Tamanna: A step in the right direction for Pakistani cinema
There has to be something about a movie where a Pakistani audience sits silently in cinemas, where mobile texting and chatting during a movie is the norm otherwise, and watch two lead characters dominate the story in a single location for 83 minutes. Billed as Pakistan’s first ‘Film Noir’, Tamanna is definitely in a league of its own in the context of Pakistani cinema. Prominent film critic Taran Adarsh raised an important point upon release of the film Barfi!,
“You don’t formulate movies (like Barfi!) targeting its box-office potential or its commercial prospects. You create such films for its passion of cinema.”
This statement applies to Tamanna as well; which takes several brave strides. It fulfils what it sets out to do and keeps you hooked and guessing all the while.
Based on a well-known Anthony Shaffer play, Sleuth, the film incorporates elements of dark humour, melodrama, crime, passion and revenge. This is the fourth adaption of the play on screen, the first one starring Lawrence Olivier and Michael Caine in 1972, followed by a remake starring Michael Caine and Jude Law in 2007 and a made-for-TV West Bengali adaptation.
The film’s hero is Rizwan Ahmed (Omair Rana), a struggling actor who meets Mian Tariq Ali (Salman Shahid), a relic of the once-thriving film industry. The struggling actor, Rizwan, is there to convince Ali to divorce his wife, played by Mehreen Raheal. A contest of male dominance between the two men ensues; starting quite reasonably, playfully even, but eventually turning angry and violent.
Director Steven Moore has made a mature and evenly paced film, detailed with layers. The film keeps you interested, attentive and anxious to learn about what will unfold. While most thrillers only work well if someone gets caught, here, the story sails through even after you have figured it all out. I especially enjoyed the scene with the police character, Faisal Khan; the director made clever use of a load-shedding blackout to conceal the policeman’s identity and build the anticipation. Also, the viewer needs to savour Salman Shahid and Omair Rana’s brilliant performances; one of the strengths of the movie.
Another important aspect of the film is the stunning cinematography, complimented by the film’s original background score and songs by local artists.
The second half of the film relaxes, where it could be tauter. One grouse would be that the sub-plots in the story are likely to test your patience at some points, as the narrative deviates from the pure treatment, with a lot of twists and turns. However, thankfully, ‘Tamanna’ doesn’t come unhinged. The first rate performances, especially of Salman Shahid, under Moore’s direction, help steer it to shore.
What does ‘Tamanna’ mean for new Pakistani cinema?
Content is king in movies, where a new age of realism and portrayal of reality onscreen has become a common film-making practice, as opposed to showing a larger than life drama. The set formula used earlier, of a big star cast, exotic locations and song and dance, is at risk of falling flat without a solid script and concept. The internet generation is becoming more aware of world cinema and content quality.
In terms of cinema, one must distinguish between ‘popular’ and ‘important’. Popular, or mainstream, cinema means remaining within the expectation of the audience and the dominant ideology of society from which it arises. Whereas ‘important’ refers to cinema with ideas that are not yet fully realised or discussed, or are generally under-represented by the mainstream. In the conventional sense, these films were considered ‘Art Cinema’ or ‘Parallel Cinema’. This means that these films are intelligent and they are meant for a niche audience (read: poor box office).
This no longer applies, as we see how Indian commercial cinema (in spite of mainstream Bollywood) has taken a different route of late, entertaining its viewers with the blend of auteur and new age cinematic realism.
This is evident from the selection of ‘Barfi’ for an Oscar consideration or the official selection of ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ at Cannes. With directors, such as Anurag Kashyap, Madhur Bhandrakar, Dibakar Banerjee, Vishal Bhadwaraj, Imtiaz Ali, Nagesh Kuknoor, Santosh Sivan and Srijit Mukherjee amongst others, and their individualistic approaches, it is clear that Indian cinema now takes the art more seriously.
With all the talk of the revival of Pakistani cinema, or a new age of film emerging, are we going straight to this situation of having both the commercial and art cinema, not wasting time catching up like the Indian cinema did over 20 or 30 years? Time will tell. But Tamanna, with its postmodern stance towards style, is certainly a step in the right direction.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.