Cinema Zindabad! – Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad!

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By Maliha Rehman

 

Fahad Mustafa, aka Inspector Gulaab, flexes his muscles in his too-tight police uniform as he steps out of his jeep and proceeds to beat up the bad guys. If you’re a true masala film buff, with a strong appetite for ‘80’s Bollywood escapist entertainers, this initial frame that introduces QuaideAzam Zindabad’s (QAZ) hero to its audience may have you clapping and cheering.

Bring on the action, the music, the romance. Bring on the story of how this wheeling dealing, unabashedly corrupt cop will turn into a good guy.

Like every cop movie, the basic premise of QAZ’s storyline can easily be predicted. Gulaab will be happy in his dishonest existence when his life will get shaken up and he will experience a spiritual metamorphosis. Somewhere along the way, he will get smitten by Jiya, played by Mahira Khan. There will be song and dance and some sweet romantic sequences. Given the movie’s title, you expect a few patriotic speeches and plenty of references to the Quaid – in fact, the movie starts off with a young Gulaab getting lectured by his father, an upstanding policeman, about how the Quaid’s picture on the rupee note is always watching over the nation.

Cynics will say that Gulaab’s devil-may-care braggadocio is very similar to that of filmi cops from across the border, they’ll throw around names of movies like Dabangg and Singham – in fact, this critique started getting aired out long before QAZ or even its trailer released, when only a simple teaser had been aired out. Sometimes, cynics complain just for the sake of complaining and this rings true at least in the case of QAZ.

There’s so much more to this movie than what meets the eye in a few minutes long trailer. Cop movies tend to revolve around a certain format and to that end, Gulaab is similar to his cinematic predecessors. And yes, you may catch a whiff of Singham in the action, a bit of Dabangg in Gulaab’s cheesy romantic dialogues, even a sliver of the cops that Rajnikant played long, long ago. But maybe, that’s just the way QAZ’s makers have envisioned Gulaab to be. Maybe that’s just how Fahad plays a cop. The Bollywood comparisons are inevitable but to be fair,  the plot has nuances of its own, some that cannot be revealed here because they would be spoilers that would diminish the cinematic experience should you choose to go and see the movie.

The dialogues are clever, often with a dash of wit thrown in. The repartee between Gulaab and his sidekick cop, played by Javed Sheikh, is especially entertaining. Partners in crime on the wayward path which leads through bribery and abating corrupt politicians, the two are forced to mend their ways by a strange twist of fate.

There are other parts of the screenplay that hit hard, the words constructed to make impact, sometimes even poetic. Here’s an example: when the young Gulaab’s mother asks his policeman father why he has scared his son by warning him that the Quaid is watching, his father replies, ‘Fasal wahan hee ugti hai jahan kissan mehnat karta hai’, implying that he is planting the seeds of patriotism and honesty within his son so that, one day, they would bloom. Such poignant rhetoric, calculated to make you understand precisely what is meant, is classic Nabeel Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza, the film’s writers and co-producers at Filmwala Pictures. They’ve written some great scripts before and they can certainly add this one to their repertoire of hits.

And while Gulaab’s existential crisis may be the story’s focal point, Jiya aka Mahira Khan is a sweet, significant part of it. It is praiseworthy that despite her stature, Mahira decided to sign on to a movie that very obviously has a story dominated by the hero. In fact, she stated so  again and again in interviews during the pre-release promotions that she felt very happy to be a part of the overall story. Aided by melodious songs – Dhak, dhak, dhak – some fabulous dancing and comic little scenes like the one where Gulaab tries to catch a hamster that goes lose in Jiya’s animal sanctuary, the romance blossoms. Mahira Khan looks and acts beautifully, suiting her role.

Fahad Mustafa is Gulaab through and through. There’s no sign of the game show host who takes over hours long transmissions, climbing cars and giving away bucketloads of prizes. Fahad swaggers like a cop and stands like one – stomach in, shoulders straight. He shifts smoothly from comedy to emotion to action hero. Gulaab is likeable, even when he is taking bribes and swindling the poor vicariously – because he doesn’t like wife-beaters, despises alcohol and wholeheartedly shares his dishonest gains with his fellow police officers. Yes, he unapologetically shuts down an old lady’s small bun kabab stand but he makes up for it later. He also fights, dances and delivers a slew of catchy dialogues. Fawad has taken on an acting role after a long time and it is enjoyable seeing him slip into his character’s skin so effortlessly. Perhaps he enjoyed it too – it certainly looks like it!

Nayyar Ejaz cackles convincingly as the no-good villain, Qavi stars in a short role  as Gulaab’s ageing father dismayed by the state of the police force while Mehmood Aslam is Gulaab’s corrupt boss. And while the story may be dominated by Gulaab, it is commendable that all the other characters are well-developed and don’t just make random, halfhearted appearances.

More than anything else, though, what holds QAZ together is the intuitive direction, crisp editing and the pace set by Nabeel Qureshi. Pakistani cinema often succumbs to longwinded dialogues that end up making you feel like you’re watching a drama. But QAZ is a movie, through and through. The dialogues pack in the punches just right, giving out messages while refraining from sermonizing, peppered with heavy doses of action – a motorbike zipping down the road, dodging a deluge of bullets, jumping on to a flying airplane, Inspector Gulaab can do it all. The special effects work their way seamlessly. There are no half-baked badly edited scenes, no amateur blunders, no scenes that spring out of nowhere and don’t make sense – some other flaws that have been noted in recent local releases.

Like I mentioned earlier, if you’re a film buff, you’ll laugh and cheer and won’t be able to resist clapping at the end of some of the scenes. A movie like QAZ is testament to how far Pakistani cinema has come and how we no longer need to step out of the cinema and remark that it is a good effort compared to other local releases, the insinuation being that it is perhaps not as good as international contenders.

No excuses need to be made for QAZ simply because there is nothing to be excused. It’s a good movie – a great movie – all on its own. It may not have deep cerebral value, it may not have nuanced imagery layered with mystery but it doesn’t want to be like that anyway. This is an action-packed, fast-paced, well-constructed, feel-good entertainer. It’s Nabeel Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza in their element, the way one remembers them from their very first hit, Na Maloom Afraad. This is Fahad Mustafa, off the game show territory, expertly flexing his acting muscles.

This is how feel-good commercial Pakistani cinema needs to be.

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Cinema Zindabad! – Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad!