In Dobara Phir Se (DPS) – or as some would call it, ‘The Independence of bechari Zainab’ – a woman in red with a black chic overcoat (obviously Zainab, played by Hareem Farooq) catches the fancy of a man, (Hammad, Adeel Hashmi). The problem is, Zainab is married to a brusque self-centered bad-guy (as if the brusque and the self-centered didn’t give it away). Asim – her husband, played by Shaz Khan (of Moor) – is perhaps the only bad-guy in DPS; he’s just built that way for the screenplay by Bilal Sami. From the moment Zainab and Hammad meet again at a mutual friend’s party (we’ll get to them in a bit), and when Asim comes over searching for her, one can see that their marriage is in its last rites.
Asim and Zainab’s divorce, or how she and Hammad get together, aren’t big spoilers. Most of this is evident from the narrative’s outer frame, literally framed within the confines of a DSLR’s video recording graphical overlay, where Hammad and Zainab, individually, talk about ‘what went wrong’. The video-recording bit, which pops-up now and again, is but one of the elemental conventions employed in decorating the screenplay. It doesn’t help the film at all – not that the characters are helping the film themselves.
First though, let me get the good out of the way: Ms. Farooq, Mr. Hashmi, and the supporting cast Ali Kazmi, Sanam Saeed and Tooba Siddiqui (wrongly portrayed in the movie’s poster with equal billing), are excellent. In a new-age of cinema, these are the faces that should pop-up in motion pictures more often. Minus the leads, the rest are the cool, millennial, mutual BFF’s, with exception to Ms. Siddiqui’s character Natasha, who is fixed-up with a commitment-wary Hammad. The supporting cast also includes Atiqa Odho, full of understated elegance, (and excellence).
Director Mehreen Jabbar, experienced in executing emotionally meaty, well-directed television serials, (and an indie-movie, long ago, by the name of Ramchand Pakistani), sure-handedly moves DPS in a linear trajectory. DPS, in fact, is full of perceived and literal, lateral movement: Hammad, for a good number of his frames, is on the left, facing right (unless, the angle is reversed) – implying that there is a progress in his thinking. He, although perceived to be DPS’s anchor with Zainab, does not progress that much as a character. Well, neither does anyone else, I suppose, regardless of their placement in frames.
Of course, I may be overthinking the underlying aesthetic intellect of the enterprise.
Another – or rather three other – simple, and much more effective aspects, are the cinematography by Andreas Burgess, the editing by Dipika Kalra and the production design by Mumtaz Mustafa. Ms. Kalra has an innate understanding of timing, snipping away bits of excesses into a very fluid and un-boring flow of scenes. Mr. Burgess lights and frames the scenes as naturally as possible, with even spills, and an absence of faux halo-separation on the hair of his characters. The practice of lighting someone from behind, whereby separating them from the background, is an old-norm, and wouldn’t gel in the all-too-real world Ms. Jabbar has envisioned anyways.
Ms. Jabbar’s set-up also has an innate, even irksome, natural calm to it; even the transitions between shots, when Mr. Burgess shoots close-ups with wide-open T-stops and bladed bokeh (in laymen’s terms, blurred backgrounds) and then, shifting to medium or long shots with deep field of focus – everything has an un-jolting, fluid, finish. Now, one would wonder why I am – and also, anyone who has seen DPS by now – is raving about its ‘beautiful’ cinematography by an ‘angraiz’ – which, according to yours truly is a second-hand compliment. (Also, labeling someone an ‘angraiz’ is racial bigotry that under-values our cinematographers and their skills).
However good Ms. Jabbar or the cinematography – and most other aspects, including the indie-styled background score and songs – are, they fall short in masking DPSs’ main flunk, which is – insert dull-surprising here – its core agenda: the way its people deal with circumstances. DPS’s screenplay doesn’t have any high-points, rip-roaring or otherwise. Clashes are borderline civil, celebrations are without hurrahs, and triumphs – one of which happens so very late near the climax – are meek, almost as if there is a lost sense of wholeheartedness in Pakistani’s living abroad (did I say that the film was predominantly shot in New York?…silly me).
Vasay, Samar and Natasha (Mr. Kazmi, Ms. Saeed and Ms. Siddiqui) are well-laid out, but still kept far and away from the audience for us to really care about them (ditto for Zainab and Hammad). They, and not us, squelch when Hammad and Zainab ascetically, and immaturely, handle life – and, Ms. Siddiqui’s character says in her mind (though not directly to the audience): “WHAT… Dobara, Phir Se?”
The published copy looks like this