It was one of those times when, after the film, I walked out of the theatre wobble-headed. It wasn’t a common post-movie feeling. Usually, I come out mesmerised, confused or angry. But this time, the only thought crowding my mind was that I needed to sit down and focus on something still, as if after a ride-gone-wrong in a merry-go-round.
The film was Shaan Shahid’s directorial Arth – The Destination and it revolved around a writer Uzma (played by Uzma Hassan) and how her life is thrown upside down when her film-maker husband (Mohib Mirza) falls in love with the superstar Humaima (Humaima Malick). She then begins a friendship with singer Ali (played by Shaan himself).
On the way back home, I kept wondering: Was it the length of the film that caused my confusion? Was it the jarring jump cuts? Or was it the fact that the camera wouldn’t stop moving so that I could focus on the performances? I realised soon it was all of this and more.
Anyone who has seen the original Mahesh Bhatt 1982 classic knows that it would be unfair to compare this local adaptation to it. It is intelligent, has a point to make and is perhaps more relevant in today’s world than it was back in ‘82. One would assume that Shaan’s Arth still has a story and somewhat works – but Shaan loses it somewhere, making it more about him than the two women’s overlapping paths and destination.
His insistence upon focusing more on Ali’s journey than Uzma’s hurts the film. Uzma, the actor, despite that, had the best performance of all in the film. Except in a few overdone scenes, she managed to rise above the disastrously directed film and make the viewers care about her. Whereas, Humaima barely had any room to work with. Her character came off as one-dimensional and the only thing she did was whisper (not speak) throughout the film and look good. Mirza was just there, being a catalyst to the action.
Technically, it’s the film medium and there are basic guidelines one follows in order to make the story comprehensible and the experience engaging. Shaan got the music right, giving more than a few memorable songs. Sahir Ali Bagga has never been in better form than in Arth.
However, there are fundamentals (like the Rule of Third and the 180-degree rule in cinematography) that help establish the space and the world the story is set it. Arth disregards all of them and fails to establish an easy-to-understand visual language. As a film-maker, you create a world, set its basic mechanics right, put characters in it and then move on with the story. Shaan’s Arth doesn’t follow the physics of its own created world, leaving the viewer confused as to what he or she must focus on.
The director is afraid to stay still on a frame for more than one or two second. Just when you think you see what’s happening, he cuts it to the next shot or uses a jump cut, none of which add anything to the film except disorientation. And then, most of the film uses close-ups, especially the first half, making it hard to understand the space the action is happening in. It’s almost like the rough cut of the film has been released. And with the constant movement of camera, I couldn’t make out whether the film was challenging or making fun of the viewers.
The only time Shaan isn’t in a hurry to cut to the next scene is in a monologue by Humaima in the second half, and it shows that it’s not the fault or the actors that they couldn’t shine, but the director himself. By cutting back and forth repeatedly, he hindered the audience from engaging in the narrative.
Arth turned out to be a way of ego satisfaction for Shaan. Just trying to look cool, as in most of his filmography, became the dominant idea, more than the story. There’s no denying his name value and presence, but it’s not enough to carry a film. In the director’s seat, he again made it all about himself. Therefore, it is his insistence upon writing, directing and performing in the lead that compromised the vision he possibly had. In the right hands, it could have been one of the best films of the year. In Shaan’s hands, Arth felt like a drama shot like a found-footage horror, which wanted to be taken seriously and ended up as a spoof of itself (who gets a bloodied face after being hit with a bunch of leaves anyway?)
Verdict: There is little entertainment and the message is clouded by amateurish technical errors and the director’s muddled vision. This isn’t a good year-ender film you were waiting for.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars