This post is the unedited and updated copy of the review published in Mag the Weekly, on the 13th May, 2016.
In ‘Mah-e-Mir’, Apparently, Failure to Communicate Is an Option
By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
There is a horrifically big, fantasy full-moon out every night in Mah-e-Mir, the pompous, all-over-the-place, drama fit for a stage-play.
The moon is so big, (and so badly composited over clouds), that it defies convention, comprehension – and lest I forget, laws of gravity and direction. This moon, popping up, down, left and right, is its own entity, and no matter how overly-dramatic, it is one of the good things I got for the price of my ticket.
Director Anjum Shahzad’s film, with its bright, evenly lit faces (courtesy cinematographer Rana Kamran) and small sets, is a work of pseudo-art that needs to submissively revisit the drawing board. Its structural build-up are off-the-charts bad. But, hey, don’t rely on what I am saying; just ask the three families who left the screenings at Cinepax Aisha Manzil (No, I am not trying to plug-in a business here, I have a point), at eleven oh-three, eleven eighteen and eleven twenty. (I was at the first day, first show screening at eight-forty five pm, to a thirty-percent full screening).
When the masses start lampooning the characters on-screen, (and this lot in particular was quite supportive of the movie’s use of Mir’s work in the first twenty minutes), you have yourself in a pretty bad crunch.
Film usually come with a heavy price-tag of tens of millions that need to make thrice its invested capital to break even (and we’re not even counting marketing expenses); they do not have the luxury of being pompous or irresponsible to the masses, and its backers (which includes distributors and exhibitors).
Now, simply stating that an expensive passion-project is reserved, and revered, as a self-congratulated work-of-art, accessible and understood by a handful of cinema connoisseurs, means that either you take the general public as idiots, or that you only want to tell the story to the elite. Isn’t this a form of disrespecting the audience?
For me though, there is no counter-argument for mediocre and self-swaggering filmmaking.
In the movie, a young, rebellious, hard-on-his-luck, poet (who also criticizes his contemporaries and has little regard for the classics), finds introspective dejection and love, when he accepts that classical poetry (and Mir, in this instance), did know what they were talking about. (Will wonders never cease?!?).
Our protagonist Jamal (played by an excellent Fahad Mustafa), a weak modern-day poet, deduces that he knows his craft well, without thoroughly examining the depth of classic literature. There is a modern word for such know-it-all critics: #idiot.
Only, the word partially applies to Jamal. As a modern-day poet, he still writes with a pen and paper (he can’t afford a computer, as far as we’re led to believe; not that he needs one), and texts with a pre-symbian cellphone. Jamal, as a character, is in constant conflict – as a rebel he defies everything skewed and iniquitous in today’s small-ish world of poetry (the screenplay by Sarmad Sehbai, and a few uncredited others I am told, highlights these points fairly).
The world of poetry, at least the one in Pakistan, is a close-knit group, that we’re led to believe is tied to the little finger of an up-and-coming poetess named Naina Kanwal (a wonderful Sanam Saeed, wasted) who prides herself as the originator of the “anti-ghazal”.
Naina, who struts around a smoke-filled mostly-male Coffee House our hero frequents, has the body language and tone right out of Pakeezah. A “shaayerah” does not talk like a half-literate courtesan. Nor, for that matter, should your lower-middle-class girl-next-door, played by Iman Ali. Like Ms. Saeed, Ms. Ali, clad in whitey-white shalwar-kurtas, walks and talks like an 1800’s caricature out of Doordarshan.
Mahtab (Ms. Ali) appears in a crowded bus (she is the only woman Jamal can see in this scandalous glamour-mad world of today’s women), and leaves Jamal dumbfounded. Like most beautiful figments of imagination, she vanishes like an delusion. She then, quite magically, appears in a poet-conference, and just like that, *puff*, disappears, again. Her inclusion, or her quite evident hitting’s on Jamal’s, are left unresolved (with reason, the filmmakers would say), and unconvincingly bolted in.
The two women’s obviousness is pompous and chauvinistically crafted. When Ms. Ali next dons the avatar of Mahtab Begum during the reign of Asaf-ud-Daula (per my guess), played by Alyy Khan, she is just as much a flimsy-travesty.
On one hand, I appreciate the places Naina Kanwal and Jamal inhibit, and the over-done essay-ish deliberations where words like playful invention (Shokiye-Ejaad), post-modernism and mimesis, are flung about.
These are mighty big words, and yet quite hollow, in context and as a direct and parallel representation to what Mir’s own work offers.
As the movie dawdles forward, mixing in the real Mir’s problems with Jamal’s, we find yet another analogy in Dr. Kaleem (a below-par Manzar Sehbai), a respected master of Mir’s work, who becomes a pseudo-mentor for Jamal. Quite suddenly, Dr. Kaleem’s own failed love-story is violently stuffed-in an already messed-up narrative, and the story nose-dives right into the concrete. If this were a cartoon, one would be laughing. The audience in the cinema were deathly quiet.
It’s not that the premise doesn’t work, nor that Mir’s own self-awareness doesn’t become a parallel for our protagonist; the failure is a lack of clear-headedness and an over-indulgence on one’s own creative-vision.
But then again, don’t take my word for it. Go to your local cinema – preferably one with the masses, and not the classes, and find out yourself.