Despite living 1.5 hours away from NYC, when I heard that Na Maloom Afraad and Dukhtar would be screened at the South Asian International Film Festival, I had to be there. Unfortunately, we were only able to choose one movie and my husband's disinterest in anything "depressing" made Na Maloom Afraad the clear choice.
So off we went to NYC yesterday (Sunday November 23) to watch this movie. First of all, I have to nitpick just a little about the venue. No. Stadium. Seating. Despite the fancy lobby, the free food and free drinks (which seemed really "off" to me at the screening of a Pakistani film - but I'll leave it at that), the theater itself was incredibly "old-school." The cramped seats and the irritating heads blocking my view of the screen were instant draw-backs, so it did prematurely cloud my mood and put me in an overly critical mind-set from the get-go.
Coming to the actual film, the movie began and my instant thought was "Oh wow, the production values seem pretty good." Fortunately, that initial thought was not shattered. The movie was shot very nicely.
The movie focuses on three characters, Salim (Javed Sheikh), Farhan (Fahad Mustafa) and Moon (Mohsin Abbas Haider), their difficulties and their chase to make money to pull themselves out of their misery. Moon and Farhan are tenants at Salim Bhai's home and are equally affected when Salim Bhai is informed that his home is set to be demolished within a month. Farhan wants to marry Salim Bhai's sister (Urwa Hocane), Moon wants to be able to provide for his family and Salim Bhai simply wants to retire peacefully in his home and start an achaar business. Their dreams seem to be slipping further and further away when the three concoct a plan: to be the "Na maloom afraads." The plan itself is a little tricky and would spoil the movie for those who haven't seen it, so I won't delve into that.
Let's first start with the PROS:
I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. For a Pakistani film, this was a treat for the eyes. Visually comparable to a Bollywood movie, an interesting storyline and well-etched characters backed up with great performances. It was "paisa vasool," and complete entertainment.
Within the first half hour of the movie, my husband grumbled "Oh no.....is this a remake of Hera Pheri?" To which I replied "It seems more along the lines of Delhi Belly to me." Unfortunately, it was a mix of both. The storyline was not entirely original and it did seem like the writer/Nabeel Qureshi was heavily inspired by both these movies from across the border.
A part of me also hoped for more "depth" in the movie. While I completely understood that it was a fun, entertaining sort of movie, I wish the "Na Maloom Afraad" title had been pushed further and put the three in a position where they actually found themselves getting caught up in the mayhem. I know, I'm expecting a social message from a fun film. That's just wishful thinking on my end.
And lastly, the biggest flaw.....Kubra Khan as Hina. Is this Pakistan's answer to Katrina Kaif? While Bollywood fans are finally breathing a sigh of relief to see Ms. Kaif's career slowly declining, are we as Pakistanis jumping on this bandwagon of allowing pitifully-accented girls to take up prominent roles in films/dramas? Given, she was not terrible, but that was mostly because her role did not require her to speak more than a few lines at a time and she was mostly just a pretty face. But the climax/ending sequence caused me to squirm with discomfort at her dialogue delivery.
Alright, that's the end of the cons. Let's move on to performances:
Fahad Mustafa is a star! He's always been a great actor in dramas, a great producer for shows and now he's proven that he's "big screen" material. His performance was effortless and completely natural. You wanted Farhan to succeed because he was such a likable guy.
Javed Sheikh was adorable as the bumbling Salim Bhai. A sweet man who deserved happiness, my heart hurt with each "jhatka" his life received. Javed Sheikh, take a bow.
Mohsin Abbas Haider was something else, in my opinion. He was the weakest of the trio, though possibly the funniest. The problem was his overacting. He seemed to be trying to hard and that didn't come off as natural. He's not a bad actor, rather an entertaining one. But standing next to Fahad and Javed Sheikh, it simply skewed the trio a bit.
Salman Shahid was his usual, captivating, hilarious self with incredible on-screen presence. While he was, more or less, reprising his Ishqiya/Dedh Ishqiya role, it left the viewer in splits nonetheless. Great performance.
Urwa Hocane did her part well, acting naturally and looking pretty. Her chemistry with Fahad Mustafa was perfect.
Kubra Khan - I think I already mentioned what I thought of her performance under "cons." We'll leave it at that.
Amber Wajid is as natural as ever. She compliments Javed Sheikh well and acts as the supportive wife and Bhabi.
And lastly, let's move on to songs Oh boy. OK, so overall, the movie utilized the songs well and they didn't serve as a deterrent from the story. The songs were placed and spaced out nicely and were only used in 2-3 minute sequences, not stretching out the run time by much.
I do want to take a moment to talk about.....yup, you guessed it...."Billi." This was the "item number" for the movie. And what an item number it was. I'm not going to knock the song or the video by saying "Oh how cheap" or "Where were her clothes?" or any of that. Dancers and prostitutes are a part of our society as much as they are in any other society, so I won't pretend and turn a blind eye. That's fine. What I do want to say is that "Item numbers" are not a part of our culture or entertainment scene. They were never relevant in dramas, they shouldn't be relevant in our films. At a time when Bollywood actors are sitting up and realizing what their decades of item numbers are doing to their society (desensitizing them to the treatment of women), why are we NOW starting this immoral trend? Food for thought.
That being said, I will say that Mehwish Hayat looks beautiful, dances effortlessly, choreography is good, the song is catchy.....nothing wrong with the song visually, but it's the morality behind it that does nag at me a bit.
OK! That's it! The verdict is that this was a great attempt by Nabeel Qureshi to bring back Pakistani films with a bang! Despite having many "art" type films over the last few years (Josh, Seedlings, Bol, Khuda Ke Liye, etc.), it was a Masala entertainer that was missing and probably needed to seriously kick-start the Pakistani industry again. So I definitely appreciate the effort and came out of the theater with a smile on my face.
Highly entertaining and I'd recommend it.