By Maliha Rehman
Romance, color, music; the narrow alleys of androon Lahore and the whizzing, busy metropolis that defines Karachi; the kaleidoscopic lights of show business and the brooding, prevailing shadows of a couple living apart – and when you watch Dum Mastam, you nod and you clap and you laugh and tap your feet and cheer because this is what Pakistani cinema had been needing: a gorgeous, larger-than-life, rollercoaster ‘mast’ movie created with passion and dedication.
Adnan Siddiqui and Akhtar Hasnain’s Cereal Entertainment’s debut film production, directed by Mohammad Ehteshamuddin and starring Imran Ashraf and Amar Khan, Dum Mastam whirls fast and slow, moves to a consistently beautiful musical score and shouts out from the rooftops loud and clear that Pakistani cinema is getting bigger, better and is here to stay.
And I say all this very objectively. It isn’t as if this movie doesn’t have its flaws, but they are difficult to find. And the production, overall, is so well-crafted that you are more inclined towards overlooking the blunders. More on that later.
Dum Mastam is the story of Bau and Aliya, aka Imran Ashraf and Amar Khan. Bau is the street-smart hero obsessively in love with Aliya. She looks upon him as a friend, is accustomed to his flirtations but doesn’t reciprocate his feelings. Aliya has other dreams. She is secretly training to be a dancer and wants to be a star. He tags along as much as he can, attending her rehearsals, feeling jealous when she dances intimately with a co-actor, perhaps a tad envious because he also hopes to someday make it big. His guitar hangs quite consistently from his shoulder and when he sings, he sings quite well.
But above all, Bau’s life revolves around his love for Aliya. He smilingly bears with her taunts and disdain and bounces back even when she rejects him blatantly. This is the story’s main premise. His unrequited love for her, her lack of feeling for him, anger, resentment, obsession and woven within it, the lure of show business.
The other characters form essential lynchpins. Saleem Mairaj is the lascivious stage manager hoping to become a star maker and willing to switch sides for his personal gain. Momin Saqib is rockstar Guddu Razor and Adnan Shah Tipu his manager. Sohail Ahmed has a small but impactful role as Bau’s father and Saife Hassan, also in a very small role, is believably intimidating as Aliya’s strict, moralistic father.
Amar Khan shines in the lead. She is a firecracker through and through, till now making do with assorted drama roles but now, truly making her mark as a bona fide film heroine and making one want to see more and more of her on the cinema screen. She dances, cries, falls in love and rolls her eyes like a pro. Her work is equally impressive as scriptwriter. Scene after scene, she has built her storyline carefully, developing her characters and the emotional arcs that are the crux of the storyline. There is no rush to tell the story and no inclination for overly dramatic statements. Intuitively, she knows when to pull the punches and when to simply let the narrative flow.
Imran Ashraf is also in his element. To say that he’s the next big superstar – or that he is, in fact, a superstar – would not be an understatement. Bau is incorrigibly devoted and innately flawed and Imran plays him with complete sincerity, getting into his skin utterly. Bau’s obsessions, his dreams, confusions and pain are all very believable. At one point, frustrated by Aliya’s apathy towards him, he shaves his head. Imran, in fact, really did shave his head for this role – something that many actors refrain from doing because it can hamper other acting opportunities that may come their way several weeks afterwards.
Mohammad Ehteshamuddin’s directorial expertise also needs to be recognized. This may not have had been his first cinematic attempt – he had earlier directed ‘Superstar’ – but this is his finest yet.
Having said this, the movie’s editing in the final 20 minutes could have had been smoother. There are certain fragments that needed to have had been eliminated or explained more lucidly. If keeping the duration in check was a concern, then maybe some of the earlier scenes could have had been shorter in order to keep the end sequences moving coherently.
Still, the story moves smoothly enough. It is told so well and so beautifully that one could overlook the few hitches with a kindly eye. You leave the cinema and more than anything else, you remember Aliya and Bau, their complicated love story, the dialogues, the songs!
There is no need to ask audiences to see this movie in order to ‘support’ local film on its path to revival. They need to see it because it entertains and for two and a half hours, allows them to escape into a different world and because, within it, it holds all the magic that defines good cinema.
Please note that I erroneously agreed to do a cameo in the movie posing as a critic (which I am) in a blink and you miss it scene. This review, however, is entirely unrelated to my involvement in the movie. If Dum Mastam had been a nearly three hour long headache of a movie, I would have had been incensed enough on returning from the cinema to write a scathing review. However, quite honestly, it’s far from a headache – more like a ray of sunshine shining bright on the future of Pakistani cinema.