Written and directed by Uzair Zaheer Khan, the visually-enchanting animated feature is packed with precious lessons, the most terrific film soundtrack to release in years and paints the world in beautiful colours.
In a span of two days, Uzair Zaheer Khan’s Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor has been seen by a select audience in Karachi and Lahore. In both instances, apart from the presence of the crew and the cast that includes Ali Noor, Natasha Humera Ejaz, Anum Zaidi among others, the premiere(s) pulled in celebrities, many of whom chose to come with children.
Beyond the star-studded red carpet that drew press attention and gave the film’s stars a chance to revel in their moment of glory after months of hard work, the film itself lives up to its promise, and paints the world in beautiful colours.
It opens with a legend, the story of a man whose compassion for animals, particularly the markhor, gives him the ability to speak to animals. Ultimately though, the mortal man passes on, his knowledge safe with the markhor, but the legend lives on, simply as a myth because cruelty to animals is the norm in modern day.
The story cuts to the present where we meet Allahyar, a precocious eight-year-old, who is not only surrounded by beauty but is gentle enough to care for it. At the same time, he is greeted by everyday issues like not wanting to do his homework, not liking his teacher, and being cranky on occasions.
Living up north with his father, Allahyar shares a close relationship with the man, and his world turns upside down when he finds his father unconscious only to be kidnapped by the hunter Mani (voiced by Ali Noor) and a man, Uncle Bablu, whom he considers an ally but who proves to be otherwise.
This is where he meets Mehru, the markhor (voiced by Natasha Humera Ejaz) with whom he ultimately forges the most powerful bond of friendship. While trying to escape the homicidal hunter, Allahyar tries to free Mehru and in doing so is rewarded the ability to speak to animals. In turn, Allahyar makes it mission to accompany Mehru to her home.
While Mehru and Allahyar remain the heart and soul of the film, Mani the hunter is the gross, homicidal man whose sole mission is to make money by bringing poachers into the mix and who has no qualms in killing a child.
As the film progresses, Mehru and Allahyar encounter Hero, a chakor who brings barrels of laughter to the story as well as Chakku, a baby snow leopard (voiced by Abdul Nabi Jamali) who is looking for revenge from the same hunter for killing his parents.
And so goes this story of unlikely heroes who encourage each other to keep going, despite fear of the unknown and the known in the wilderness.
What works in the film’s favour the most is its animation that is not only sharp but has taken the level of computer-generated animation in the country to the next level. The lush green mountains, the painstakingly etched-out characters, both human and animal, as well as the detailing in every frame, is enchanting.
The soundtrack of the film, beginning with the title track courtesy of Ali Noor to the two songs from Natasha Humera Ejaz and another one from Ali Noor, is the most terrific one to accompany a film in years. A soundtrack, when it’s good, can elevate a film and this one certainly did.
The actors in the film, a combination of youth and experience, also play their role with a lot of heart.
Allahyar is brave one minute and fearful the next, lonely and scared but also finds strength and Anum Zaidi does a good job in bringing out his many emotions. But if the film belongs to anyone, it’s Natasha Humera Ejaz’s baby Markhor who nails every sequence in the film with skill.
Hero, voiced by Azfar Jafri, brings laughter to the story from the moment he enters the frame and kills it with his vocal delivery. And as for Ali Noor’s Mani, he laughs in maniacal fashion throughout the course of the film and gets the villain tone just right. Noor could very well pursue a career in acting but then again, given his two songs in the film, we want to hear more from him now as he moves into a different sonic direction, palpable most prominently in the track, ‘Allah Allah Bol’.
As a film, Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor, is not without flaws. The editing in the first half in particular should have been crispier but that doesn’t take away from its many accomplishments. It reminds us to be human to each other, to be kind to all living things and all animals and to not judge each other based on religion, cast, creed. It also sends a strong message about illegal hunting of wildlife and that hunting for sport is akin to taking an innocent life.
One of the film’s actors explained to Instep in a recent interview that the film has the potential to restore faith back into humanity and in that mission, director and writer Uzair Zaheer Khan and his crew and cast have succeeded.