This review originally appeared here.
Impressed by Sabiha Sumar’s earlier film Khamosh Pani with its strong script and poignant take on Pakistani politics, although admittedly sometime sketchy direction, I was intrigued enough to want to see Good Morning Karachi at the 3rdi film festival despite its rather predictable plot.
Intrigued enough, I might add, to pick this film to end my four year drought of not having seen the inside of a theater, I was ready to be more forgiving than usual and even hoped to gain some insight into her creative mind at the Q&A. Alas, all I have is a migraine and an even lesser understanding of her inspiration and work thanks to a disappointing film topped by a lackluster discussion.
Based on a novella by Shandana Minhas, Sumar sets the rags to riches story in current day Pakistan against the backdrop of the Benazir Bhutto’s return. The story revolves around an aspiring beautician Rafina (Amna Ilyas) from a working class family allured by the fashion industry and a desire to build a better life. Her only source of support is Rosie Khala (Beo Raana Zafar in an understated performance) who encourages and helps chart her climb to success albeit at a high price. Pitted against familial opposition from her mother (Saba Hamid) and politically active fiancé (Yasir Aqueel) and the ire of conservative mullahs, Rafina navigates her path to modernity.
As a canvas Sumar had many colours to choose from and the only thing the film gets right is the verite footage of Karachi, the lower class locations of Akhtar colony as well as the elitist settings. However, Rafina’s clothes at home (sleeveless, halter dresses, way too much skin!) are way off the mark for any lower class working gal and would have had the mullahs knocking down her door post haste.
The overuse of English is awkward and inauthentic, the party dance moves (or lack thereof) are just embarrassing and the attempt at a subaltern twist is not only painfully pedestrian but panders to a Western fetishized imagery of freeing women from their burkas and fiery intolerant fundamentalists branding-what else-fire and (un)godly slogans.
The entire film flat lines –there is little to no build up to any of the emotional (and a little too dramatic) scenes. What could have been a scathing critique and honest examination of class lines, the elitist bubble and the political feudal and corrupt landscape reveals little more than shallow look at modernity and merrily feeds its own elitist image.
Save Rosie Khala, none the characters have any nuance or growth. Amna Ilyas’s acting leaves much to be desired, Atta Yakub’s face is frozen in a permanent leer (for lust or for money or both), and the better actors Saba Hamid, Yasir Aqueel are mostly wasted. It was fun (and not a little ironic) to see Coke studio’s Zoe Viccaji spout dialogues about wanting to get married in virginal whites and you could make a drinking game of spotting other Pakistani celebs (Amina Sheikh, Deepak Perwani, Faisal Qureshi).
The script is wafer thin with the pacing and plotting completely off. Other than some inspired images – mirror reflections, the looming billboard- most of the camera work is jittery and headache inducing. Despite this being an insider look at the fashion world it seems cold and distant. The attempt to use the media backdrop -the RJ’s bantering, news reports- fail to make the intended impact and even the soundtrack is forgettable.
Worse perhaps is the film makers pronouncement of the very ‘progressive’ Pakistani fashion industry run by women and gay men for whom talent (read an anorexic body) rather than favours gets you an in. In what madam? Skimpy costumes to be leered at and sell products– how very empowering. She also claimed an underlying subversive subtext – which was totally missing in any shape, form or text.
The pathetically moderated discussion did nothing to reflect light on anything remotely relevant to the film or the creative process. Misleading billed by the 3rdi film organizers as a conversation between Sabiha Sumar and Anusha Rizvi, it was a complete waste of time. The only intelligent thing about the evening was the questions posed by the audience which, of course, got no intelligent response.
Give this one a pass – it’s not worth your time – even in air kisses.
MM (A musing Muslim)