By Adnan Murad
How exactly do we react to a film like Verna in Pakistan? Director Shoaib Mansoor’s film may come across as unrealistic—and also bizarre at some points—but it definitely holds a mirror up to the society that we live in.
This is why it made me and most of us quite uncomfortable.
For many reasons, Verna is an indictment of crippling patriarchy. And when it is produced in a country like Pakistan—where women are judged by the clothes they wear, the time they come home, the way they smile at men, the way they smoke in public spaces and their sexual history—it has to break the shackles of nauseatingly archaic assumptions about women.
Mansoor adopts a similar approach to sledgehammer each point and make you feel uneasy.
The film revolves around the lives of Sara (Mahira Khan) and Aami (Haroon Rashid), who are happily married, and their respective families. In an unfortunate turn of events, Sara is abducted by a few influential men in broad daylight in front of her husband and sister-in-law.
She is dropped at her home three days after abduction. But the man who had abducted and physically assaulted Sara falls in love with her.
Sara thinks of it as an opportunity to fight against the influentials. The movie, from this point, revolves around her plan that unfolds over the second half.
Does it work?
To be honest, I am not a fan of Mansoor’s repertoire. His previous films, including Khuda Kay Liye and Bol, are not amongst my favourites. However, the fact that he chooses socially relevant subjects and uses them as his Hippocrene is laudable.
Like his earlier films, Mansoor’s recent film Verna also centres around a topic that is relevant for these times, especially when recently an accused, along with his accomplices, was pardoned for killing a teenager, who stood against them as they were eve-teasing his sister.
While real life may be different and far from being perfect, Mansoor helps us see a beacon of hope in a land of despondency.
This is the reason why I strongly believe in Sara’s firm determination to fight against the powerful. I understand where she is coming from. Even though I do not stand by the measures adopted by her, I know too many women who have been in her place, or missed being there by a scary, scarring whisker.
By making Verna, Khan and Mansoor have joined the league of artists—including actors, storytellers and filmmakers—across the world who are saddled with the power to shape the conscience of disgruntled people. Yet, unfulfilled by merely texturising the power of consciousness, they resort to appeasing feelings rather than addressing them.
This is why Verna acts as a careless catharsis; instead, it should have been a cautionary tale.
On a positive note, the actual moments of abuse by the perpetrator—played by Zarrar Khan—are only suggested, but never shown. Without sharing any detail of the following cruelty after Sara’a abduction, Mansoor conveys the horror of rape by leaving the viewers to imagine the worst.
The sequence where Khan’s Sara is left barefoot on the road three days after her abduction chilled me to the bone. As she is sent out of the car, her character is clueless, thinking of the directions she can possibility go into. Soon, her face quavers with fear, and she realises that she is close to her home. Barefoot, she runs towards her home.
This is Sara. You do not see superstar Khan here, who deftly gets into the skin of her character to fulfil the challenging demands of this role; and she plays it so well that it pierces through your soul.
While a lot of things could have been dealt differently—and the casting could have been better—I liked the film because it forced me to think.
Overall, Verna’s vigilantism is not as much a question of concern as its climax that loses much of its vigour to accommodate contrived tropes. However, it never loses sight of its leading lady’s invincibility and for this reason alone, Verna is one of the decent films of this year.