Lamha: A progressive step in Pakistani Cinema
Released internationally as Seedlings, Lamha is the fourth Pakistani film to hit the cinemas this year. I should admit that I do not usually watch films like Lamha as I prefer madcap comedies and optimistic films more. However, watching Lamha the other day reminded me of a wonderful Mexican film, Amores Perros, which has certain qualities in common with the new Pakistani film.
One of the many narratives in Amores Perros involves a married couple who are clearly going through a rough phase. In Lamha, instead of showing a Pakistani drama type shouting match, the director explores the tension between the two through silence on the dinner table — plates being passed firmly, teacups being put down forcefully with hasty glances being exchanged.
It is this subtlety that characterises Lamha, which revolves around the aftermath of a tragic event that has befallen Mohib Mirza (Raza) and Aaminah Shaikh (Maliha).
The said tragedy leads to a transformation of the intimacy between the protagonists into an increasing distance, as they choose separate ways to deal with grief. Unable to support one another, despite the shared loss, the sentiments of anger, grief and incomprehension are shown beautifully by director Mansoor Mujahid.
Mujahid chooses little props like a misplaced crayon, or the unexpected hearing of a loved one's name to portray the characters' guilt and isolation. Other than those moments, the film's highlights include a spectacular closing shot that matches the mood of the characters perfectly; an argument between the leading pair that triggered spontaneous applause and a wonderful Ghazal.
In its own appropriately subtle manner, Lamha tells a heartfelt story without the theatrics we're used to seeing in lesser films. If you have ever lost someone and have been reminded of them from the little things around you, you'll certainly appreciate the best of this film.
You'll also likely be comforted by a lovely line in the movie which goes something like:
'It's the pain that reminds you that they're still with you.'
While there are some wonderfully poignant moments as Raza and Maliha deal with their grief, there are problems that point to broader issues in Pakistani cinema.
While the latter parts of the film explore the change in the characters beautifully, the best parts of the first half are hindered by audio flaws and an unusually prominent piano soundtrack that superimposes itself on the tension between the characters.
In addition, there is a scene between a rickshaw driver, played by Gohar Rasheed of Main Hoon Shahid Afridi (MHSA), and his exasperate spouse. However, the dialogues are rendered nearly inaudible by background noise.
If you speak to those involved in the cinema here, they often speak of the enormous firsts they have to overcome to make films in Pakistan. Allied with issues relating to a lack of infrastructure in the industry, Pakistani filmmakers often call for patience on the part of the audience as they grapple with technical and commercial obstacles.
That's where one needs to assess Lamha. During the weaker parts of the film, you will likely hear people shifting in their chairs and checking their phones. However there are some incredible moments if one stays patient with the technical shortcomings.
More importantly, we've been fortunate this year to have a range of films with content that we can truly relate to as Pakistani.
What we must appreciate is that with Lamha – and to a greater extent in another Pakistani release this year, Josh – we finally have locally-made films that truly explore character and social issues. Films that make you think and feel rather than avoid complexity for commercial gain or just aim to give you your money's worth.
Lamha is not going to be a laugh-a-minute entertainer like Main Hoon Shahid Afridi or be able to resemble the splendour of a Barfi. What it has, in heaps and bounds, is heart.
Having won four awards at various film festivals abroad, it’s been a two-year long wait for the film to release in Pakistan. I'm glad I watched it as it reminded me of the cinematic moments I've missed by focussing on escapist fare.
Lamha is cinema watch; not an everyday entertainment. There won't be any eye candy, attention-grabbing drama, nor will there be a contrived happy ending to send the audience home happy. I think that the emergence of a satisfying, subtle drama says a lot about the progress Pakistani cinema has made despite the noteworthy challenges.
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