pal (Dino Ali), a chubby-chum who, unlike his compadres, wants to at least study in the illustrious — and fictitious — Saint Carlos University.

The group loiters around, carefree and unserious, but their bond is deep and their aspirations clear-cut.

Sheheryar (who knows what he is studying to be) wants to be a super-cop — and he becomes one, smashing hoodlums into the ground at his entry in KDJ; Maira gets a chance to be a reporter, and Naina probably wants the same thing; Sameer wants to make music, but does drugs, and hallucinates visions that aren’t there (we don’t see what he’s seeing; he just says them out loud).

Surely an odd lot, with fleetingly written, throw-away backstories, they’re there for each other when it actually counts.

At a crucial juncture in this blazingly fast-paced film, Maira, Naina and Sheheryar take Sameer on a road trip to the mountains in northern Pakistan. Sameer had been hitting the drugs pretty hard, and the intervention-cum-getaway to the clean, uncontaminated air of the north, could be just what the doctor ordered.

But just as they’re settling in, and the audiences lets their defences down — thanks in large part to the film’s foot-tapping soundtrack by Atif Ali and the band Suroor — Sameer disappears. It’s a baffling, unexpected jolt in the tale.

Cutting back to the present — where Sheheryar, about to be engaged to Maira, is now Superintendent of Police (SP) — we learn that Sameer, a wayward man who has willingly lost his way, is no more, and that despite their proclaimed closeness, the world carries on for the group of friends.

It’s here that the film makes one of its more profound statements: maturity isn’t just about growing moustaches, walking with heroic swag or pondering serious issues without actually doing something about them. One has to take initiatives for the greater good of society, and for those one deeply cares for…but not before it’s too late.

KDJ is somewhat smarter than an average Pakistani film. Storylines are resolved, and some characters actually transform as a result of their actions, and not simply through monologue-ish, sermonising lectures.

On the other hand, director Jalaluddin ’s work is uneven; in fact, the film looks like the works of two different directors with differing aesthetic and technical choices.

KDJ also looks like the work of two very different cinematographers, with dissimilar lighting practices — some scenes look pristine and film-like; a few, like the college sequences, too sharp and too wide. Editor Adeel PK (also the creative producer), whose cuts come fast and furious — at times with too many cutaways during scenes — manages to keep most of the film’s look consistent across sequences despite the disparity.

Performances vary greatly as well; some of them downright hammy and amateurish. Atiqa Odho, Sajid Hasan, both veterans in the biz, would be shoe-ins for the Razzies, if we had them in Pakistan — and given the way our actors often “act” in films, they would have a lot of competition in that area.

Surprisingly, Junaid Khan has a better handle on the physical differences his character undergoes between its younger version and the somewhat more mature persona in the latter half. Some of his very conscious acting calls — such as the variants of the contortions his face makes in moments of glee in both ages of his character — shows that the actor really pushed himself at times.

Another pleasant surprise is producer-actor Kamran Bari (who also gets story credit). As the linchpin of the overarching plot, he is the glue that holds KDJ’s narrative together, and is a fine, if at times unrefined, actor. Mansha Pasha, although she looks the part, is only adequate and perhaps a bit miscast.

The lack of aesthetic and technical uniformity jumps from the screen time and again. However, the revved-up pace and the excellent, if incessant, use of the soundtrack and background music (excessive and overbearing at some instances), keeps one’s attention from veering off the screen. The plot, although small, twists and turns at just the right intervals, and its focus on the four key characters helps evoke a sense of empathy for their collective plight by the time the story climaxes.

Although far from perfect, KDJ conjures themes that are familiar to audiences at large and, for a change, it looks and feels like a motion picture made for the big screen. Right now, that’s a win — a minor one at that — if you ask me.

Produced by Wijdaan Films, Kahay Dil Jidhar is released by Mandviwala Entertainment. The film is playing now at cinema screens across Pakistan

Published in Dawn, ICON, December 26th, 2021

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