Adnan Sarwar’s Motorcycle Girl reminds me of a line from the book On the Road by Jack Kerouac: “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
The film is based on the life of Zenith Irfan (played by Sohai Ali Abro in the film), who became the first Pakistani female motorcyclist to embark upon a solo journey from Lahore to Khunjerab Pass in the northern areas of Pakistan. At the heart of Motorcycle Girl lies a similar idea of a girl who, in order to fulfill her father’s dream, defies norms and sets out on the road to bike through.
But Motorcycle Girl is not an adventure film. It’s a human story at its core, a classic underdog tale. It’s about the spirituality of a motorcycle ride, like a unique and personal prayer where the motorcycle and open road are the mediums of communication with the universe. It’s about fulfillment of lost dreams and keeping alive the memory of a deceased loved one.
Hence, it is a bit underwhelming to see that the film lacks a dedicated and complete exploration of precisely that idea. But it’s a surprise, at the same time, that it works quite well despite its faults.
Sarwar spends the first half of the film mostly showing Irfan’s struggles at work with her credit-hogging, mean-spirited, dead-eyed, corporate-puppeteer of a boss (brilliantly played by Sarmad Khoosat). While the writer-director carves out a pretty neat, fictional ‘how’ behind Irfan’s journey, he doesn’t fully explore her intense feeling of missing out on the father-daughter relation and the burning desire to fulfill his dream. His misplaced prioritisation of shaping the circumstances around Irfan’s journey, rather than keeping a balance between that and the journey itself, affects the film and its pacing.
Further, what should have been ‘dialogue’ turns into monologues that go on for a tad too long. Scenes stretch and characters linger on for more time than they should, and an odd brand integration dilutes an impactful scene.
Yet, Sarwar surprisingly manages to keep the film engaging enough so you won’t get bored until the action escalates. From then, you are taken for the ride of a lifetime that will not only make you teary-eyed but also you proud of the real Irfan. And the finale, no matter how formulaic it might be, works on a level that conveys the soul of the film. When you walk out of the cinema, you will remember it and cherish it for a long time.
As an audience, you take home the feeling of the climax of Motorcycle Girl. So while the ride may started out bumpy, it ends on a powerful note. And that’s important for any film, no matter what the genre or story.
Motorcycle Girl gives you an emotional experience worthy of your time and money, with decent production value, sound design that won’t divert your attention from the action and convincing performances.
Shamim Hilaly (as Irfan’s grandmother), Samina Peerzada (the mother) and Ali Kazmi (as her fiancé) do a wonderful job at evoking the required emotions out of the viewer. But, in all honesty, Motorcycle Girl is a one-woman-show. Abro exceeds expectations and carries the entire film on her shoulders without bulging. Her performance as Irfan encapsulates the vulnerability and insecurity of a young girl with too many responsibilities, with a natural gentleness in the face of social entrapments, and the eventual defiance in the name of dreams and breaking shackles. Abro embodies the timidity that comes with constant suppression of one’s identity and how upon breaking out of it, they feel liberated and free.
Here is an actor who is not conscious of looking ‘good’ and ‘pretty’ on screen, but concerns herself with her job: making you believe in her character. And that’s essentially why Motorcycle Girl succeeds as a film. It’s a win for Abro as much as it is for Sarwar because their hearts, and Irfan’s heart, are in the right place.
Verdict: As the late American journalist and author Hunter S Thompson once said, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” You’ll enjoy it.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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