Next Story

Na Baaligh Afraad review: coming of age cinema comes to Karachi

Nabeel Qureshi & Fizza Ali Meerza's latest venture struggles to live up to its promise

By Shafiq Ul Hasan Siddiqui |
facebook whatsup linkded
PUBLISHED July 07, 2024

Nabeel Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza are labelled as one of the most bankable duos in Pakistani film industry. Their first 2014 film Na Maloom Afraad (NMA) was actually a ray of hope for the Pakistani cinema which brought them under the spotlight. In 2016, their next film Actor In Law (AIL) confirmed that they would surely bring the much needed change or even turn around our film industry. What happened afterwards was not as glorious as anticipated.

Their films like Na Maloom Afraad 2, Load Wedding and Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad received mixed responses and were nowhere near the high expectations of the discerning Pakistani audiences.

Nevertheless, the same team is back with another unique tale of teenage boys from Karachi. Their latest film Na Baaligh Afraad (NBA) came as quite a surprise because of its sudden release announcement instead of going-on-sets announcement or the cast being introduced or something similar. Let’s explore what the film has to offer to Nabeel and Fizzah’s audience.

There are films where you expect something unusual or something different, yet relatable. Such films are made for a limited audience, and mostly fall under content driven cinema. After watching the trailer of NBA, I felt the same.

It reminded me of my youth and the years when I was growing up in Karachi as a teenager. For the makers of the movie, that was half the battle won. I connected to the film, and so must have the rest of the audience. The trailer gave me a fair idea of what I was in for.

The movie features youngsters such as Aashir Wajahat, Samar Jafri and Rimha Ahmad in the pivotal characters along with Saleem Mairaj, Aadi Adeel, Mani, Ehteshamuddin and Fahad Mustafa in a cameo.

The film revolves around two brothers Mozher- Fukhar, yes they are separate names of two boys, and the pun very much intended. They are bullied in their class by not-so-macho and mean boys. Everyone asks them to grow up, including their parents, neighbours, teachers and classmates. They crack the formula to grow up by watching a porn movie on VCR, as in 90s VCR was not commonly found in lower-middle class households. One day, their father brings a VCR on rent on the request of his sister (who is visiting Karachi) and both the brothers along with their elder cousin rent the movie from a video shop. What happens next is the comedy of error which includes a robbery, blackmailing, malice, innocence triumphing over everything, test of brotherly bond, sweet romance, coming of age and everything around it.

It seems like that the makers tried to stuff everything in the film but one thing that found missing was common-sense. For a boy growing up in the 80s and 90s this film brings out a few memories but not many. The nostalgia is created but it falls flat on its face the moment one starts to enjoy. There are many scenes that require polishing in terms of execution and screenplay. This is amongst the larger reasons why it misses the mark.

When Mozher-Fukhar try to watch the porn movie, a power cut happens in their neighbourhood. But the scene is executed amateurishly and hurriedly. The climax of the scene is hard to believe. Similarly, the romantic angle between Aadi and Rimha is hard to believe as well.

Once again after John, Aashir Wajahat gets a meatier character this time too, he tries hard to do justice with it. At places he is pretty decent because his screen presence is strong but overall Wajahat needs a lot of improvement in comic timing and dramatic scenes.

Samar Jafri is very calculated. He performs well. At places he goes over the top as well. Rimha is strictly okay, and she doesn’t get much margin to display her talent as an actor.

Aadi Adeel is effective as Jugnoo and brings freshness to the character. Saleem Mairaj is brilliant, so is Ehteshamuddin. Scenes between Irfan Motiwala and Aadi Adeel are hilarious.

Expectations met or not?

Those ,like me, who will go to watch a movie that promises to bring their teenage back will be a little disappointed. The trailer and the hype were actually good and they hooked our attention as well but when the film ends, it all fades away. References such as Dhanak Centre (originally Rainbow Centre in Karachi which used to be a central video market) do bring memories to those who bought cassettes from there but the task was never easy in reality. For instance, there was Student Biryani that everybody ate as a must, the inevitable involvement of police, and the risks that teenagers used to take back then were sadly missing. These would have made the story and execution more interesting and authenticated it.

The scene where Saleem Mairaj mistreats Ehteshamuddin could not make any emotional impact. This was one scene that should have had a huge impact. Same goes for the scene where both brothers had a fight — the emotions went amiss and performances were below average.

What went wrong?

NBA suffers from a strong script. There are hiccups in the execution, some might call it smart filmmaking but when you plan to release a film and go main scale then you better pull your socks up, especially when you have films like NMA and AIL up your sleeves. The bond between the brothers was one of the strongest points of the movie which could not appear on the screen. The lack of emotions was another low of the movie because of which audience could not connect to the protagonists.

Mani’s character as the administrator of the school is poorly performed. The idea to make a movie on 90s youth was quite an interesting one but if the film would have had good script, better screenplay and an inclusivity of other cultures and cities that were also a part of Karachi would have made it a lot better. Perhaps this is what one can expect from a rushed and hurried production.

The plus points

Fahad Mustafa’s entry is the highlight of the movie. Police uniform suits him and he has the swag that effortlessly comes across on the silver screen. His delivers his dialogue with style and makes them sound better. Saleem Mairaj as an ardent fan of Sanju Baba (Sanjay Dutt) is another actor who makes the movie alive whenever he appears on screen. His scenes are very well performed and credit goes to the actor for enacting a character that could be found in every locality of Karachi in 90s. There are a some scenes that produce laughter but they are far and few. Aadi Adeel makes the audience smile in a few scenes with his spontaneity.

Final verdict

It’s not easy to make a film on youth, perhaps one of the reasons why Pakistani cinema has a few examples of such sort.

One of the remarkable works is the 1980s’ Nahin Abhi Nahin directed by Nazar ul Islam. The movie introduced Faisal Rehman, Ayaz Naik and Arzoo and it was brilliantly written by Syed Noor (inspired by Summer of 42). Films of such sort require understanding of most complicated minds of teenagers. The emotional turnaround, the hormonal changes and expectations everyone around them have from them. Nabeel Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza weaved and presented a story from their lens on a topic that is not very common, hence brownie points for them for taking a bold step and making a film with newcomers.

NBA struggles to deliver its promise of city-centric cinema with a unique story. While it attempts to connect with audiences through nostalgia and relatable themes, it ultimately falters due to a weak script and poor execution. The film’s few standout performances and moments of humour are not enough to save it from mediocrity. As a result, Na Baligh Afraad remains a missed opportunity for Nabeel Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza, highlighting the challenges of making a lasting impact in Pakistani cinema.

Shafiq Ul Hasan Siddiqui is an avid movie buff, and film and drama critic and a digital inbound marketer. He tweets @shafiqulhasan81

All information and facts are the responsibility of the writer