By Adnan Murad
It is important to enter a cinema with a clear mind—without having any biases or preconceptions about a film, its characters or its genre. Thinking that a certain film would work or not—even before the film begins—seriously hampers the process of criticism, which then mostly leans towards the extremely positive end or the absolutely negative one.
In order to fully absorb Parchi and its underlying themes, I took some time to work on this analysis because a slapdash review would not have done justice to a film that has been made over the course of a twelvemonth.
As I sat back to write this review, I found myself completely smitten with the smorgasbord of the coolest of actors; it is a world where even a tea vendor is a part of the organised crime circles and characters use the language of choice to communicate, oozing warmth and charm.
Director Azfar Jafri shows his own twisted side with Parchi, but the film’s writer, Shafqat Khan, is the real winner here, who makes the movie such a darling. Khan uses sardonic humour to his advantage to highlight an issue that plagued Karachi for years, using a family drama in the backdrop.
Parchi, therefore, acts as both a social satire and a lesson on cultural values because it not only mockingly castigates the fragile system that is built around us, but also reinforces familial values.
Jafri’s Parchi is the story of four youngsters—including Bash (Ali Rehman Khan), Bilal (Usman Mukhtar), Saqlain (Ahmed Ali Akbar) and Bhola (Shafqat Khan)—who need money and end up at the mercy of Madam Sahab, or Emaan, played by Hareem Farooq.
Shafqat Cheema, as Zodiac, plays the antagonist, running an extortion racket. Bash meddles in his area by independently collecting extortion money, thus infuriating Zodiac, who, as a result, gives him a five-day limit to return Rs5 million or face dire consequences. However, Bash does not have any source to pay such a hefty amount; this brings him, his brother Bilal and his friends, Saqlain and Bhola, to Madam Sahab through a tea vendor.
As the plot is set, the movie unspools in a way any movie of this genre would, but the maturity of tone makes a difference here.
Despite pacing issues in the final hour and the lackadaisical climax, which was quite otiose, Jafri and Khan do not disappoint viewers due to the rootedness of the absolutely infectious milieu that they construct around their main players.
Mukhtar, who is also the director of photography, films Parchi with buoyancy, savouring the intertwining ingredients of the intricately thickened plot and the lip-smackingly delicious personalities of the characters it revolves around.
On the other hand, Khan lets his story play out in the most memorable neighbourhoods—amidst the most effervescent people. In one of the quirkiest scenes of the film, two mobile snatchers use a toy gun to rob Bash and Saqlain; shortly after a chase sequence, Bash realises that they were only holding a toy to affright them. He confronts them, along with Saqlain, which forces them to escape. It is a situation that made me recall my college days, when I was robbed outside the Nishat Cinema, Karachi in 2009. It was only after the muggers left, when I realised that they were holding a toy gun.
Like this episode, the film uses minutely observed details that are both realistic and gritty; these splashes of local flamboyance keep us engaged throughout the film. However, the sense that something is at stake is clearly missing. In fact, we do understand what is at stake, but we do not feel it as the film progresses. The satirical tone is also replaced with comedic punches in the second half. At some points, we begin to feel that there is too much comedy and flavour—like the addition of Imagine and Billo Hai, which were beautifully sung and shot, but completely unnecessary—not enough desperation to delineate the urgency of the protagonists’ situation.
However, the film is elevated by a great deal of naturalistic performances. Cheema and Rehman are reliably terrific. Farooq is an increasingly striking actress we need to see more of. Akbar shows an interesting screen presence.
Usman Mukhtar is particularly outstanding here; he uplifts his character with a natural flair, looking comically sweet and bewildered all the time.
To watch or not?
Overall, Parchi works because it has a lightness of being; the writing shows lack of rigour in the second half, but that does not take away from what has been accomplished in the film’s first half.
Parchi is so spirited in its tone—and such is its merriment—that you choose to ignore its wavering pace. The entire film is, in fact, a winsome trick that exceeds our expectations at every unexpected turn, and does so with a triumphant relish.