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Premiere: Oh, the horror!

March 24, 2013


Siyaah is the first release from a short list of films that promise on breaking the conundrum. As anyone can guess from the title, it is a supernatural fare.

Siyaah starts with a young couple moving to a house in Islamabad. The husband Bilal (Jabbar Naeem), a busy architect, leaves his wife Zara (Hareem Farooq) home alone, giving her ample time to languish over the miscarriage of their baby girl.

To fill the void they adopt a preteen girl Natasha (Mahnoor Usman) who Zara feels instantly drawn to. With a blink of an eye they bring her into their home and paranormal weirdness ensues (as it happens, the maid is the first target, as she is creeped out by Natasha’s paranormally-enhanced fast carrot-chopping skills, and her demonically hoarse voice).

Siyaah reels the audience into the comfort zone with loopy generic scenes leading to an inconsequential wrap up. It is a slight miracle that it is saved from being a complete mess, which redeems some of the film’s creative choices as well as the intelligence of the people involved.

As the directorial debut Azfar Jafri, who also co-wrote with writer Yasir Hussain, Osman Khalid Butt and Imran Raza Kazmi (also the producer), Siyaah suffers from some aesthetic and technical problems.

Predominately, the tension never builds up to any mounting anticipation of horror. Secondly, the script comes out as impassive; the mother-daughter relationship is neither explored nor even given depth. The only naturally human familiarity comes from Naeem’s Bilal, whose light-hearted persona brings sincerity to even the most emotionally vacant scenes.

When it comes to technicality there are obvious issues of moiré (detailed colour information that gets squashed together by the camera). At times, the details in blacks were crushed. Besides this, there were no close pushes or track-backs. The envelope was never pushed when it came to camera work. Static camera seldom works favourably in horror, but when that doesn’t happen the weight automatically shifts to the cast.

Hareem Farooq, though skilled in performance, didn’t have a mother-like air mostly because her connection was never fully exploited. Jabbar Naeem doesn’t have a lot of voice modulation, but he more than made up for that with his easygoing screen presence. Ahmed Ali, in a supporting role bordering on a cameo, impressed the most with subtle expression shifts within the confines of a one-set performance. Mahnoor Usman, the film’s youngest talent, if anything, showed eagerness in her performance.

The technical aspects are forgivable when it comes to keeping the cost down, and besides this weakness you can’t question the genuine ambience of Siyaah, because it is paced and made to look like a feature-length film.

Despite its shortcomings, Siyaah is a step in the right direction for the revival of Pakistani cinema. It just goes to show that one doesn’t need a lot of money to make a decent film in any genre.

Released by Cinepax and Footprint Entertainment, the film is rated U.

Siyaah is family-friendly without the gore one normally associates with horror. Imran Raza Kazmi and his team of filmmakers have the spark to be something big in this industry; it’s just a matter of time before they juice it up for real.