Islamabad-based indie filmmaker Usman Mukhtar has big plans for his latest short film Black Coffee. The self-taught filmmaker is currently shortlisting prominent film festivals all over the world for submission of his self-funded film.
Made on a shoestring budget of Rs60,000, this is the first time that a Pakistani film makes use of prosthetic makeup, according to the filmmakers. Atif Siddique, the actor who plays the antagonist, was doused in tons of makeup for his role, which took about eight hours to apply, according
to Shehrezade Mian, the makeup artist.
And then there’s the hype that the short film has managed to generate in social circles all over Islamabad.
The film plays with the notion of disposable and exploitable nature of modern relationships. It is the story of a couple, together well over a year now, that would rather trust a wicked old man than each other.
But while the concept of the film has ample juice, the execution is far from adequate. The film opens with a random scene- two women at a local café. They are caricatures of the urban socialite. Their exaggerated mannerisms coupled with meaningless verbal meanders lend these one-dimensional gossip girls an air of freshness. They are funny and grab the viewer’s attention.
Roll credits. The rest of the film, unrelated to the riveting opening sequence, tries its best to dispel all the goodwill the opening scene generates.
Working off a two-act structure, the story starts with our lead, Ali, being forced into a conversation with an old man. The ensuing slow pace of the conversation, according to the director, is an attempt at capturing a realistic conversation.
However, the conversation’s flow is frequently interrupted by Ali’s internal monologues. While amusing at first, the smart abusive quips that he hurls at the old man in his head get real old real fast. To make things worse, Ali Khan’s portrayal of the jumpy and frustrated young married man is contrived and unconvincing.
The director completely chucks out any idea of a realistic pacing in the second act, which is short, stilted and marred by sound issues that make the female lead’s dialogues practically illegible. Even the actions leading up to the surprise ending are forced. The big reveal is unsatisfactory.
That said the makeup artist has done a fine job on the old man. The sharp features of the old man’s face lend to the evil nature of the character. However, the director is content with him being just a simple evil old man and abstains from exploring the character, which is the film’s biggest weakness.
While the dark and broody ambience lends a character to the film, the execution, with its uninspired direction and barely passable acting (save for Atif Siddique as the old man), refuses to embrace the film’s true potential. It is not entirely realistic nor is it completely theatrical. It is caught somewhere in between, unsure of what it wants to be.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2010.