After a five-year wait and numerous leaked YouTube videos, Shoaib Mansoor’s Bol will finally premiere on Friday. Unfortunately, the film was a major disappointment and left the viewer wondering,
“Why did I watch this movie?”
The film’s narrative is non-linear, with the opening scene showing us Humaima Malik’s character standing in front of the gallows. We then go back in time to hear her story, which is essentially about how she and her sisters struggled to live with an oppressive father (Manzar Sehbai ) with extremist tendencies. Mahira Khan stars as Humaima’s sister and their neighbour Mustafa (Atif Aslam) is her love interest. Iman Ali is a courtesan, and Shafqat Cheema stars as her father.
Since Atif’s involvement with the film has been highly publicised, it was surprising to learn that he does not play a significant role in Bol. Mustafa is supposed to be a pivotal character, but the weak characterisation and meagre screen time fail to create the right tension, and you are left wanting more.
Mahira’s role suffers from chronic implausibility. Despite being an ‘obedient’ daughter, she manages to sneak away with Atif on an almost daily basis to learn how to play the guitar, and even finds the time to rock out at a concert. Her character’s actions are so pointless and unbelievable that you can hardly contain a yawn. After this, the story takes such a dramatic and unconvincing turn that it would take a thesis to point out all the narrative flaws.
Thankfully, Humaima and Shafqat Cheema swoop in to save the day, since they actually act well. Manzar Sehbai is monotonous and under-directed — and any humour he adds to the film is unintentional.
In fact, Sehbai’s getup and dialogue seem to be inspired by Nawab Aslam Raisani, and the character appears comic even when he is trying to be serious — surely this wasn’t the effect the director desired. Iman Ali, like Atif, has a very small role in the film, but lives up to her character. On the whole, however, the characters in the film are weak, fake and one-dimensional. Stylistically, the film is more than a disappointment, looking like a student’s first attempt rather than a seasoned director’s hyped up work. About 20 per cent of the film was out of focus and the film processing was so bad that at times it seemed like a film being aired on Filmazia. In some places the sound was not properly synchronised with the visuals, and some scenes were intercut so badly that they ruined the entire buildup of the sequence.
This time around the music didn’t save the director either; only a few tracks are worth listening to. And a point about adding spice to Pakistani films with song and dance: if you cannot make a proper item number in Pakistan due to ‘cultural sensitivities’, don’t attempt a watered-down version either because it’ll just end up looking forced. This is exactly what happens with Hadiqa Kayani’s hip hop number “Sajania,” — I’m guessing the director had to squeeze the song in somewhere, so we are shown daughters Humaima and Mahira dancing to “Sajania” every time their father steps out of the house — a unique way of throwing off the shackles of oppression.
Despite the accolades Khuda Kay Liye garnered, this offering is not close to what you call a feature film. It lacks even a clearly thought out story. For those who will laud Mansoor simply for the heroic act of making a film in a country like Pakistan, let me clarify that countries much worse off than Pakistan have told much better stories in more trying conditions. Here’s a piece of advice for the producers of this film: there are many thoughtful individuals working in our industry who have the capability of making better films, so please, open your eyes — it’s a win-win situation.
To sum it up, whenever I think of Bol and Shoaib Mansoor I am reminded of the Australian cricketing legend, Adam Gilchrist, who retired from test cricket after dropping the first plum catch behind the wickets .Considering what has come out of Bol, one wonders if Mansoor will follow Gilchrist’s footsteps or become the Kamran Akmal of Pakistani cinema.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine.