By Adnan Murad
There are two things that are extremely difficult: learning to live with what you cannot control and accepting what you can control. Sometimes, we may find things around us taking charge of our lives in different ways. We keep accepting these dictations because we are worried about the societal obligations that surround us.
These dictations may come from our immediate family members, friends, co-workers or people from the neighbourhood. At times, we stop living our lives to the fullest in order to satisfy these people; as a result, we trade our authenticity with an approved version of society and this is the point where our lives end surreptitiously.
We give ourselves away to people who do not matter to us. We let our instincts die an unforeseen death staged by the what-people-will-say coterie.
This is why it is significant to appreciate Pakistani film-maker Adnan Sarwar’s Motorcycle Girl, which is a very relevant film because it encourages men and women to speak for themselves and not sacrifice their lives to make others happy.
Right to dream
Making your heart hear the truth that lies within, sometimes, is one of the most daunting tasks for a human being; therefore, the conception of Motorcycle Girl, itself, is a laudable feat because films like this are a part of the larger movement that is snowballing to help oppressed men and women across the globe to come out with their stories.
These stories must be heard because they are important, and they must be listened to so that we can shape a better narrative for our future generations.
In the same way, the story of Zenith Irfan, who travelled across the regions of Pakistan alone on a motorcycle, is a tale that must be told. Motorcycle Girl, even though a fictionalised version of Irfan’s life, brings a considerable amount of heft to her journey and gives all the girls who have seen and fulfilled their dreams a heartfelt tribute.
Motorcycle Girl’s story, on its face value, is an incredible one that will allow people from all spheres of life to believe that nothing is impossible if you are truly determined to achieve what you want. It gains more importance when we realise that the film is written and directed by Sarwar, who possesses a remarkably crisp way of creating images to communicate with his audience. His frames are elegantly composed with a dash of simplicity, and he directs his actors—within natural and built environments—with attention to detail.
Sarwar’s gifts were on ample display in his breakout film Shah, which was based on the life of boxer Hussain Shah. His new film, Motorcycle Girl, evinces the same neatly delineated visual style, but in service to a film that is a collection of clever but ultimately simplistic vignettes.
Long, winding road
At first glance, Sarwar’s Motorcycle Girl invites some obvious comparisons to other movies about solitary treks, including Emilio Estevez’s The Way and John Curran’s Tracks. Thankfully, Sarwar brought his virtuosity to bear on a languorous pace.
He connects the actions of Zenith, played by Sohai Ali Abro, on the trail with her memories, which are merely triggered by one-dimensional associations; therefore, for most of the time, there is no complexity in the construction of the movie’s flashbacks, including the play and unpredictability of memory, and the sudden outbreak of peculiar reminiscences in the midst of seemingly unconnected sequences.
Sadly, these situations play out for more than half of the movie’s runtime, which is sad because we really wanted to see Zenith’s journey on the big screen; however, Sarwar gives more time to Zenith’s backstory, which, mostly, is plain and only makes us feel bad for Zenith’s life.
Sarwar, on the other hand, pulls off a grander achievement in the bits that show Zenith’s journey, where the director conveys real catharsis in charting a woman on a journey, scattering her memories sporadically throughout the trail in a way that manages to feel mostly natural. Rather than simply making the viewer feel bad for Zenith, which happened throughout the first half, Sarwar and Abro clearly want viewers to understand Zenith in the latter half. They make you connect with her sense of triumph and heartbreak as she makes her way from Lahore to Khunjerab.
Sarwar has created a film that never quite matches the audacity of its vivid title. It is hard to embrace the narrative of Motorcycle Girl for most of the time because of its didactic tone and stereotypical characterisation of supporting actors.
Watching Zenith feels like a small victory, but an internal one that doesn’t need to be cheered with a swelling orchestra; while most viewers will be unquestioningly affected by her journey, many may find themselves curiously cold.