KARACHI: Doing something truly remarkable gets you noticed, doing it again turns you into a wizard. Nabeel Qureshi may have entered the film industry with a magic wand in his hand but he ran out of tricks with Actor in Law.
Before I sneak further down his hat, one thing must be clarified: anyone with slight craving for entertainment will have a ball watching Actor in Law. But those looking for the same stroke of genius that Na Maloom Afraad had may have to contain a few yawns.
Shaan Mirza (Fahad Mustafa) is a struggling actor, one who survives on Devdas and oxygen, yet the burden of not living up to his father’s dreams keeps on suffocating the artist within him. His father, Advocate Rafaqat Mirza (Om Puri) has never won a case in his life but has also never lied and as a result, holds honesty closer to him than his professional incompetency. Shaan visits a number of casting directors , breaks tube lights on his body at ‘Bhai’s’ birthday celebrations, and even gets a small part in a big project but nothing manages to completely satisfy the actor within — until the day he walks into the city court to get his father’s belongings.
Thus begins a thoroughly entertaining struggle of an actor and the audiences’ journey of witnessing a mishmash of moments they’ve watched in several recent Indian movies. Those moments end up making the climax seem like just another turning point in the story and robbing the viewers’ of genuine shockers. There isn’t a single part of the narrative that you don’t see coming, which is perhaps the fatal flaw of the film at large.
In aping the new trend of Bollywood courtroom dramas, Qureshi has weakened his own idea of keeping the storylines original. One must keep in mind that a film like OMG Oh My God! stood out because of its subject matter and not for the treatment. And regardless of a good intent, you end up creating a recipe for disaster when you apply the same formula on something less significant. The multiplex audience is getting smarter with every film and more aware of where something is borrowed from. The problem is clearly not with borrowing, it lies with replicating the act without adding on to it. NMA had pioneered this balance.
However with courtroom scenes come a number of monologues and it is Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza’s quick-witted and socially aware humour that lightens things up. No one knows Karachi as well as this duo does and that is reflected not only in the dialogues, but also in the visual detailing of the city.
The performances, on the other hand, do live up to the expectations. There’s no better sight than watching Mustafa make a mockery of the justice system in the presence of a crowd that cheers and hoots at every line. He has a dynamic emotional range as an actor and with his live TV show, he has only gotten better at becoming the one-man-army that the real Shaan should be worried about. Puri has played similar avatars in many such films and he pulls off another with masterful ease, this time without a word of Sanskrit. Hayat must be given marks for her on-point imitation of the Parsi stereotype but unfortunately, there wasn’t much to her character. Saleem Mairaj and Nayyar Ejaz are the kings of cameos and like always, their short presence on screen is a tale in itself.
Despite being an all-out entertainer, the film doesn’t work on as many layers as NMA and does not have the same shock value. Perhaps it was the hunger of establishing Qureshi’s name that made NMA what it is for new-age Pakistani cinema.
In Netflix’s Marco Polo, Kublai Khan repeatedly tells his allies and enemies that it’s easier to sit on the throne then to sit and rule. This holds true for Qureshi, whose love for entertainment is undying but his thirst for change has been quenched too soon.
Verdict: Actor in Law is what you expect from an Eid film, but not from the director of Na Maloom Afraad
Published in The Express Tribune, September 13th, 2016.
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