Emotional Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) supporters should read the following review with a pinch of salt. Chambaili is indeed an alternative narrative to present day Pakistan, which many hope will be saved by Imran Khan. If only it were done right…sigh.
Setting a film like Chambaili in a make-believe place might save a film-maker from the sharp axe of the censor board, but it won’t prevent the audience from making connections to Pakistan. Anything CAN happen there, but because the audience relates it so closely to home, no matter how subtle the sequences may be, the plausibility of the film will always be judged by real circumstances.
Chambaili is set in pre-election Mulke Khudadad, a reflection of Pakistan today where target killings, crime and suo motu notices are the norm. The manner in which the issues of Mulke Khudad are addressed test one’s suspension of disbelief, both as a viewer and as a Pakistani. One might even walk out of the cinema feeling cheated but not politically enlightened.
The protagonist Saif (Shahzad Nawaz) has a generally happy existence with his friends and family in Mulke Khudadad. His fiancé (Mehreen Syed) and some other friends often discuss the dark future of their country and are torn between staying and escaping. Things change when Saif is badly beaten by Inquilab party workers and no police officers come to his rescue. The situation worsens when the soon-to-be leader of the Inquilab party, Sardar Sultan Sheikh, takes interest in building a Taj Mahal Complex on residential land, where Saif’s friend Sarmad (Ali Tahir) and others live. Angry party workers break into the house and create havoc. At this point, under the leadership of their friend Moosa (Ehteshamuddin), Saif and his friends decide to stand up to the political party and go on a hunger strike.
The beginning of the film will remind you of Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s masterpiece Rang De Basanti, in that it shows angry young men challenging the status quo by jumping into the political fray. The acting and scene build-up raised expectations, but sadly, a gripping first half was followed by an unexciting and predictable narrative post-interval. The real hollowness of the screenplay is revealed as the film mostly runs on montages with no real character transitions and arcs. For example, no one knows how Saif’s Chambaili party gains overnight popularity. It seems that the screenwriter is cheating his way through a film by robbing the audience of complete sequences for the film to make sense. But interestingly enough, he manages to honour an epilogue that was needless and give time to incomplete and insignificant songs.
The fall out
The biggest failure of Chambaili is that director (Ismail Jilani) and producer (Shahzad Nawaz) treat Pakistan’s heavy-weight political issues like trivial fairytales. Chambaili — the party that brings a revolution — is like the Prince Charming of Disney stories, in that it saves the day. The day is saved so easily, that it’s almost insulting to the audience’s intelligence. While artists have cashed in on the popular sentiments of ‘hope’ and the idea of a ‘Naya Pakistan’ before the elections, the message should be conveyed in a more impactful way that people can relate to.
This also reflects our expectations from politics as a nation. Becoming a successful politician in Pakistan means jail-time and hunger strikes, nothing more.
The silver linings in Chambaili are the performances. Jilani scores high for getting most of the cast from theatre and cinema. As the leader of a religious party called Hizb-e-Haq, Khalid Ahmad steals the show and infuses a new energy in every single frame that he is present in. Shafqat Cheema as a political advisor is brilliant and couldn’t have been better. While a few of Ehteshaam’s monologues manage to give goose bumps, the real surprise package is Ali Tahir from Teen Bata Teen.
Producer and writer Nawaz gives great dialogues for the film, but fails in his performance as a lead character. With his flat tone and monotonous character, Nawaz is a little like a robot programmed to deliver one-liners; Mehreen Syed, playing Saif’s love-interest/fiancé, also fails miserably as an actor. She should stick to modeling where she has better prospects.
Watch Chambaili to support Pakistani cinema but don’t expect it to wow you.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2013.
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