Parey Hut Love, Superstar and Heer Maan Ja released over the Eid holidays as three strong, uplifting Pakistani films with just one unanimous flaw and the feeling that all three should not have released at the same time.
Three films and endless promotions. Teasers, trailers and songs. Motion posters, pictures, stills and then actual video clips. Shout outs and testimonials. Shout outs and testimonials before every drama you tried to watch on YouTube. And then the college visits, media junkets, the style statements, the endless PR pushes for coverage on every possible platform available: on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, newspaper, print magazine, radio, online magazine, on blogs, websites and even Snapchat. Exhale.
Parey Hut Love, Superstar and Heer Maan Ja released nationwide on August 12; the three films and their endless promotions were so exhausting that by the end of the promotional drives, by the time the films actually released, they all appeared like a warm pie stuffed with romantic mush. I caught Superstar in a star-studded premiere in Karachi, Parey Hut Love in a private screening hosted by the director amidst the tropical storm that held Karachi hostage and finally, Heer Maan Ja on August 14, in a cinema full of anxious movie lovers. Anxious, because while promotions promise the moon and the sky, you never really know what a Pakistani film (or any film for that matter) will deliver until you invest 800 rupees and a couple of hours into it.
So, did the promotional overdrive deliver what it promised?
According to box office reports, it did. There are no independent sources that can be quoted, but according to the films’ producers, Superstar recovered 11.6 crores by the end of August 14, Parey Hut Love raked in 12.15 crores (also by the end of August 14) and Heer Maan Jaan had recovered over 5 crores in four days, in Pakistan only. Producers and distributors spent a happy week through Eid holidays and, as was being witnessed in ‘house-full’ multiplexes across the country, audiences were happy too. This may not have been as big an Eid trio release as we witnessed in 2018 with Jawani Phir Nahi Aani 2, Parwaz Hai Junoon and Load Wedding - these films hit the big numbers with their big ensemble casts that included men of the masses: Fahad Mustafa, Humayun Saeed and Hamza Ali Abbasi - but these three films, in one way or the other, raised the bar for Pakistani cinema.
Parey Hut Love
Directed by Asim Raza
Written by Imran Aslam
*ring Sheheryar Munawar, Maya Ali, Ahmed Ali Butt, Zara Noor Abbas, Nadeem Baig and over a dozen cameos, including Meera, Fawad and Mahira Khan.
Parey Hut Love, with Sheheryar Munawar and Maya Ali in lead roles, kept one rooted to its star studded ensemble cast and blossomed under director Asim Raza’s aesthetic eye. The production value of PHL took Pakistani cinema to the next level. The cinematography was world class and the frames all branded Pakistan in a new, contemporary and glamorous light. The characters drew one into the story and the performances convinced one to stay. The four-act film was connected, seamlessly, by Azaan Sami Khan’s music.
Audiences mostly loved the film, their biggest and perhaps only objection being that it lacked an original story and that PHL was too similar to Hugh Grant’s romantic comedy, Four Weddings and a Funeral. In all honesty, I felt PHL was an ode to several romantic classics, including the aforementioned as well as Roman Holiday, It Happened One Night and more. But what one walked out with, at the end, was purely Pakistani and it left one with a really uplifting feeling of how far we had come in terms of filmmaking. "This is the most beautifully picturized Pakistani film I have ever seen," Humayun Saeed said at the end of the screening.
Screenplay by Azaan Sami Khan
*ring Mahira Khan, Bilal Ashraf, Alizeh Shah and Nadeem Baig
Superstar, unlike Parey Hut Love’s massive group huddle, rested on the shoulders of Mahira Khan and Bilal Ashraf and they carried it to the end more than adequately. Again, it presented itself as a beautifully made Pakistani film that offered a great soundtrack visualized on ample song and dance, glamorous contemporary costumes, colour and vibrancy that began at Lahore’s Bhaati Gate and moved through Karachi. It followed the life of a struggling actress who falls in love with a superstar and rises through a doomed relationship to heights of bittersweet success.
Superstar had a lot to offer in terms of characters, performances, music, cinematography and more. It introduced the 18-year old Alizeh Shah as Chutki, a young debutant with screen presence and great comic timing. It brought Nadeem Baig back to the big screen and allowed most of the supporting cast room to perform. It was entertaining and thanks to the name attached, well directed.
Heer Maan Ja
Written by Owais Korai Baloch
*ring Hareem Farooq,
Ali Rehman Khan, Faizan Sheikh and Ali Kazmi
Heer Maan Ja, albeit the smaller and simpler of the three films, turned out to be the sleeper hit. Made on an independent producer’s budget, it channeled comedy to draw the audience’s attention and it worked. One doesn’t need a high budget to make people laugh and that’s where HMJ ticked all the right boxes.
Ali Rehman Khan came across as the perfect corporate, cool and somewhat confused hero; Hareem Farooq was the bindaas heroine that she is all too often known to play. Faizan Sheikh kicked it out of the park as the ruthless and remorseless villain while Ali Kazmi came in with a short and humorous role. Saleem Mairaj, with his broken English, was a crowd pleaser.
Not one of the three films disappointed.
That said, the one unanimous weakness in all three films - in fact in most Pakistani films at large - is that they have been unable to give the audience a lead couple that has the kind of chemistry that one fantasizes about, that goes down in history as a Nadeem and Shabnam, a Mohammad Ali and Zeba or even a Fawad and Mahira Khan. While most films we see are romances and love stories, most heroes and heroines appear to be sharing a very platonic kind of love. When the hero and heroine come together, they could pass off as siblings. They say that it’s the sizzle that sells the steak but this steak seems to be stone cold, if you ask me.
Independently, the lead actors and actresses are all fine; it’s when they’re expected to romance each other that they freeze into some cryogenically developed space where chemistry is a bad thing. I do feel it’s the extension of the TV-drama-psyche, where everything must be sterile and where couples have babies without ever touching each other. But this Immaculate Conception does not work on the grand scale of cinema, where you need love, passion and romance to take you to the moon and bring you back. Or not.
Shaan Shahid’s Arth, albeit flawed, did not shy away from passion because Shaan being a purely film actor, understands what the big screen demands.
The second unanimous let down was timing; it was, and always is, such a bad idea to release three films together (we’ve been through this before).
First of all, not many people can afford to watch three films in three days, especially when they have families to entertain too. One film, for an average family of four, would cost 5000 rupees, ticket, transport and snacks included. Second, the promotions got so overwhelming that one couldn’t help but wish we could focus on one film at a time and do it complete justice. That’s how Baaji and Teefa in Trouble benefitted most. Released on non-holidays, they got the undivided media attention and peoples’ interest. But here’s where the great channels (ARY, Hum and GEO being the distributors in this case) come in with their competitive streaks and inflexibility to do what is best for the films.
Hopefully, with time and experience, filmmakers will realise what is best for the films whether it’s the chemistry between leads or the economics of releasing one film at a time. Until then, thankfully, one has a lot to rejoice as despite the shortcomings, Pakistani cinema has come a long way.