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Movie review: Son of Pakistan

December 23, 2011

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Son of Pakistan releasing December 16, stars Meera and Babar Ali

Sandwiched between Ladies vs. Ricky Bahl and Don 2, Son of Pakistan, which opened on December 16, and was directed by Jarrar Rizvi, has a one week window to make its mark in the box office. With a total domestic screen count of 17, the film has to seize over three million rupees per screen to just to break even — Good luck with that!

Son of Pakistan is a haphazardly paced, pro-Pakistan propaganda action movie. It features a pool of thinly interlaced plotlines that quixotically converge into a screen-mess and features a smattering of actors who seem to have no idea what they’re doing in the film in the first place.

Somewhere in the middle of the first act, Meera, who plays a homebound wife, responds to her on-screen husband (Alam Khan):Prem Singh Ka Aana Bohat Khusi Ki Baat Hai, without a proffer of khushi or interest – a mode of expression she’s professional enough to maintain throughout the two and a half-hour running time.

Prem Singh is Ghulam Mohiyuddin, an Indian Sikh visiting Pakistan on a pilgrimage with his wife (Sila Hussain, a lonesome saving grace), and apart from raising some in-your-face opinions about forging Indo-Pak friendship, a song-and-dance number (a half-decent one at that) and an insipid action set-piece he has little relevance in the film. But he’s not the only character suffering from superficiality. There’s Babar Ali too.

Aliis Abu Zahid, a Muslim extremist, does the usual fundamentalist bit. He initiates a bomb-threat, rolls off a few extremist lines and ticks off the usual terrorist checklist. He eventually finds salvation when his body is riddled with bullets at the film’s overblown climax.

Abu Zahid’s on-the-field guy, Jibran (Babrik Shah) and his risqué gal-pal Maria (Asheeta), are both crack-shot assailants, who, between romantic songs, find time to target practice on Rooh-Afza-like pet bottles that had their stickers hastily torn out. The couple’s bravado is evident from the fact that they hone their skills in public places in broad daylight.

You can almost see Son boiling down to a climax a full hour before the interval, but we’ve still to stumble into less relevant side stories. One has Laila Zuberi as a UNO officer, and another is about an undercover CID-cum-tourist guide (the late) Bilal Khan and his newly wed Laila.

It’s painfully evident that Son is a byproduct of substandard, worn-out film-making ideals slapped over a hastily undercooked screenplay by Muhammad Tariq. The theme, marketed as a gesture of open-minded nationalism, screams “bloody murder” on almost everything under the sun. But alas, the scream itself is a thinly disguised ruse to cash the “I am a patriot and hear me roar” bit.

Judging from the film’s lackluster audience turnout, people just ain’t buying into it.This sensationalism might have been a better fodder for, say, Khuda Kay Liye, Bol or even Ram Chand Pakistani — at least they had their storyline in place.

Son, costing more than Rs. 35 million to make, had its production delayed by four years, and it shows. It is a common film writing practice to break down a movie into three acts: the first act, introduces characters, the second act plays out the plot and the third act works out the climax. By intermission, I was scratching my head trying to determine if we were actually in the second act.

At every instance, the film makers tried to rationalize their overabundance of actors by staging scenes where an actor would “act” as if he was the lead.

This stark indecision creates a narrative jolt that’s amplified by the cast’s universally amateurish performance.

As Son’s world falls all around itself, it finds uncharacteristic salvation in the music of Naveed Wajid Ali Nashad.

Bhangara Panjabi”, performed by Saima Jahan, Ameer Ali, Nadeem Abbas and Amir Ghulam Ali is a pepped-up number, which strikes a subliminal chord of having heard it before.

Ahmed Jahanzeb voices “Kali Kali Teri Aankhen”, an eclectic mix of pop and filmi melody that sounded good on the big screen. The title Song of Pakistan, performed by Ameer Ali, plays like an old Junaid Jamshed song.

I called Rizvi the next day after the screening and he expressed his frustrations with the Pakistani film industry.

“It’s the Indian films,” he said. “I am not saying they shouldn’t be imported — it’s just that their frequency should be brought down to just one movie a month. Bollywood movies are hurting our industry.”

Rizvi’s argument is well-founded to some extent. Having spoken to several distributors many times the reply I get is always that movies require big budgets of about Rs. 30 – 40 million, marquee actors, and above all that they need to generate revenue.

On the whole the movie is surprisingly family friendly, and at the very least entertaining — but not in the way filmmakers would’ve wanted.

Mohammad Kamran Jawaid is an avid film buff, critic and motion picture consultant. He is the resident film critic at Images on Sunday, for which he writes a column titled “Animadversion.”