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Review: Na Baligh Afraad — of school boys and the perils of watching an adult film in the


Sometime in the 1990s, two meek, sneaky, hot-blooded schoolgoing brothers from a lower-middle class family — Mazhar and Fakhar (Aashir Wajahat, Samar Jafri) — provoked and maddened by bullies, concoct a plan to transform themselves from puny, piffling boys to strapping, chest-thumping men…by renting an adult film.

The premise is not as ridiculous — nor as raunchy — as it sounds.

Those of us who remember our childhood from the 90s — like this writer and Na Baligh Afraad’s director Nabeel Qureshi — know that renting and sneaking in an adult film in a house full of moms, dads, uncles and aunties is easier said than done, (few in this generation can fathom how different things were in the VCR era), and that the embarrassing, anxiety-inducing nostalgia could lead to a potential goldmine of comedy.

“Could” being the operative word here.

Despite swinging far and wide to trigger laughs, there’s little genuine comedy in the film — though, that doesn’t make Na Baligh Afraad a bad, or even a mediocre movie.

Na Baligh Afraad is proudly advertised as a product of quick turnaround. The film was made within 17 days — and it shows.

Cost-cutting measures are evident on the screen. Take, for example, a brief scene of conflict between Mazhar, Fakhar and their nasty, no-good lewd school administrator Sir Kashif (Mani), that is shot in a single low-angle close-push and a pull back (where the camera moves in from a long-shot to a close-up, and then moves back). In most cases, such camera moves would have been counted as a negative since it is hardly an effective shot choice, though not here.

While I have reservations, and would have loved to see a close-up, or a little dynamic parallax to the move, in Na Baligh Afraad’s case, I’d classify this into the “smart filmmaking” category.

“Smart”, in filmmaking lingo, means finding the best, fast, cost-effective, solutions that deliver adequate, if not pristine, results.

For the most part Karachi can still easily stand-in for the 90s. Old electronics — like Indesit fridges, televisions, VCRs and VHS cassettes are still relatively easy to get — and the architecture haven’t changed that much, so dressing up the sets and actors should not have been that difficult.

Lit as naturally as possible, with a hint of cinematic punch-ups by Rana Kamran — the director’s go-to cinematographer who adds a midas touch to the frames — Nabeel, of late, has been on a steady rise as one of Pakistan’s better filmmakers. His last film, the horror-comedy segment Jinn Mahal in Teri Meri Kahaniyaan, was an improvement over most of his filmography since the first Na Maloom Afraad released about 10 years ago.

Na Baligh Afraad (no relation to Na Maloom Afraad, in case you were wondering) is probably Nabeel’s third best film, storytelling wise.

While, surprisingly, neither IMDb nor the credit list at the end of the trailer mentions the name of the screenwriter, the storyline is unconventional. It features a bevy of back-to-back dilemmas the youngsters need to tumble and roll with as they strive to rent, and then play, a “blue film” — a forgotten term for pornographic movies that goes back decades to Andy Warhol’s 1969 erotic film.

A few months before the film had been set up with Nabeel, Aashir had confided Na Baligh Afraad’s story to this reviewer. I confess, the story presented concerns, especially with the narrative take I foresaw.

Nabeel and producing partner Fizza Ali Meerza’s inclusion has alleviated that concern. Irrespective of the subject at hand, Na Baligh Afraad is a prime example of family-friendly entertainment. The story avoids lickerish, perverted, indelicate instances like the plague; heck, it even gives a great, wholesome and encouraging message to budding young men at the very end.

Throughout the story, there are a great many predicaments in the two boys’ unremitting attempts to see the adult film that are resolved simply and without ceremony. While loose ends in the plot are entirely covered — and covering loose ends is a rare, applaudable sight in Pakistani film’s narratives — the quick, everyday-ish nature of the predicaments and their anti-climatic solutions leave a tinge of dissatisfaction.

At times the film’s one-hour-and-40-minute runtime feels longer than it needs to be. The editors, Asif Mumtaz and Farhan Sultan, could have snipped heads, tails and in-between scenes to make them a smidgen shorter. Ten snips, each shaving seconds-off of a scene, can effectively cut down minutes in the long-run. One case in point is a scene of hullabaloo where Mazhar and Fakhar are caught between a rock and a hard place moments before the intermission.

This pre-intermission scene is dealt with a strange twist that isn’t successful as a high-point break between the two halves of the film, however, the shenanigan is played nicely into the plot right up to the climax where Fahad Mustafa smashes his way into the film.

Mustafa, swaggering into scenes with nothing but macho mannerism and little concern for acting, relives a character from another film of Nabeel’s, whose entry in this timeline can be chalked up to “suspension of disbelief”.

Both Aashir and Samar — the latter, whose work I will keep an eye out for from now — are wonderful, intelligent actors who carry the nuance of innocent children with professionalism. Aashir, in particular, delivers an astounding change of performance from John.

While Mohammed Ehteshamuddin, playing their father, is fine despite wearing an unconvincing moustache-less beard (the man has never given a bad performance), it is Saleem Mairaj, Irfan Motiwala, and Faiza Hassan who steal the show.

Motiwala plays a crude, indelicate videographer with a bad sense of fashion who is romantically involved with a middle-aged woman (Arzu Fatima) who tutors the neighbourhood children. Mairaj, a delight and a hoot, plays the owner of the adult video store who is a diehard fanboy of Sanjay Dutt. Hasan, a gem of an actor who nails the pitchy voice one remembers from lower-middle-class aunties of days gone by, plays the boys’ mom who can’t stand her husband’s elder sister (Rashida Tabassum) who is visiting their family.

The visiting sister has a son, Jugnoo (Aadi Adeal Amjad), who becomes semi-embroiled in the predicaments. Notwithstanding the fact that Jugnoo is one of the better characters Aadi Adeal has played to date, his performance is just okay.

I’ve heard contention about Na Baligh Afraad not having a female lead; well, rest easy, because the film does feature a romantic subplot. Rimha Ahmed plays the cute girl-next-door who catches Mazhar and Fakhars’ eyes on her entry, and when one thinks that the screenplay has all but forgotten about her, the story takes the character on a path seldom travelled.

That twist slowly weaves itself into the narrative, like many plot points, despite failing to create an emotional connection with the audience. This lack of a true connection — where one’s consciousness is hooked to the dilemmas — is, alas, ever-present in Na Baligh Afraad.

The absence of triggering genuine emotion for the characters, and a near dearth of laugh-out-loud humour, are disincentives, irrespective of fine cinematographic decisions, a recurring series of muddles and messes the brothers get in and out of, and a lack of loose ends.

These two cons, born likely of a quick production schedule, are in the minority, so perhaps shelling out the price of admission for Na Baligh Afraad may not be a bad thing after all…if one is into the premise, that is.

Na Baligh Afraad is rated U by the Sindh Board of Film Censors, and has been playing in cinemas since Eidul Azha.



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