Does the “Urdu problem” lie with Mah-e-Mir or us?

Published: May 11, 2016
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Criticism from most viewers had something vile about it. For most viewers (and now reviewers), the only saving grace in the film was Iman Ali, and any talk about her also focused solely on her elaborate costumes and how mysterious yet seductive she looked. Iman Ali’s impeccable dialogue delivery was hardly mentioned.

This Mother’s Day I took my mother out on a date to watch Pakistani cinema’s latest flick Mah-e-Mir. Luckily, it has not been banned as yet.

I am not a movie buff per say, but I do end up going to the cinema every other week to take a break from reality. So, I hardly ever read movie reviews before watching movies. I like to watch a movie with a blank mind, having nothing to compare it with and judge it based on the entertainment value.

I went in judging from the title that Mah-e-Mir would probably be based on the life of one of the Urdu poetry giants. The first 15 minutes passed by and my mother nudged me with a big sarcastic grin on her face and whispered,

“Can you understand what they are saying?”

I just nodded with an embarrassed smile.

The script was filled with beautifully crafted sentences in daqeeq (pure) Urdu and most dialogues took place through an exchange of poetic expression. My Urdu has always been fluent, but the last time I read anything in Urdu was probably in high school and that too did not involve a lot of Urdu literature.

The film follows the life of a young, modern day Urdu poet and columnist. He is a literary rebel and is struggling because he doesn’t want to concede to the demands of the market-oriented world of literature and journalism.

In all honesty, I had to really concentrate to make sense of the dialogues since I wasn’t familiar with the intensity of the language. It made me realise that I was quite uneducated in my national language. I always thought I was most comfortable with Urdu, but watching Mah-e-Mir, made me cringe from within.

Nonetheless, the issues discussed resonated with me because of my field of study and profession. It highlighted the frivolities that contemporary columns and poets wrote about and cashed on. It also talked about battling internal chaos, love and longing, and the strong reliance and legitimacy that is sought from classics in the literary world.

However, this is not a review of the film. It is perhaps a review on what I witnessed during the interval and as I left the cinema. It would be safe to say that the hall was dominated by youngsters; college and university students. As the interval approached, I began thinking about the movie and could not understand what exactly was happening. But this was not just in reference to the language, to the content, theme and the nonlinear projection as well.

Criticism from most viewers had something vile about it. For most viewers (and now reviewers), the only saving grace in the film was Iman Ali, and any talk about her also focused solely on her elaborate costumes and how mysterious yet seductive she looked. Iman Ali’s impeccable dialogue delivery was hardly mentioned.

The male audience were laughing over how pathetic and love sick the protagonist was over a girl, without having to even talk to her or approach her the ‘regular’ way. As I came home, I read some of the feedback on social media that mainly revolved around how boring and slow the movie was and how almost half the hall left within the first half of the movie. Some even went to the extent of calling it “pathetic” and “disgusting”.