The best of Pakistani cinema in 2017

By Adnan Murad


Crippled by middling content mostly, 2017 had been a rough year for the Pakistani cinema. It was a year largely smothered in disappointment. In this situation, it was just too difficult to make a list of ten, or even five, best films.

However, plaudits ought to go where they belong. Following are seven absolutely crackerjack surprises of 2017—in no particular order:

1. Mansha Pasha in Chalay Thay Saath

Mansha Pasha’s Tanya remained the most expressive element of Chalay Thay Saath. One must possess a heightened degree of sensitivity to understand the nuances of her character.

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A still from ‘Chalay Thay Saath’ | Hot Water Bottle Films

In my review of the film, I wrote:

“Mansha’s portrayal of an emotionally drained woman coming to terms with a hard-hitting reality is admirable. She pushes the envelope a little further and reaches something close to perfection. Watching her so utterly devastated with a restrained calm on her face made me realise what a fine actor she is.”

2. Urwa Hocane in Punjab Nahi Jaungi

Punjab Nahi Jaungi was uplifted by an irresistible supporting performance by Urwa Hocane. Hocane, as Durdana, got the tone and language of her character perfectly. She convincingly showed Durdana’s inner conflicts with a contained passion on her face throughout the film.

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A still from ‘Punjab Nahi Jaungi’ | ARY Films

Hocane’s Durdana was smart and witty; and she knew how to deal with Fawad (Humayun Saeed), her cousin and love interest.

God, this was such a refreshing move by Hocane. I just hope she had more screen time in the film.

3. Lyrics, music and vocals of Mariam, Chalay Thay Saath

The magical vocals, lyrics and composition gave Mariam a fresh feel. Credit for this must go to Taimoor Salahuddin (Mooroo), who gave an atmospheric feel to the film by creating this lively track.

It is a lovely blend of deeply stirring writing and a quiet rhythm, composed by Mooroo; it is a song I can hear many times.

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A still from ‘Chalay Thay Saath’ | Haseeb Amjad

4. Sadaf Kanwal and Osman Khalid Butt in Balu Mali

Sadaf Kanwal and Osman Khalid Butt gave the most endearing performances in Balu Mahi. Kanwal’s performance was the film’s biggest strength for me. As soon as she conspicuously enters the film in its second half, she sparkles the screen with her infectious energy. This was 2017’s first most-assured performance. Kanwal was complemented by Butt to a large extent, who invested sincerity into his character.

Butt’s Balu is the type of man who lightens up every room he walks into, and Butt is that type of actor too—boisterous, talkative, and oozing charm.

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A still from ‘Balu Mahi’ | Sadia Jabbar Productions

In my review of Balu Mahi, I wrote:

“Is there such a thing like too sweet? If there is, Balu Mahi fits the bill. Credit goes to the pre-interval moments between Ainy Jaffri and Osman Khalid Butt, hilarious confrontations of Durdana Butt and Shafqat Cheema and the entry of utterly sensational Sadaf Kanwal. Her screen confidence and presence are completely satisfying. She is a talent to look forward to.”

5. Mahira Khan in Verna

Mahira Khan’s poignant act in Verna showed her incredible growth and quiet strength as an actor. It was a well-balanced performance that left a lasting impact.

Khan is a good actor. She proved that in Ho Mann Jahaan as well; and her performance in 2017’s Raees was also seemingly natural. However, Khan showed that she is not a one-film wonder with her performance in Verna.

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A still from ‘Verna’ | HUM Films

She made the agony of her character believable. In my analysis of the film, where I discussed one of her most heart-wrenching scenes, I wrote:

“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.”

6. Exploring flawed gender roles in Punjab Nahi Jaungi

Director Nadeem Baig, in this film, challenged the idea of a tall, dark and handsome hero. He, with the help of writer Khalilur Rehman Qamar, had shown Fawad (Humayun Saeed) as a hero, who was more vulnerable and emotionally fragile. The only blow came in the form of physical abuse that Fawad resorted to in order to confront Amal (Mehwish Hayat). This was a major misstep by Fawad’s character, but it further strengthened my belief that men are really insecure.

Perhaps Qamar also used this to portray how men fear confrontation with women. The entire family blamed Fawad for taking this ignominious step. No one defended violence here or delivered monologues to lecture us on physical abuse. The writer kept the tone quite subtle. He used humour to put Fawad in an awkward position to slowly make him realise his mistake.

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A still from ‘Punjab Nahi Jaungi’ | ARY Films

Punjab Nahi Jaungi’s strength lies in the fact that two people start their journey on a completely discordant note. In fact, we are all aware that they will end up walking side by side, but they make us smile as they walk through this path.

7. Hunza in Chalay Thay Saath

Films about places are soaked in a different kind of nostalgia as opposed to films about characters. This is what we get to see in Umer Adil’s Chalay Thay Saath. Adil’s work reflects that he is assured of his craft and is worth looking out for in the future. He conjures up some really lovely moments in this film, but the most vibrant memory that stays with you even after you have left the theatre is of Hunza.

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A still from ‘Chalay Thay Saath’ | Hot Water Bottle Films

Adil deserves applause for showing Hunza in the light that it deserves. It is obvious that he—or the writer—cared about this place more than the characters. And, I am affirmative that Adil has a massive crush on Hunza—his leading lady in the film.

Recommended to read:

  1. ‘Balu Mahi’ review — a pleasant diversion
  2. ‘Chalay Thay Saath’ review — a parable of liberation
  3. ‘Punjab Nahi Jaungi’ review — fitfully good only
  4. ‘Na Maloom Afraad 2’ review — almost as funny as it sets out to be
  5. ‘Arth’ review — plumbs new boreholes of inanity
  6. ‘Rangreza’ review — a travesty of film-making
  7. ‘Verna’ review — compels one to think
  8. ‘Chupan Chupai’ review — an appalling flop

One comment

  1. Sir your in-depth analysis speaks volumes of your being a seasoned film journalist. I really liked your feature on the list of films of 2017. Besides, your reviews on other Pakistani films are praise-worthy. Indeed, by this act of yours, you are profoundly contributing to the nascent and yet struggling Pakistani cinema. Kudos!

    Liked by 1 person

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