Movie Name: Baaji
Release Date: June 28, 2019
Director: Saqib Malik
Review by: Hassan Hassan
Just a night before the release of one of the 2019’s most anticipated flicks, I texted the director, Saqib Malik, to share my high expectations and a few apprehensions. Saqib’s response was, “Go watch Baaji with no expectations, it’s like a glass of wine, charrey gi zarur.”
I did as advised and as soon as I came out of the theatre, I felt engulfed by the aura of the film and the world it created in a mere 2 hours.
Baaji is Saqib Malik’s directorial début and employs his thirty years of showbiz experience and an even longer love for the cinema. If you know Pakistani cinema of the 90s and before, it’s a film you should never miss but that, by no means, implies that it’s not for the rest of you.
What Baaji is about
Set against the background of a fading Lollywood and an emerging, new wave of the Pakistani cinema, the story follows a fading star, Shameera (Meera), who’s struggling for a comeback on screen, while facing multiple setbacks at personal and professional fronts. Then comes a young girl Neha (Amna Ilyas) from old Lahore, who has struggles and dreams of her own. Amidst all of this, a Pakistani-American director (Osman Khalid Butt) comes from Hollywood to Lahore to be a part of the revival of the local film industry, choosing Shameera for his film thereby, beginning a story of desire, ambition and betrayal.
The story is filled with glamour, romance, scandal, intrigue and, in the end, some mystery giving you a full cinematic experience, for which the Pakistani viewers have often yearned for, and which has been missing from most of our celluloid offerings lately.
Baaji‘s star cast
The biggest strength of Baaji lies in its star cast and how they have portrayed their layered characters.
Undoubtedly, it’s Meera and Amna Ilyas who own the show. Shameera is a character that’s tailor made for Meera and there is no other possible actor who could have done justice to it. She is the embodiment of the 90s Lollywood such that her mannerisms, language, dialogue delivery, makeup and wardrobe choices very much represent the said era.
The instances where she appears loud or over the top are intelligently justified by the fact that Lollywood actors carried the same persona back in those days. It is very daring of Meera to act in a film that has so many uncanny resemblances to her personal and professional life. From her being fired from a famous item number to her sex tape and wedding controversies, no wonder the film was initially rumored to be a Meera Biopic. The film is Meera’s best performance of all time, beyond a doubt.
Amna Ilyas as a struggler and dreamer with very subtle grey shades to her character, is another star of the show. Nowhere in the film does she seem out of character. Her screen presence, dialogue delivery and apt expressions balance the louder presence of Shameera, not to mention Amna’s onscreen radiant beauty.
Of daring male characters and countless cameos
Amongst the male characters, it’s Nayyar Ijaz who stands out. Playing a gay star-maker who defines the casting couch culture of showbiz, that too with an unapologetic expression of his sexuality in our setup is immensely daunting on both his and the director’s part. Everyone remembers the flake Fawad Khan received when he played a gay character in Kapoor and Sons, despite it being written with so much subtlety. Nayyar’s could be the most obvious and daring LGBT character played by any actor in the mainstream Pakistani cinema till date and he plays it without any inhibitions, which is definitely applause worthy.
Osman Khalid Butt as Rohail Khan is another actor who will surprise many as he portrays a director with vision and intellect who is also sensitive and kind hearted. A twist in the end will surprise the audiences even more when they see that there is more to Rohail khan than his kindness.
Ali Kazmi as Ramy and Shameera’s beau is another character to look out for. He portrays a desperate and short tempered lover who’s honest and concerned deep inside, to a perfect level. He’s the villain you would have a soft corner for; you would feel his helplessness and may even sympathize with him, something we rarely see with villainous characters.
Mohsin Abbas as Ajji although given lesser space, also impresses when and wherever he appears. However, one of the scenes where he sets a course of misunderstanding resulting in an ultimate disaster, is poorly explained and should have been addressed towards the end.
Rest of the supporting cast includes veterans like Nishu and Irfan Khoosat and as everyone knows, the veterans never disappoint. A host of cameos from fashion and film fraternity placed throughout the film not only suits the narrative but adds further freshness to it. Let’s keep their names an onscreen surprise.
The phenomenon that Saqib Malik is
Baaji is truly a Saqib Malik-Meera film. Throughout the film, it is clearly visible that Saqib came up with a well-formed vision and not just a decision to make a film. He has taken a lot of time developing the plot, screenplay and has thoroughly looked at the nitty gritty details of this layered project.
His grip is solid throughout the film and his experience, visible in every frame. His involvement in screenplay and dialogues with Irfan Urfi further cements the already strong narrative. Without giving spoilers, there remain some unexplained answers with regards to Mohsin Abbas and Osman Khalid’s characters, however.
Of nostalgia, music and abrupt endings
Nonetheless, the references to the 90s Lollywood are nostalgic, relatable and intelligently chosen. A talk show scene with Shameera where a song called Suno Suno from the film Chief Sahab begins playing is amongst the many moments that would take you to that era and may even make you fall in love with it.
The music is already a chart buster and the songs such as Khilti Kali, Badlan and Ye Aaj Mujhko are the most conspicuous of all. The jazz number featuring Zeb Bangash is picturized in a way that has never been done before in Pakistan.
Having said that and without giving any spoilers, the film could have had multiple possible endings and the sudden transformation in its mood and genre in the last fifteen minutes could have been done in an alternate and perhaps a more palatable way. The “happy ending” though is a favorite option for our film producers and many of our viewers but it in Baaji’s case, it happened a little too sudden.
Of a few issues here and there
The said ending is another reason why I feel “Test Screening” should come in practice in Pakistan. All I can say at this point in time is watch the film to know what we are talking about. Similarly, the editing and scene transitions could have been done in a relatively smoother way. Moreover, those aerial shots of traffic were rather unnecessary.
However, despite its few shortcomings, Baaji remains a delightful filmy experience.From its choreography to art direction and from its set designs to makeup and wardrobe, everything is on point.
The film pays tribute to the classic social dramas of the 60s and 70s Lollywood, brings in the nostalgia of the 90s, while somehow also finds an inspiration from the golden era of Hollywood; the 40s & 50s.
Baaji may just be the best cinematic work that portrays Lollywood’s forgotten cinematic heritage on a colorful yet a dark palette.