Review | When She Says ‘Punjab Nahi Jaungi’, She Means It!

Kamran Jawaid  |  The post is the unedited copy of the review published in DAWN ICON on 10th September 2017, which can be read here. Jpeg of the print copy is at the end of the post.

When we first meet Fawad Khagga (Humayun Saeed), the heir of a rural landlord family in Punjab, the town is ecstatic in his accomplishment. After a ten-year dogged pursuit, Fawad is finally a political science graduate. However, the degree he flashes in the air as he enters his mile-long haveli (mansion) is an arbitrary piece of wall-decoration. Fawad doesn’t need it.

The certificate, though, tells you all you need to know about Fawad: he is a man who loves to chase after things with adamant single-minded resolve.

Like his alumnus status, his next object of fancy and conquest is Amal (Mehwish Hayat), the daughter of a close family-friend who just returned from London with a B.A. in Economics.

Somewhat modern, Amal doesn’t like the “feudal” mindset of Fawad’s family, even when we see no sign of it in the film.

Contrary to her perception, the Khagga clan is a fairly domesticated lot with an open-minded, educated Mom, a meek Dad and a fun Granddad with a penchant for mujras (Saba Hameed, Waseem Abbas and Sohail Ahmed – a hoot). In fact, they could pass off as any upper-middle class family.

Amal’s family lives in Karachi (giving credence to the film’s title), and is more traditional in their attitude. Their outmoded set of values are kept in-check by their matriarch Bebo Jee (Naveed Shahzad).

Bebo Jee’s keen-eyed life experience immediately senses the change in Amal’s independent-minded point of view of the world – amongst other things which I won’t reveal here.

She sums it up in one single moment in the film when Amal, wearing a tank-top, shoots hoops. Noticing the spring in her feet Bebo Jee ruminates: “(kyun) uskay pair zameen par nahin”.

In a way, Punjab Nahin Jaungi (PNJ) is as much about Amal’s wayward and intractable unconventionality, as it is about Fawad’s bullheadedness. The contest is less about love – which miraculously (and suddenly) happens to Fawad and Amal, at different times in the film – and more about stiff-necked pursuits of what they want.

Director Nadeem Baig (whose spelling changes with every fact check) is at his home ground in this quite minimal, and very drama-wrought setting.

Nadeem, an ace of television (Pyare Afzal, Dolly Ki Aayegi Baaraat) and the deliverer of the history-making Jawani Phir Nahin Ani (JPNA), is at his refined-best here. While he does resort to conventions and staples with (too Bollywood-ish) music cues, or at times doesn’t build bridge-scenes between emotional moments, PNJ ups his directorial aesthetic from JPNA by a few fold.

The director gets great behind-the-camera support from his Sound Editor as well as Cinematographer Suleman Razzaq. The pitch-perfect sound design, and the glossy, properly-lit camerawork help shift the film from its television drama-esque story structure from writer Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar (I doubt he did the screenplay, in the true definition of the word).

Qamar’s dialogues, however, are ear-catching, as is the excellent soundtrack from a talented assortment of musicians (Shiraz Uppal, Sahir Ali Bagga, Shani Haider, Farhan Saeed and Damia, Rizwan and Ahmed Ali Butt).

My slight reservations with PNJ is with its drama – its lack in the pre-intermission half, and relentlessness in the second half.

I say slight because the film’s uneven tone deliberately fluctuates between slapstick comedy and high-strung drama, and yet still manages to be bang on the money.

In part, Nadeem nails this holy-grail approach of comedy-drama, with the aid of authentic character-play from Humayun and Mehwish.

Like Yin-Yang, Humayun’s comedy timings (and his shortfalls as a person), are a great contrast to Mehwish’s somber, straight-laced, today’s-woman ideals. Both leads are excellently hypnotic, never once abandoning their character’s internal sense of conviction, or their outward appearance (which includes everything from ‘neutral’ Punjabi accents to costume design).

As with most Pakistani movies, some characters are there for convenience. Ahmed Ali Butt, who plays Shafique Ahmed, Humayun’s tag-along friend, gets random screen-time and a few good scenes.

The scene-stealer (other than the leads) is Urwa Hocane – Fawad Khagga’s scheming cousin Durdana, and chances are by now you already heard the line: “Help Me, Durdana”.

On the off-chance you haven’t, I won’t spoil it for you – even though, it does form the crux of PNJ’s second half, and a chief reason why the film has excellent repeat value.

PNJ’s overall ambiance has an infectious sense of appeal which bamboozles one to rave about it – especially right after seeing it. It may be the year’s best domestically-produced entertainer (if not the only one).

The published version looks like this in Dawn Icon.


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