“Because I f#*%king hate that masala!” Asim Abbasi, director Cake responded spontaneously and very, very honestly when I asked him how he had mustered up the courage to make a film that wasn’t your usual formula of masala and slapstick humour that is guaranteed to bring box office success. Asim’s was a brutal and yet desperately needed response because only with this level of passion can a filmmaker deliver a project that is unpretentious, sincere and honest. And that’s exactly what Cake is.
There was a unanimous wave of awe amongst the cinema spaces that premiered the film in Karachi yesterday. It was a jam-packed audience and a very high profile one at that. The Cake cast and crew was the heart and soul of the red carpet but the Nueplex was bustling with artistes that had either come in support of the film or to see what the fuss was all about.
You had Meera, dressed in red, expressing her love for the film. You had Nandita Das, all the way from India for the Pakistan International Film Festival, and in the cinema to watch the film.
“I enjoyed the film very much,” Nandita Das said on the sidelines of the premiere, after the screening and before the Q&A session with the cast and crew. “It was very layered and not at all simplistic; the performances were all very strong. It’s a universal kind of a story,” she added. “It’s about relationships, which everybody can connect to – friendship, love, guilt, betrayal – all these are human, universal emotions. I hope they distribute the film in India.”
Distribution is dependent on box office success and one wonders whether Cake, without fun and frolic in the conventional and filmy sense of the words, will be successful in pulling in numbers. This concern was voiced by several critics who appreciated the effort made but were apprehensive about the public response to the film.
Here’s why it should do well.
Cake is purely Pakistani in its narrative. Initially one compared it to Kapoor & Sons but after seeing the film, one realizes it was a misjudgment. The only similarity in the two films is sibling rivalry; the rest is as unique as the character of Romeo, played brilliantly by Adnan Malik.
The performances are all brilliant and each character has a vital function and purpose in the film. Beo, as the proud matriarch of the house, serves as the heart of this tale. Her comic timing is perfect and her quirks – her love for Bollywood songs and flamboyant wigs – add to her persona. Mohammad Ahmed, who plays the father, may take the back bench in the first half of the film but rises and shines, especially in moments like their 50th wedding anniversary. We’ve never doubted Aamina Sheikh and Sanam Saeed’s acting skills and the two sisters, Zara and Zareen, appear to be taking turns on a see-saw of emotions. There are details in their personalities that indicate at mature character development. Most significantly, the two leading ladies reflect a progressive side of female characters in cinema. And back to Adnan, he excels in the silent role of Romeo, the resourceful and yet poetic ‘helping hand’ whose half sleeve shirts and socks with holes have rhyme and reason.
A special vote must go out to The Sketches, who have composed the OST for the film. ‘Meri Duniya’ is my absolutely favourite track but even the rest of the singles, woven into the narrative, coordinate with the film’s heart beat and never go out of sync. And a final nod of appreciation for Mo Azmi, the cinematographer who captures Karachi and interior Sindh in its purest form. The beauty is to hold a mirror to reality and yet manage to camouflage the ugliness without doctoring it. The camerawork is experimental and unique; look out for the finale – a scene shot in a single-take without break.
There’s so much to say about Cake and writer/director Asim Abbasi is to credit for that; he’s promised that he’s already working on his next project. One would ideally have taken 15-20 minutes off the film, editing some of the longer acts. I would also have hoped for a better title for the film because yes, cakes are layered and unpredictable, but the film is so indigenously Pakistani that its title should have been just as suited to its region. But these thoughts are trivial in the larger scheme of things; in entirety it all works. Cake works very well.