Movie Name: Kataksha
Release Date: June 21, 2019
Director: Abu Aleeha
Review by: Hassan Hassan
In an industry like ours where less than two dozen films are made a year, every cinematic offering is rather welcomed and looked forward to. The general approach by most of the print and electronic media as well as diehard Lollywood fans is to support local cinema as it is undergoing a metamorphosis.
The said tendency, however, has acted as a double edged sword. While the “support Pakistani cinema” slogan may have attracted a handful of local audiences to watch the local offerings, it has, on the other hand, inculcated this false sense amongst our filmmakers that no matter what, their mediocre or subpar work will be supported and appreciated by the cine-goers and critics. The makers of Kataksha fell prey to the same notion, it seems.
With a debutant team and (later) a trailer that didn’t offer much on the production front, I entered the cinema hall with almost zero expectations in order to avoid getting disappointed. All I expected was a decent horror story that could engage me as a viewer, for some moments, if not most. Kataksha, however, didn’t hesitate to mock even those almost-zero-to-none expectations.
In other words, the film was expected to have good to decent content, if not the budget or production values, but it fails at even that too, making you feel concerned about the tendency of our new filmmakers who don’t seem to take Pakistani cinema, its viewers and most importantly their own work seriously but would insist on making films for the big screen anyway.
What Kataksha is about
Coming to the film Kataksha, it’s a story of four colleagues at a news channel, who don’t get along well but are tasked to shoot a program at the historic Katas Raj Temples.
Asharaf (Saleem Mairaj) is an acerbic driver while Salu (Kasim Khan) is the cameraman with a DSLR who snaps his index finger more than is needed while pressing the button and swings between an insensitive degenerate to an occasional intellect. Aiman (Namrah Shahid), the host, is a headstrong girl who doesn’t care what others think of her while she lives life on her own terms. Lastly, Nazish (Kiran Tabeer), the producer, is a sombre woman with a troubled marriage who is about to get divorced. Mubeen Gabol is the in-charge of the temples who helps the team to fulfill their task.
With a runtime of 95 minutes, you initially feel relieved as your bladder capacity won’t be tested by the length of the movie, however, 30-40 minutes into the narrative and you start to worry about things other than your sphincteric reflexes.
The film wastes too much time on character introductions, its commentary on misogyny and the struggles of the lower middle class in reaching their destinations all while the actual story is expected to unravel. Which, by the way, doesn’t happen until one hour has elapsed, leaving you confused as to what possible wonder could the writer/director pull off in the short time that’s left. You want to stay tuned like a loyal cricket fan would, until the last over, hoping for some miracle to happen.That miracle, with regards to the story, unfortunately never happens and you start scolding yourself for having hope, instead of the film and its makers for failing you.
Of the very few redeemable characteristics
All that happens on screen for the most part is every character spending its 10-15 minutes in opening doors, peeping through the windows, walking across semi lit alleys and looking at decayed frescoes of the historic temples. By the time the two characters are FINALLY taken by a spirit, you already know what’s going to happen to the rest and who’s doing it.
There is hardly any horror scene in the film or any twist for that matter which makes us question the makers’ claims about it being the first psychological horror thriller of the country(looks like they forgot about films like Siyaah in the recent past and many others created earlier during Pakistani cinema’s golden age).
There are, however, a few shots that are beautifully lit with better camera angles and some good background score. Moreover, a scene where Mairaj’s character narrates a punajbi verse to his boss Nazish sitting besides a pond is amongst the very few stand out moments to be witnessed. Similarly, the lightening and the sound design are impressive at most places but never enough to ensure a good horror flick.
Of acting performances and direction
Amongst the cast, Saleem Mairaj stands out of all, as is seen in the trailer. His expressions, dialogue delivery and mannerisms are on point and credit should also be given to the director for that. However, his character witnesses a nosedive from being mysterious and dark, with some possible secrets, to a man trapped in a cave with a lighter in his hands and literally, that was that.
Mubeen Gabol, as the temple in-charge, although has a few scenes but he shines in each of them. From the lighter to horror moments, he does it effortlessly and looks believable. If developed properly and his motives explained better, Kataksha could have been saved from the disaster it becomes by the end. Rest of the newer actors do justice to their roles, especially Kiran Tabeer (as Nazish) being impressive in most of her scenes. As a woman struggling with her marriage and not ready to settle with other men in the meantime, she does full justice to her job.
As a director, Abu Aleeha surely shows spark at most places but the writing and more importantly, the lack of any sort of story makes you question the vision he had for his début silver screen project. Had he come with up with a better story or for that matter any story at all, things could have been different.
Of a blatant disregard for the holy sites and more
For the most part, I couldn’t get the notion out of my head that the makers clearly don’t have any regard for the basic intelligence level that a horror movie buff or a Pakistani cinema lover possesses. Also, him being the writer, he could have been a bit more sensitive towards portraying the second holiest site of the Hindu community as a haunted place. Any other non religious site could have been used with shots from Katas but perhaps that would have robbed the film of the only interesting credential it had; the settings of a scenic and popular Katas Temples that masses could relate to.
It is indeed interesting and encouraging to see new and independent filmmakers not hesitate from trying their hands on the less explored genres like horror, in Pakistan. But selecting a less explored genre as a début, isn’t enough to ensure entertaining cinema, the content has to be equally strong. Making a film for the sake of a film isn’t what local cinema and its viewers demand.
It’s better to NOT make a film without having a stroy than to pick up camera and shoot a few dark shots and claim it to be the country’s (first) psychological horror film. Pakistani audience know their cinema and its history and it is about time that the filmmakers start showing respect to that.
Kataksha is just a dark, story-less trip to the Katas Raj Temples that pretends to be a horror flick. We give it 1.5 stars out of 5.