By Adnan Murad
As a teacher, I have seen the feeling of contempt—which is ordinary yet infinitely dangerous—in some of my students. It is something that has forced young people of different backgrounds go at each other in schools, colleges and universities every day.
This is why I believe that ‘contempt’ is against the concept of learning.
Eli Siegel, the founder of Aesthetic Realism, in his theory has shown that real growth is experienced when we find meaning in what we are not. Contempt, however, encumbers the process of learning. It forces people to believe that “they have the right to see other people and things pretty much as they please.” On the contrary, Aesthetic Realism opens way for transformational possibilities; as a result, it facilitates growth and learning process. It makes us feel that what is different from us can make us more knowledgeable, can teach us invaluable things and can also thrill us indefinitely.
This process starts when we begin to explore things around us: air, books, films, numbers, sights and sounds, the alphabet and so on.
Similarly, I watch films and read books to learn from others and to expand my knowledge base. As a result, I have the right to speak if a book or film makes me feel uncomfortable, forces me to unlearn humanistic possibilities and cajoles me into giving myself up to the inanity of a dead mind.
Shaan Shahid’s directorial venture Arth: The Destination, which is inspired by Mahesh Bhatt’s classic film Arth, made me feel uneasy for three reasons: some of the best actors of Pakistan failed to deliver even after trying a lot, Humaima Malick—the Mirren of mediocre actors—played the role of legendary actor Smita Patil and a condition like schizophrenia was portrayed in an outrageously stereotypical way.
Plot and possibilities
The movie primarily revolves around four character, including Uzma (Uzma Hassan), Umar (Mohib Mirza), Ali (Shaan Shahid) and Humaima (Humaima Malick). Uzma is a housewife and Umar is a film director, and both of them are, apparently, happily married until Omar gets a chance to direct top actor Humaima in his next venture in London, where he gets involved with her. On the other hand, there is another track involving Ali, who is divorced and returns to Pakistan to revive his career in the entertainment industry.
From this point, the lives of protagonists continue to intertwine in good and bad ways. So much so that the film glides past the 120-minute mark still burbling in the same tone it began in. This is why Shahid’s latest film’s plot comes at us artfully rumpled out of order.
Invariably nagging in slim-fit suits throughout the film, Mirza delivers another middling performance to sling atop the already teetering heap. Somehow the film’s protagonist, Shahid, is utterly uninspiring, mostly because he spends the film half-hidden behind his prosthetic English accent.
Malick does not disappoint at all because only little was expected from her. For most of the film’s duration, we find her in a bathtub with black mascara and eyeliner smudged all over her face.
Even the character of Hassan, who is one of the best actors in Pakistan, cannot infuse life into this inept mess. Her performance disturbed me the most. There were scenes where I felt that Hassan wanted to give herself up to the intensity of the scenes, but she was helpless; she felt powerless to do anything to change things for the better because the dialogues given to her were laughably bad.
It is testament to the simpering horridness of Shahid’s screenplay that an actress of Hassan’s level seems so defeated by every scene she appears in. In her character, I saw an artist in a quandary. I feel sad because her inability to perform left me upset because I adore her body of work.
However, this is a case study that must be thoroughly examined for better or worse. What happens when an incredibly proficient actor lands a role in an abominably written film? Simply, the artist squanders her/his potential to the dreary content.
Coming to the film again, it is hard to explain the dynamics of this film as the narrative is flat-out tedious and unengaging—riddled with clichés and stereotypes—thwarting the film to rise above its own constructed, superficial surface.
There is clearly no sequential connectivity as the occasional—or let’s say frequent—jump-cuts hampered the film’s logical flow of sequences; this was highly excruciating because it did not allow the audience to be emotionally involved in the narrative.
Joining the dots
Mediocre acting, hackneyed depiction of schizophrenia and lack of sequential connectivity may well be attributed to the abysmal direction of this film; therefore, it will not be inaccurate to state that it is a poorly directed film.
Arth: The Destination did not have to be a film that uncompromisingly laid bare the trials and tribulations of the lives of four humans, but it might have at least had the audacity to be ‘something’.
At the end, I would still sit back and watch, on any given day, Mahesh Bhatt’s Arth, which depicts a relationship in a shambles. The moments when Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil face each other just crackle the screen. I want to relive those moments with two greatest actors of the Indian cinema on screen, while at the back of my mind, I would still wait to watch a decent Pakistani film.