By Adnan Murad
Last month, I asked my students to write a personal essay on the things which people did not understand about them. Surprisingly, I came across a range of first-rate essays, evoking a terrific sense of melancholy in some cases and utmost joy in others.
On the other hand, there were some students who started off well, but could not maintain consistency in the succeeding sections. Even though their introductory paragraphs were hypnotic, their essays started to collapse in the supporting paragraphs, only to partially redeem themselves in the last—or concluding—paragraphs. Nevertheless, there were many things to appreciate in those essays too—from the sense of purpose to the text structure and punctuation.
Actor, director and writer Rehan Sheikh’s Azad reminded me of all those essays that I have read. His work here is highly admirable for many reasons: it has a strong ensemble, a soothing soundtrack and a charming screenplay (does not necessarily mean solid).
The film opens with a heart-warming sequence that provides the film an edge over most of the films released over the last year. This track sets a firm foundation for the film to unfold in its own peculiar way over the next two hours.
As the film opens, we meet a middle-aged man, who is a presenter in a radio station in Islamabad. The man, played by Rehan Sheikh, is apparently unhappy and unsatisfied. Even though his name is Danish, he introduces himself as Azad (someone who is free) to his listeners. In his first appearance, he puts forward a question before his listeners: what is freedom according to them? People share different viewpoints, ranging from political to social opinions; however, in the midst of these responses is the film’s protagonist Danish, who is yearning to find himself in the calm of Islamabad after a relationship breakup, which happened three years ago.
Danish’s personality can be read in many ways. Some will think of him as a curmudgeon, while others will empathise with him by carefully scrutinising his emotional state.
His character may not be immediately likeable for many people. You may watch the movie till the end but still not understand where he is coming from. This can be attributed to the obvious flaws in the narrative, making it difficult for the audience to connect the dots for getting a clearer view of Danish’s character web.
Still, I was able to connect with him at many levels.
As the film began, I was instantly taken in by the real and relatable life dynamics of a middle-aged man. I also realised that the overriding harmony of Sheikh’s frames in dealing with disruptions of life is conceived with fastidiousness and a clear sense of purpose in mind.
The writer presents many complexities of his leading man within the two-hour reel. With time, we also get to know that he is regularly meeting a therapist, which clearly makes his mental state obvious. He wants to forget his past and live in the present, but he is not able to do so; as a result, his personal and professional lives are being affected.
Sheikh uses the absurdist literary device to find the purpose of life through this film. Sheikh’s Danish, according to my interpretation, embraces the absurd condition of human beings and also defiantly continues to explore limitless possibilities of human existence and search for meaning in life.
This absurdist milieu is elevated by the tranquillity of Islamabad, which is the leading lady of this film. Islamabad’s composed streets significantly complement the development of Danish’s character arc, but the film’s latter half plods through unexciting lines and themes that just hamper what had been achieved in the first half. Nonetheless, the final sequence makes up for the unexpected upsets.
Overall, Azad is an impeccably shot film with lyrical fluidity. It is about swinging between hope and despair; and to effectively communicate this theme, the writer gives a distinctive lightness of touch to the screenplay for dealing with a sombre subject.
Sheikh, through Azad, tells us that happiness does not depend on circumstances—on what we have or do not have, or on how other people treat us—but on how we choose to see the world and live in it by letting go of our past. Happiness, or freedom, can be experienced when a person can look at the world in relation to herself/himself and be able to like this relation.