KARACHI: In times when home-based network subscriptions are all the rage, you can randomly put on a film and not expect much from it. If it turns out to be great, it’ll be two-hours well spent; if not, we move on to the next. Not much harm done. There’s always more. It’s a different case, though, when you have to go all the way to the cinema, spend a few hundred rupees and watch a film that you probably might skip because there are no famous names attached to it.
But do yourself a favour and go watch Azad. Rehan Sheikh’s directorial debut is a pleasant surprise amidst a bunch of mediocre films that crowd our cinemas most of the time. The film revolves around an RJ named Azad (played by Sheikh) who hosts a morning show and likes to believe he is free until an encounter with his past challenges his belief.
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It’s one of those films whose trailer doesn’t do it complete justice. But you step into the theatre, sit tight in your seat and surrender yourself to the experience and it will engage you unlike any other local film that has come out this year so far. The first three minutes of the opening montage will hook you in and set up the film’s world with a clarity so rarely found in Pakistani films.
Remember that Azad is not a big budget film and by no means, it tries to deceive you into thinking that it is grand and larger-than-life. Azad’s success is in understanding and being content with its place and it is exactly that which helps ground the viewer in the film’s reality.
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With all the rage for making big-budget films and breaking records, here is a film which quietly does its work with limited resources and carves out a beautiful story which not only entertains for two-hours but resonates and lingers in your mind long after. The director understands and creatively tackles the financial limitations.
Even as an actor, Sheikh delivers a performance which makes you truly believes in his character – a man who likes to think he is free, but is in fact, like all of us, wearing shackles we are not even aware of. The supporting cast, which includes Salman Shahid (as radio station owner PK Sher), Sabreen Hisbani (Azad’s former lover Jiya), Sanam Saeed (colleague), Ajlal Shah (Billoo), and Zahid Ahmed (OJ), also deliver realistic performances. There is no rush or exaggeration to their characters.
The film’s pace may be too slow and unconventional for some. The duration could have been 15 minutes shorter, but don’t let that discourage you from giving it a shot. Azad mesmerises you with its poetic, almost romantic flow. It’s sprinkled with classic songs like a chocolate cake with coconut powder.
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Abbas Ali Khan’s melodious score, from beginning till the end, involves you further into the story. It stays mellow throughout and brings out the much-needed emotions in certain scenes. You will find yourself listening to the songs composed by Khan and Taimoor Mirza. Shumaila Hussain’s jazz flavour ‘Huzoor’ adds a fun, vintage feel to the film as well.
Thereby, the film, on the whole, equals to a visual poem narration – put down your guard and trust the narrator to take you wherever he wants. You won’t be disappointed. The ride will make you laugh with a very Woody Allen and Jim Jarmusch-esque style of humour. It will make you think and reflect on your life. And by the end, it will make you cry.
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Azad is a film which sets us free from a long list of underwhelming cinematic experiences. It is an important win for content-centric Pakistani cinema, which we definitely need more of. It’s important for the local cinema, in general, as it should ideally pave the way for more small-budget, story-centric films to follow. Simply, Azad is here to rescue Pakistani cinema from mediocrity.
Verdict: Go watch with no preconceptions and let Azad pleasantly surprise you.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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