Movie Name: Chhalawa
Release Date: June 5, 2019
Director: Wajahat Rauf
Review by: Hassan Hassan
For a film, as full of clichés as Chhalawa, there is an equally clichéd French proverb, “Qui trop embrasse, mal étreint (He who embraces too much, has a weak grasp).
The proverb fits well as far as the makers of Pakistani cinema are concerned – especially the resurgent ones – as they have a chronic tendency of donning multiple caps for their projects. This, in part, is an austerity measure and, in part, due to the fact that in a fledgling industry like ours, we have a dearth of professionals and instead of trusting a newcomer who may have knowledge of all things new, they would rather trust themselves. The practice has resulted in more failed projects than successful ones yet the trend is here to stay for a while until (or if) the film industry gets in its desired shape.
Chhalawa is just another victim of such practice.
What Chhalawa is about
After the success of Punjab Nahi Jaungi, it looks probable that Wajahat wanted to make a family romcom on similar lines based in Punjab because well, the major box office market prefers colorful family sagas where song and dance sequences are rampant. The idea is very pragmatic and one can’t blame him for trying to cater to the masses. However, unfortunately, the gloss, colors, rampant songs, and dance numbers have never been enough to make a successful family rom-com.
Anyway, moving on to the plot, Zoya and Sameer (Mehwish Hayat and Azfar Rehman) are in love but Chaudry Rafaqat wants her daughter to get married to his nephew as its customary for them to not get betrothed outside the families. The couple has to find a way to either convince the patriarch to agree to their wedding or to simply elope, for which they come up with a scheme with the help of their friends and siblings.
As for how the story unfolds, you are welcome to watch the film in the cinema halls to witness it for yourselves.
Of the very few redeemable features
This wedding run away formula is tried and tested but we all know subcontinent would never cease to make films on the said formula because it has higher chances to find acceptance amongst the masses. If done rightly, it could do wonders. However, if not, well, we know the rest. Unfortunately for Chhalawa, it’s the latter.
Amongst the very few redeemable features of the film, it is the colors, music, and dances that stand out.
The title track, ‘Chhalawa’ and the dance number, ‘Chidya’ are not only beautifully written and composed, but they are also intricately choreographed. Especially the latter where a large piece of cloth is intelligently used to create choreographic feats. Mehwish looks stunning in these videos and so do the other cast members.
Of subpar script
Credit must be given to Wajahat for he hired some really talented people like Shiraz Uppal (music) and Wahab Shah(choreography). However, he kept the most critical department, script, to himself and I think that just might be his biggest mistake.
There are just so many loopholes. In order to give you an idea of what I am talking about, there is one scene where Zoya runs away with Sameer via a secret tunnel as she has the key to that tunnel but they are seen by some people as they are running away. The exit point for the tunnel point is just at the main gate by the way. However, my question is; If Zoya had the key already, why didn’t she just run away through that tunnel in the first place thereby, saving everyone the trouble?
Similarly, she writes letters to her deceased mom (the sequence added to gain sympathies of the audience, showing how deeply attached she was to her mom) but we are neither introduced to her mom nor those letters play any part in the story. All that we know about Zoya’s mom are the repeated references to her, by her dad, “Tu bilkul apni maa pe gayi ha” for instance.
Of blatant stereotyping
For a director, releasing his third film, Chhalawa insults the intelligence of the film viewers and the very people whose culture lends the settings to his film. The sloppy script isn’t just the only questionable feature, Wajahat’s blatant tendency to stereotype ethnic groups in an attempt to create relatable cinema is equally disturbing and saddening. The victims this time are Punjabis.
The loud, buffoonish Punjabi family living in a big haveli who are just one-dimensional caricatural figures with not a single character to balance them out, is something similar to what he did to Pashtuns and Sindhis in his earlier outings.
Of rather commendable performances by the actors
Given all of these circumstances, whatever job the actors did is to be commended. Mehwish Hayat, Azfar Rehman, Zara Noor, and Asad Siddiqui did their best to whatever spaces were given to them.
Zara shines in her masalay daar “Lollywoodish” avatar and in her references to and love for Lollywood, especially in a scene where she argues with her dad about comparing old and new cinema. You can’t help but get a glimpse of Bushra Ansari in her mannerisms. In short, she excels in her role but there are some scenes where her loud Punjabi accent is suddenly gone leaving you confused.
Azfar looks good on screen, a fine actor who should have been given more presence and a meatier role. Let’s just hope he keeps getting films because he definitely is film material. Asad Siddiqui does well too and leaves an impact with his debut performance.
As for the veteran actors, there is no doubt in Mehmood Aslam and Adnan Shah Tipu’s acting skills but again the script fails them. You don’t feel anything about their respective wooden and caricatural characters. Same is the case with Mohsin Ejaz.
Aashir Wajahat, on the other hand, is definitely the one who shines in whatever scenes he is given as a teenage younger brother, Haroon. Aashir is a talented kid who will definitely get better with time.
Lastly, as for Mehwish Hayat, who is a powerhouse performer and has given one award-winning performance after the other, all that can be said is that the script failed her big time. We saw glimpses of brilliance but they were overshadowed by the mediocre content she was given to perform.
A final word
The movie isn’t too long which fortunately helps it save from the ultimate disaster it could have become if it was lengthier. It could have been even shorter if the songs from Wajahat’s earlier projects were cut while that time was used exploring who Zoya’s mother was and what happened to her.
With respect to its production values and directorial credentials, Wajhat’s third film is miles ahead of his previous offerings but with such a weak script the masses probably won’t even notice what he has achieved. Most of the people leaving the cinema were simply “unsatisfied”.
Towards the end, I would just like to mention that it’s not an easy task, making a film in Pakistan. Wajahat deserves applause for the daunting task of making films on a regular basis but hiring a professional scriptwriter is all we ask for, for his upcoming projects.
Chhalawa will not utterly disappoint you if you leave your brain outside the cinema. We give the movie 1.5 out of 5 stars.