Mir ji zard hotay jaatay ho, kya kahin tumnay bhi kiya hai ishq…
When I first saw the trailer for Mah-e-Meer, I was a tad bit disappointed. I saw colour but it looked gaudy, I saw sizzle but it seemed forced, I saw a Mir but didn’t necessarily see a Khuda-e-sukhan, I saw, I saw, I saw… and then, I heard.
Herein lies the strength of Mah-e-Meer, its writing and dialogues.
My visual experience of the trailer was at best ambivalent but the same cannot be said for my aural perceptions. As most of us do, I replayed the trailer only to be interrupted by my phone, as I got up to answer it, I heard the entire trailer and all I can say is brace yourself for the writing! Every single word, every dialogue, every nuanced rendition of the word chaand had me exactly where the producers want me to be, I think, in a state of euphoric excitement. As Sarmad Sebhai, the writer, himself acknowledges: “[T]he mainstream art mafia does not allow me to do my work. Ours is not a ‘visual’ society; its text orientated. The word is divine and sacred.” It is exactly this emphasis on the written word that is Mah-e-Meer’s strength, thus, giving the director and actors confidence to work with a meaty script unlike other more recent Pakistani films.
Visuals as Sebhai correctly notes fall flat – no doubt(!) – but whether this is because of excessive control or because of the primacy of text remains to be seen. For a movie being promoted as an art film, I find the visuals in strict contrast to the writing. The gaudy make-up, the excessive colour, the ostentatious sets that scream fifty shades of cheap and then some are evocative of some Bahnsali-esque rendition of Meer’s age. Not altogether inappropriate or out of place, after all, the nawabs were know for their ostentation, yet, the overall effect screamed fake and tawdry, perhaps, even bordering on trashy. Of course, these are first impressions and I might be entirely wrong.
What stood out apart from the writing, if this is indeed an art film, were the sequences of the latter day Meer played flawlessly by Fahad Mustafa. The angst, the pain, the emotion of a man conflicted by his passions – his women and his work – come across far more clearly in the austere and brutal settings of modern day Karachi. Even though that stripped and skeletal flat is probably a set it is far more believable than the velvet lined gaddis and marble lampposts we’re fed in the other half of the film. Again, the austerity of a “here and now” Meer is only intensified by the effortless writing, strong acting, and compelling dialogues.
Although, in all honesty, I can’t venture much in terms of direction and acting because that remains to be seen but from what I can see of Iman Ali, Sanam Saeed, Manzar Sebhai, and Fahad Mustafa, I can certainly agree that both the writer and director have a particular vision whether they’re able to portray that to us, the audience, remains to be seen.
My only criticism, if that’s what you’d like to call it, is Iman Ali’s choice in roles. Clearly, she is a stunning woman and a decent actress, then, why the concentrated effort on a particular type of role. I have seen her play the courtesan (with or without a heart of gold) once too often. The opening sequence of the trailer is a scene-to-scene rip-off from Kamal Amrohi’s Pakeezah but Ali still manages to make it about her, about Mah-e-Meer, something another less-experienced actress would not have been able to do. I still want to see more variety from her!
Sanam Saeed looks far removed from her Kashaf avatar but something tells me we’ll be seeing an angry girl yet again. Place bets anyone…?
From what I can gather, Mah-e-Meer promises to be a well-thought out experiment but I wouldn’t necessarily call it an art film. It lacks the grit and grime so easily associated with the work of parallel cinema stalwarts like Gulzar, Benegal, and Nihalani from but I won’t let this stop me from finding out for myself!
Am I curious? – Yes, I am.
Do I want to see more? – Yes, I do.
And I hope you do too. Till we meet for a film review!
This is RB signing off.