The review is the unedited copy of the version published in MAG the Weekly on the 23rd of September 2016.
An Actor’s Gotta Do, What a Filmi Lawyer’s Oughta Do!
By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
It is relatively easy to pin-point where director Nabeel Qureshi gets inspiration from. The tell-tale signs are so out-right open that only someone blindfolded by gush and enthusiasm would miss them.
Mr. Qureshi is Bollywood-struck – from Om Puri, (whose inclusion doesn’t hurt nor elevate the movie), to the obviously laid out background score, to the one-too-many nights of Rajkumar Hirani movies (right down to the high-contrast color-grading), and a song that has the mark of Vidhu Vinod Chopra (Mr. Hirani’s producing partner), the movie is a roughly-conjured chimera. At one point, early in the movie, Shaan Mirza (played by the always magnetic Fahad Mustafa), dresses up as Amitabh Bachchan’s “Shahenshah” for a “galli-ka-nukkadh” corner-function for another “Quaid” (no, not the-e-Azam kind).
Are these negatives in a full-on commercial social satire? Heavens no. But they certainly do distract. Maybe a teensy-bit.
In Actor in Law, whose first half is engaging and well-laid out fluff, Shaan is a struggling actor with big big dreams. His biggest adversary is his father, Rafaqat Mirza (Om Puri, right on target with a role that should be second nature to him). Shaan has principals – he won’t do serials (he is a man of theatre, he tells his agent played by Saleem Mairaj), and even if he does, chances are he won’t play a supporting role. With his father away on Hajj, and a botched film role (yes he does get one), Shaan finds a fluke opportunity to let out his anger when a “group of mazdoors” (see, another Bollywood stimulated touch), mistake him for a lawyer. In a moment that defies contemplation (or the very least a point of smooth character transition), he “becomes one with the role” – a common-man’s lawyer.
Shaan improv’s lines from the film role, and wins the case. The instant applause is a high: he would now be a champion of the innocent – a cross between Shahenshah and Munna Bhai (or PK’s Rajkumar Hirani; no, not Aamir Khan), who would take the people’s plights to court. Aam Aadmi Rules…or does he?!
The screenplay by Fizza Ali Meerza (also the Producer), and Mr. Qureshi is brisk with extemporaneous tendencies. The cases Shaan takes-on pull from real-life dilemmas, however, their way of presentation, arguments and resolve are strictly airy-divergence. The cases themselves have a superficial layout – a case happens, Shaan gets the courts to notice, an appropriate action is put into effect, the media covers it, and the problem goes away. Real-life doesn’t work that way. As for “reel-life”, the filmmakers’ preference for pop-corn audience reactions distance the likelihood of depth.
The lack of narrative seriousness and resolve leave plot-points dangling – a political angle is indicated, but isn’t followed through, and the climax (with a fine Rehan Sheikh) is tame and predictable.
Mehwish Hayat, who plays Meenu – a Parsi girl – is an impulsive, hot-headed, principal-hugging television reporter. As a reference, she may be more PK’s “Jaggu” and (any Boman Irani) than Quaid-e-Azam’s second wife (the minority bit seems put in for good measure, and isn’t played out well, if at all). Ms. Hayat is very fine in her role, as is the rest of the cast, including an excellent turn by Humayun Saeed as a warped version of himself. Aly Khan who plays a prominent, easily-bought news host, gets short-change in the character department; however, I do understand that a film has certain limitations on just how much one can exploit characters without hampering the story’s progress.
Mr. Mustafa has the role tailored to his charisma. You like him, you follow him along, but you don’t believe his convictions for a second – especially post-intermission when the screenplay makes a quick dash for the climax.
The jpeg of the print version will be updated by Monday.