KARACHI : “Story is king” is the most common yet the most imperative advice given in the film-making world. No amount of technical expertise, glitter and glamour, star power or grandiose sets could ever salvage a bad script. And perhaps Nadeem Beyg is one of the few local film-makers who understands that notion and his latest film Punjab Nahi Jaungi is a testament to that.
Tuesday night, I walked into the cinema hall with mixed expectations. The stars studded the red carpet at the premiere of Humayun Saeed and Mehwish Hayat-starrer Punjab Nahi Jaungi and deep down, I was afraid: What if this film would just be another mindless, tasteless entertainment with nothing to take away home, and catering to the lowest common denominator?
The track record this year certainly pointed in that direction. But the hesitation went away as soon as the film began. And by the time it ended, I found myself among the hundreds of others cheering and applauding.
The film starts with Fawad (Saeed) returning to Faisalabad after acquiring an MA degree to a huge celebration from the family. Meanwhile, Amal (Hayat) returns to Karachi after studying in London. While his cousin Durdana (Urwa Hocane) is in love with him, Fawad has been in search for his ‘Heer’ since returning and after Fawad’s mother sends him a photo of Amal, he falls in love with her. This sets the ground for romance, conflicts and a tonne of drama over the next two hours and 40 minutes.
Khalilur Rehman Qamar’s contribution to the film cannot be overstated. His command over language and dialogue is unparalleled and it takes the film to the next level. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself quoting the film’s dialogues for the weeks to come. Granted, the story starts too early. The first half is mostly an entertaining setup for the intense drama to unfold in the second half, which makes it feel like a drag by the end.
The logic and reasoning for some of the basic motivations of characters is flawed and one couldn’t ignore the unfinished arc of Hocane’s character and therefore, the screenplay could have been tighter. Yet, Qamar keeps the story engaging and hits almost all the right notes.
His dealing with larger issues at hand in the country – divorce, discrimination and divisions based on language differences, and women’s respect, subtly is extraordinary. Amal standing up to a feudal, patriarchal mindset makes it as much of a feminist film as it should not be labelled one.
Yet, after all this, Punjab Nahi Jaungi’s biggest strength is not the script, but Hayat. Once a bit skeptical, her presence and star power and grace has grown on me over the years. She swans her way through an effortless performance, natural poise and can turn the heat up in a moment whenever needed in a scene, like not many other actresses can.
Simply put, Punjab Nahi Jaungi is Hayat’s film and I couldn’t imagine any other local actress playing Amal’s character as well as her. And I hope this paves the way for Hayat being able to carry a film all by herself in the future because she certainly has the potential.
Saeed excels too. Telling you his performance (of a flawed character) was in fact flawless would be like telling you, “This chocolate cake tastes amazing,” because of course, it does. Hocane comes off as the Petyr Baelish of Punjab Nahi Jaungi – annoying, manipulative and you totally want her dead. I only wish more could’ve been done with her character. Another not-so-surprising elements comes in the form of Ahmed Ali Butt, who plays Fawad’s friend Shafiq Ahmed.
The item boy of Pakistani cinema steals every scene he appears in. Yet he doesn’t hog the spotlight and keeps space and only elevates the scene with his presence – be it comedy or somber.
Punjab Nahi Jaungi walks a fine line (in terms of story) between turning ridiculous and falling over, yet it somehow manages to keep its balance and not trip often, thanks to Beyg’s flawless direction. With excellent production and visuals, some memorable songs, top-notch performances by the lead and supporting cast, and a great entertainment value, Punjab Nahi Jaungi hits sixers and fours on all fronts. I must admit this might possibly be the only local film which I can watch over and over.
Verdict: Possibly the best film of the year so far, Punjab Nahi Jaungi is a must-watch that will revive your dwindling faith in Pakistani cinema. Don’t miss out on this family entertainer… not for Pakistan cinema’s sake, but for your own!
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
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