Beginning with impressive aerial shots of Balochistan’s nearly barren but picturesque vistas, and then falling face first the minute its story starts rolling out its punches, is Doda, the “first” Balochi-language film in this new phase of Pakistani cinema (or what’s left of it).

Not quite flying like a butterfly or stinging like a bee, Doda, the tale of a boxer who nearly had it all, has aspirations of greatness. In so many ways, the gist of the idea, the constricted quality of the production, and an utter lack of eye-catching, well-choreographed boxing sequences, reminds me of Adnan Sarwar’s debut film Shah — a film, that I now realise, is a notch or two better than Doda.

At a shipbreaking site, a man cracks pieces of metal with one armed hammer strikes. The man is Doda (Shoaib Hassan), and he doesn’t speak much — if he speaks at all.

Doda has already been told that his current boss will no longer require his, or anyone’s, services because he is shutting down the business. Doda, however, finds the same job with another shipbreaking operation, where thug-like supervisors manage workers with an iron fist. In his off-time, Doda listens to an off-kilter co-workers’ sad backstory that takes up a lot of screentime.

In Doda, Pakistan’s first Balochi language film in ages, the screenplay asks us to sympathise with a character with no likeable traits

When we’re not looking at Doda’s present state of distress — he has an overgrown, scruffy beard and his only attire is the grey shalwar qameez on him — we flashback to his past. There, he is a clean-shaven, if easily distracted, upcoming amateur boxer, waiting for his big break.

Doda is engaged to a school teacher (Abila Kurd), loves his sister Bibi (Fiza Akhtar), and contends — angrily — with his alcoholic father (Waseem Bizanjo). When not at home with his sister, or prancing at the beach with his romantic partner, Doda trains under Ustad Noori (Atta Gul Baloch), a sensible mentor who runs a Lyari boxing club.

A national boxing event with a grand cash prize pushes Doda on a spiralling path to his own destruction — not that he wasn’t on that path himself.

The screenplay asks us to sympathise with a character who has no likeable traits. Superficially written, Doda wanders through scenes and plot points, until the story reaches instances of daft dramatics and a really bad climax.

Despite the flashbacks and flashforwards (a popular ploy to add intensity and faux mystery to a perambulating plot), one wonders, time and again, where Doda’s journey is taking him. As it turns out, Adil Bizanjo, the screenwriter, cinematographer, editor and director, takes a long while unravelling a very basic, loose story that doesn’t go anywhere.

Although smashing a blockbuster opening at Capri Cinema with a few sold-out screenings in the Balochi-language version (I saw the Urdu dubbed show by my lonesome self, at the very same cinema’s gallery), Doda, I feel, is a missed opportunity.

With average-to-below-average cinematography and editing (the highlights were blown in most shots, the grade didn’t translate to the big-screen), the film’s main fault is its long running time, and a lack of storytelling finesse.

However, since now we do know that regional language films can draw audiences, here’s hoping that the next Balochi language film will rectify these shortcomings.

Released by Metro Live Movies, Produced by Habib Hasan and Imran Saqib, Doda stars Shoaib Hassan, Abila Kurd, Fiza Akhter, Imran Baloch, Atta Gul Baloch, A.R. Gumnaam, Anwer Sahen Khan, Shakil Murad, Waseem Bizanjo, Shakoor Baloch, Hasil Hassan, Abdul Qadir Baloch, Akhter Danish, Ayaz Ali Justin, and veteran actor Anwer Iqbal in his last screen role. Doda is rated U, suitable for audience of all ages

Published in Dawn, ICON, September 18th, 2022

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