Saqib Malik promised his directorial debut for the big screen to be a potpourri of all things classic. Baaji was promoted as a social drama-cum-thriller but the film delivered on so many other grounds (lacking on many as well). It is set against the backdrop of a fading Lollywood and the film depicts this devolution in all manners; from withering star power, insecurities, obsession to manipulation and chicanery.
Here’s a film which not only has an ensemble cast, but one where each actor has a style of their own. The two ladies — Meera as Shameera and Amna Ilyas as Neha — for instance, are polar opposites in their acting techniques. While Meera looks the part and even acts like a diva, there is an inevitable clash between the two actors’ prowess. Meera’s expressions, though slightly over-the-top sometimes, are undoubtedly a winner. When the actress doesn’t try to playact, she can give any Gen Z star a run for their money. There’s one scene in particular where she is looking at herself in the mirror and you can spot doubt, fear and uncertainty in her eyes.
Amna, on the other hand, is subtle and plays the aspiring middle-class beauty parlour girl-turned-star’s manager quite convincingly. At times, we have a feeling that she is a social climber as she latches on to anyone who may have the means to improve her social standing. However, that’s not always a negative quality after all Neha had the best of intentions for Shameera.
Shameera’s obsessive boyfriend Remy (Ali Kazmi) is as crazy as the actress. He wants her to leave her failing career and settle down, and then also cannot stand others taking advantage of her. At one point, he even tries to produce a film for her. Perhaps it’s the bad boy charm or something else but I actually rooted for him during the first half of the film. Mohsin Abbas Haider had a blink-and-miss role as Neha’s admirer and for the longest time I questioned his presence in the film, until the climax when one action by him changed the narrative drastically. The film has one recurring gesture between Neha and Ajji which the viewers will surely remember for many days to come.
It’s high time we start awarding Nayyar Ejaz for his exceptional talent. He is like a chameleon who can transform into any character and own it like its tailor-made for him. His stint as the former manager of Shameera, aka the malicious Chand Kamal, is impeccable. Moving on to Osman Khalid Butt; he is essaying the role of Rohail Khan, a Hollywood-returned film director who appears to be a Good Samaritan for Shameera’s salvation. Rohail offers Shameera a film at their very first interaction during an interview. The whole plot line seems too good to be true and it’s worsened by the unimpressive love angle that emerges out of nowhere (watch the film to find out with whom). When asked by Begum Nawazish Ali (aka Ali Saleem) why did he come back to Pakistan to make a film, Rohail’s answer bowled us over with fits of laughter. He replies, ‘Kyun ke Dil Dil Pakistan!’ Believe me this is an actual dialogue in the film and oddly enough the cheesiest one.
Fem-jep (female in jeopardy) is an established and popular genre in Hollywood films where a heroine goes through ridiculous and destructive situations at the hands of men in her life. We have seen such examples in Bollywood as well such as Madhur Bhandarkar’s Fashion. Baaji falls under the same category with a twist as Shameera suffers from the society’s indifference and her delusions at the same time.
As far as soundtrack is concerned, the highlight of the music album is unfortunately remixed Lollywood’s classics, Khilti Kali and Ye Aaj Mujh Ko Kya Hua, establishing the fact that we still need to work hard to produce chartbuster soundtracks.
Baaji also shows the emerging new order of the Pakistani film industry which is as glossed over as the reality (hint: watch a ballroom party scene where Tariq Amin speaks a few words about Shameera). In Baaji, you’ll witness all that is said about the trappings of super stardom and its repercussions. Written by Saqib Malik and Irfan Ahmed Urfi, the film is knitted with nuanced performances for the most part but like most of the Pakistani flicks, it lacks a satisfying ending.
Spoiler alert: At the pinnacle of the story, the writer threw such a twist that altered the genre of the film altogether and that was one subplot which seemed uncalled for. The glam was concealed by murder, mystery, revenge, unnecessary scheming and an unbelievable con and yet all of it was resolved without much effort.
Baaji forsakes much of its potential in its urge to please the crowds with plot twists and cliffhangers. It lets go of the fine distinction which was the core of the movie, i.e. the transition from Lollywood to new-age cinema however, it is far more engaging than most films. And all thanks to Saqib Malik, the millennials will now see Meera beyond her gaffes and faux pas, as a fantastic actress.