Film review: Slackistan- soft focus

What I like about Slackistan is its unapologetic portrayal of Islamabad’s elite.

Noman Ansari August 07, 2011

Set in Pakistan a year after the return of democratic rule, the much hyped Slackistan is finally available for all to see!

An independent film directed and produced by Hammad Khan, Slackistan introduces you to the daily lives of Islamabad’s hip, rich, westernised youth. The movie revolves around budding filmmaker Hasan (Shahbaz Shigri), decadent Sheryar (Ali Rehman Khan) and  gallant Saad (Osman Khalid Butt).  They are three out-of-work graduates who spend their days driving around in Sheryar’s father’s Mercedes. Also in the spotlight are Hasan’s pretty neighbour Aisha (Aisha Linnea Akhtar), with whom he shares a romantic history, and a mutual friend Zara (Shahana Khan Khalil).

Hasan, the protagonist, is basically a whiner trying to uncover his true potential. Aisha struggles to tell Hasan about her plans to move overseas and to enter into a permanent relationship with a more career-oriented and responsible man. Other subplots revolve around Sheryar’s efforts to repay a loan to Mani (Khalid Saeed), a corrupt politician’s son, and Zara’s attempts to secure the attention of her wayward boyfriend.

What I like about Slackistan is its unapologetic portrayal of Islamabad’s elite — there is cussing, drinking, partying and even suggested adultery. Most of the young characters are slaves to designer clothing and accessories, and there is a general apathy towards the looming threat of the Taliban.

Slackistan comes as a relief after the more didactic Bol; it delivers its message without resorting to film clichés. The movie avoids obligatory fight scenes and passes up on the ‘boy chases girl to the airport’ ending which comes as a pleasant surprise.

Some of my favourite bits featured Zara — her transformation, her doing away with the layers of make-up she uses and her denouncement of her man-chasing lifestyle, are all lessons told well.

Regrettably, other promising scenes were mucked up by poor editing and woeful performances. One of them is worth mentioning: Hasan, lying on a park bench beside Aisha, remarks how expensive imported perfumes have become. Then, a few underprivileged people are shown shuffling nearby, an ineffective way to portray Hasan’s disconnect with society.

Slackistan’s cinematography seems to show an incongruous love for Hasan. A moment that particularly stands out is when he visits a slum and, having just mingled with the children there, contemplates his life with his back turned towards the boundary wall — one knee bent… designer glasses resting on his nose… a cigarette poised in his lips … he digs deeper into his existence. At this point he looks very much like a Pakistani version of Zoolander.

The overall acting in the movie leaves a lot to be desired; Ali Rehman Khan, having the most important role in the movie, fails to do justice to his character.  The script, co-written by Hammad with his wife Shandana Ayub, is also quite dull.  The character development is weak — the self-indulgent characters show no significant signs of growth.  They float through the boredom of their lives with audiences left to follow suit.

Overall, as noble as Hammad Khan’s efforts to make a character-driven Pakistani film are, Slackistan quite unfortunately, misses the mark.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, August 7th, 2011.