Motorcycle Girl (Review): A champion film on an odd-beating hero

Movie Name: Motorcycle Girl

Release Date: April 20, 2018

Director: Adnan Sarwar

Review by: Sameer Anwar

Adnan Sarwar’s biopic of Zenith Irfan’s solo journey from Lahore to Khunjerab, Motorcycle Girl (played by Sohai Ali Abro), is a story of admirable determination and unwavering perseverance. It is a story about creating your world to be one that you want to live in.

Zenith Irfan loses her father at a very young age, and wants to help live her father’s dream of riding a motorbike from Lahore all the way up north to Khunjerab Pass (note: google maps currently offers no direct routes via motorbikes – caution is advised for those overly inspired). This is no simple feat for a girl living in a society that clearly demarcates what acceptable behavior looks like. Zenith’s boss (played by Sarmad Khoosat) decides that she should not ride a motorbike to work. Her grandmother (played by Shamim Hilali) decides that she should immediately get betrothed to the well-to-do neighbor’s son. Her fiancé (played by Ali Kazmi) decides that she should move to New York with him and abandon her dreams of going to college. Zenith’s decisions are not her own until she embarks on this soul searching bumpy ride on her motorbike.

The film relays an important message of female empowerment in a society where chauvinism is deeply rooted. Unfortunately, this message gets diluted with the writer’s attempt to address the plethora of cultural burdens women face in our society. The driver advising Zenith “aap ghar bethein” and the many “log kya kahenge” sequences, coupled with the “Telenor haww haii campaign” would have more than sufficed to narrate this powerful story. However, bringing in all the other issues pertaining to women in our society –literally everything from sexual harassment and the sense of personal space in public places, to fighting the boy’s club at work, to the embarrassing experience of buying sanitary packs at super markets weakens the underlying message. (These other important ideas should have been parked for future films).

The acting is powerful and Sohai Ali Abroo’s final speech manages to give the audience goosebumps. While Sohai has done a remarkable job especially during her monologues, she could improve on her delivery of dialogues and emotions throughout the first half of the movie. Sohai’s character demands to be felt and it falls short of that. Sarmad Khoosat steals the show with his compelling acting, and the audience cannot help but hate this nightmare of a boss. Shamim Hilali’s blunt dialogues fill the void of what seems to be missing from the character development of Zenith’s other family members.

While the plot is strong, the dialogues are unable to match the intensity of the script. The dialogues and screenplay do not offer the opportunity to veterans like Sameena Peerzada and seasoned actors like Ali Kazmi to fully bring out their characters. This is a missed opportunity and could have significantly strengthened the film.

I have yet to see a movie that more beautifully captures Northern Pakistan (and not at the expense of the story). The breathless cinematography is a visual treat and it motivates the audience to pack their bags and set out for a trek up North. As Zenith rides along the winding roads, the viewer will be taken through some of the most stunning mountains and valleys along the Karakoram Highway. You will also see some of the best drone videography of Old Lahore. The soundtrack of the movie helps the scenes seamlessly glide. It strikes all the right tones parallel to the emotions played out by the characters (Kudos to Zulfi!).

One of the most captivating scenes (almost reminiscent of Inception) is the repeated flashback of young Zenith walking into her mother’s room to find her father’s letters. The bells that ring with increasing intensity as she walks up to her mother, are evocative of the kind of ticking techniques that Hans Zimmer uses to raise the temper in Dunkirk. We’d love to see more of these very intricately crafted and beautifully choreographed scenes in Pakistani cinema.

Whether it be Zenith’s white shalwar qameez with her ajrak dupatta, or her Nikkah outfit, or her Kalash inspired qameez during her final social media video, the costumes deserve a special shout out for being subtle yet noticeable.

It was a pity that there were only seven viewers in this very large hundred-seater cinema.  While this is not a movie made for mass appeal, it is a story that will move you and make you want to live your dreams.

Rating: 3.5/5