By Kamran Jawaid | The post is the unedited version of the review published in MAG the Weekly on 20th January 2017, which can be read here.
In one of cinema’s prime cringe-worthy moments, brought to you by Saya e Khuda e Zuljalal’s producers (SKZ for short), Nayyar Ejaz – who plays a sleazy Hindu bad guy (so obvious, isn’t it?) – gives a full-mouthed kiss to a champagne glass offered by a sultry female femme fatale (Jia Ali). The scene, if anything, was exuberant in such licentiousness that the female audience behind me shrieked in horror. (I was, at the same time, shielding my eyes).
It is a dire moment in a film full of dire moments, where one wonders just how a motion picture with scenes of such dissoluteness passed the censors. (In their defense, though, the censor board may have their memories of such a scene sledgehammered into a state of obliviousness; it is better to have forgotten the bad events of one’s life, after all).
As SZK progresses, one is best to think of what must have happened in its four-year production run: the first trailer, which came out three years ago, was a hodgepodge of events and actors that didn’t make sense; it ended with a fleeting close-up of Shaan Shahid, who may have been a significant character in the film.
Cut to today: and almost all of the original cast is replaced by an entirely re-shot and re-cast motion picture that, superficially, condenses the basic premise of the police and armed forces working together to cut down terrorism.
The new version, just about done playing domestically, stars Moammar Rana as Haider, a ‘supposedly’ corrupt cop who sides with Major Faraz (Sohail Shameer) – and his rag-tag team of elite undercover army-men including the actor Shafqat Cheema (wonderful as always in a wasted appearance) – who plan a covert strike-down on foreign-funded fanaticism. SKZ also stars an ensemble of ten-too-many-actors, including: Javed Sheikh, Firdous Jamal, Noor Bukhari, Nimra Khan, Rachel Gill, Aamir Qureshi – and Arbaaz Khan, Kamran Mujahid, Afzal Khan (aka. Rambo), Asad Malik, and an uncredited Noman Ijaz. (I’m sure I’m forgetting about a dozen others).
The actors are bunched up together for reasons best underlined as production logistics. Mr. Sheikh, and his grown son played by Mr. Rana, do not share the screen. His scenes are clumped together with Mr. Jamal, and includes one clip with actress Nimra Khan, who later also shares a single scene with Mr. Shameer. Mr. Rana’s scenes are divided between his interactions with Ms. Gill – named Razia Sultana, for needless impressionistic reasons – and Ms. Bukhari (delightful and shining as always). Mr. Shameer – perhaps one of the better (and better looking) actors in SKZ – is bundled with Mr. Cheema. The production, therefore, is showcasing explicit signs of scheduled performances: a group of actors are set-up in particular locations, they complete their scenes, and have little or no crossover with the other cast.
At nearly a hundred minutes, the assemblage of scenes essentially let the character define their outlooks, but fail to convey depth or emotional connectivity; They are there, because they are – not because they progress the story (which is already nonexistent).
The screenplay (by Tauseef Razaque, Inam Qadri, Ijaz Shahid) likes to time travel – a lot.
SKZ, in fact, opens on MM Alam’s celebrated Indo-Pak aerial dog-fight, where he struck down 5 Indian aircrafts in a minute. The scene, which is copied-and-pasted in entirety in the film’s anticlimax, is graded in back-and-white stock with heavy grain to mask the shot’s lack of VFX finish (the work was credited to VFX house Film Factory). The remaining scenes of the past chronicling war heroes Major Aziz Bhatti and Shabbir Shareef – which I think span a good fifteen or twenty minutes – have a desaturated sepia tone. Now, to those who are wondering about the inconsistency, the reason is of simple logic: turning the aerial scene black-and-white masks imperfections of unrealistic visual effects.
The past, mostly set in the Indo-Pak war of 1965, is a stuffed-in tribute; a standalone motion picture on the war would have worked better. As 75% of SKZ’s plot revolves in today’s time (give or take a decade, where we see Mr. Rana’s characters’ childhood), the old war sticks out like a sore thumb, where one’s brain strains to find coherence between events and characters.
Technically, SKZ is shoddily shot, with atrocious camera placement (in one instance, Mr. Rana meets with Ms. Gill, and a very big, and very white Grand Piano, covers at least half of the frame’s foreground). The story is spliced together in the editing room, and the characters – the people who we should give a hoot about – are mislaid constructs pulling double-duties as heroes and paper-clips holding everything together, and praying for dear life, that nothing falls apart.
In retrospect, a few years back, I was pretty hard in my review of producer Hassan Waqas Rana’s WAAR. Today, I accept my lack of foresight (and the vapid pipedream that better films were just over the immediate horizon). WAAR is a masterpiece, in comparison.