The post is the unedited copy of the review published in Mag the Weekly on the 12th of November 2016. Copy of the published version is at the end of the post.
Jeewan Hathi – Or No Wonder Why Elephants Are Going Extinct
By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
In Jeewan Haathi, a perplexingly made long-form short film of about 60 minutes, that is also for some reason also a socio-comedy, we see mass-corruption of a string of characters. The perplexing part is not that there is mass-corruption, or that it chooses to play the ever-so-popular “pin-the-blame-on-the-media” game and call itself a socio-comedy. No, the fact is that it wants us to believe that it is a feature film.
At about an hour’s mark, the film, written by the can-do-most-everything-wrong screenwriter Fasih Bari Khan (and I am talking in context to this film only), the characters reach a zenith of senseless awkwardness, and the end credits, strangely, start rolling by. My fault actually, because, first of all, I didn’t check to see what the running time was, and secondly, unlike most feature films, I was definitely looking forward to what directors Meenu and Farjad had to offer.
The only valid reason I can think of right now in support of Jeewan Haathi, is the notion that it – meaning the concept – sounded good within the confines of one’s imagination. Regrettably, the notion carried over throughout the production process.
Meenu and Farjad are a delightful duo, and unlike many directors they have a niche, auteur-ist touch to their style. Fancies that worked so brilliantly in their Oscar submission Zinda Bhaag – one of the true bright-spots in Pakistan’s revivalist phase in 2013 – feel lumbering, inelegant and emotionally insufficient. Advertisements pop-in (with crude text overlays) of Mortis Mattress, (as in Rigor-Mortis, as in you sleep like a “laash”), and “Saazish” soap – a nod to Zinda Bhaag, I believe – but feel misemployed, even though they fit right in with the narrative’s postulation.
In the story Khalida (Kiran Tabeer), an Indian from Patna married to a mashq-wala Siraj (Fawad Khan), is so enamored by television that nightmare concoctions (a television ‘abla naari’ played by Nimra Buccha in a burqa) strangles her in her sleep. While Khalida can’t get-by without her daily dose of tv (the couple have no children in their seven years of marriage, so it may well have been her only escape), the most she craves is a bigger television set. As for Siraj, well, I can’t really figure out his motivation, other than the fact that he (and apparently she) still love to be intimate every Saturday night (their borderline PG-13 “love-making” is shown in timid off-angle close-ups and blurred, focus-pulled camera moves). In after-thought, I think he aspires to be a celebrity. Actually, that bit is stuffed in, and is played out like the devil’s whispering.
Siraj and Khalida are selected for the debut episode of a new television show whose host, played by Hina Dilpazeer, was just pulled from her routine morning show gig. Her husband is Naseeruddin Shah, (forcefully spitting saliva and wasted in cameo bits), the channel’s owner, who is set to wed a “skinny” model-ish morning show hostess from another channel. Ms. Dilpazeer’s character, who has lost communication privileges with him, is guilelessly pushed aside for the newer model. Like most (ok, some) women scorned, she exacts embarrassing vengeance by popping up as a gaudily-dressed rural bride, her ‘kaajal’ dramatically running down on her face, dancing in a style that I can’t really pinpoint. The other couple on the show – and there is always another couple – are high-society and estranged (don’t ask me why, and the screenplay fails to elaborate) played by (again, I don’t know why) Samiya Mumtaz and Adnan Jaffar.
The show, if you can’t already guess, becomes a literal mockery of today’s media – an aspect, I guess, was the principal reason for this hodge-podge – where the cast, (all of them), lose it in a bid to raise ratings. Some of the bits – actually two scenes – are remarkably good (or so they seemed that way) as is the performance by Ms. Tabeer (Ms. Diapazeer shifts her acting flair from good to fine).
Now, I know for a fact that Jeewan Haathi’s origin was a different story, and frankly one shouldn’t care; what one should give a hoot about is what is presented. As per the lines of my regular “ethical statement”, I chose to forego the premiere, and like the audience, paid PKR 400 (and received a complementary drink and pop-corn, as per Jeewan Haathi’s promotion), and sought some manner of sensory satisfaction. Jeewan Haathi, which features one or two abrupt cuts, a lack of production design budget (or maybe it was a creative choice), a near flat color grade (and about as flat cinematography by Rana Kamran) is perhaps not as bad as one thinks it is – that is, depending on how bad one originally thought it was going to be.
The published copy of the review: