By Zia Ahmad
Ramchand Pakistani has come and gone and has made another addition to the slowly and lets hope surely upward struggle for the revival of Pakistani cinema. With the lack of any other appropriate banner for these films to be categorized under, no room for “New Pakistani Cinema” or “Reasonable/Sensible Pakistani Cinema”, “Revival of Pakistani Cinema” is the nomenclature that has been agreed upon and Shoaib “Showman” Mansoor’s Khuda Kay Liye has been accorded the privilege of ushering in this revival.
In this light it is only natural to compare Khuda kay Liye and Ramchand Pakistani. Both are made by directors with a strong television background with Shoib Mansoor, a veteran of thirty plus years who has been associated with quality productions and Mehreen Jabbar who has been making consistently capable TV productions and short films that display uncharacteristic depth and sensitivity in the age of crass commercial TV for more than ten years now.
Past efforts to revive Pakistani cinema had been made in the previous decade but failed miserably to cut the mark. Notable mentions were Salman Pirzada’s still largely unseen Zargul, which for all purposes might have been an adequate piece of cinema only if people would have actually seen the film and the overwrought dismal project that was Jinnah, an expensively mounted feature that got bogged down by strange apparitions and over-weight angels in front of playback monitors and imposing upon us to exercise our patriotic duty by watching it on the big screen.
When the word got around that someone who people actually knew, like Shoib Mansoor was making a feature film, expectations were invested with the film and Geo cashed, in fact milked, these expectations by thunderously promoting the film all around amongst Pakistanis. Riding upon the wave of massive local publicity and promotion and by the virtue of being the first in line, Khuda kay Liye was hastily set as a standard by which all subsequent Pakistani films as against to Lollywood films would be measured.
A year later Ramchand Pakistani was released with much less fanfare and though it didn’t go unnoticed, it made more of an impact in the art house circles and festivals and earned glowing reviews if not as much box office receipts. And that is the way it should be since box office receipts don’t necessarily vouch for a film’s excellence but rather its populist appeal. Khuda kay Liye clearly had that appeal, with its Shan led cast and US, UK locales replete with a patriotic agenda.
Paraphrasing Omar Khan, the content and form of the film exercises sledge hammer subtlety and never quite lets up in that regard. The central characters are thinly drawn with superficial complexities to contend with and are at the absolute mercy of the plot to get them around the world and emote blatantly as required. Performances are generally uneven with the absolutely stoic, the actor playing Iman Ali’s father, to painful variations of hamming it up, from the absolutely atrocious Iman Ali to Shan doing his Shan thing, to the commendably professional, Naseer-ud-Din Shah on loan. However, it is Rashid Naz who own every scene he’s in and is genuinely impressive in the way he lends equal measures of soft spoken charm underlined with unsettling threat so commonly associated with charismatic maulvis
For what it’s worth Khuda kay Liye didn’t disappear in the dust of irrelevancy like previous contenders of the revival of Pakistani cinema and for a while did give the purveyors of Lollywood sleaze a run for their money which is an achievement in itself. Ramchand Pakistani didn’t quite match that feat but established itself in other meaningful ways.
It is said to be based on a true story and while Khuda kay Liye as well has its basic exposition influenced by timely circumstance, events in Ramchand have a more immediate ring. Where Shoib Mansoor’s film echoes of jingoistic tendencies, Ramchand is more so a human document rather than a political polemic.
The performances are relatively even through out with instances of miscasting here and there as in Noman Ijaz’s street vendor doesn’t strike authentic, a lesser known or glamorous actor in his place would have been more credible. So is the case with the staff of the Indian jail that ends up looking a tad bit less gritty and more compromising including the casting of Shahood Alvi, whose cultured diction betrays the speech mannerisms of a jail warden in Indian Gujrat. Presence of Nadita Das helps though she is not left much to do with and her range is not fully realized.
Along with the story it is the father/son relationship that forms the core of the film and drives it forward. This is more than ably helped by unaffected performances by child actors. Especially the younger Ramchand displays the natural and unaffected performance often associated by neo realist non professional actors. The older Ramchand invests the role with unmentioned longing balancing it with a loss of innocence.
Strong yet understated performance by Rashid Farooqi convincingly demonstrates his character’s hurt, anger and despondency that provides the film much emotional resonance and helps give the father/son dynamic in the film a warm honesty not familiar in Pakistani films.
Despite losing marks on other sundry issues like a conveniently tidy jail with chirpy jailbirds and a stock child molester, an ill advised attempt at bodily function related humor and an abrupt conclusion (not so much the ending as the way it was done) Ramchand makes a good case for the revival of Pakistani cinema and can be seen as the other side of the coin that gives currency to the merit while the other keeps the business side flowing.