Nowadays in the race for ratings, likes, numbers and box office earnings, we sometimes forget to appreciate art for its true purpose. It’s meant to be consumed emotionally and mentally. While it’s a given that a film like Saawan will never do well in Pakistan, commercially or critically as well sadly, the film has been recognized and appreciated internationally for what it is: compelling storytelling.
Directed by Farhan Alam, the film revolves around a 9 year old boy who suffers from polio and is therefore unable to walk. Living with his parents and younger sister in Balochistan, Saawan is constantly bullied, unappreciated and often ridiculed for his disabilities. As he is separated from his parents when they are forced to leave him behind, Saawan is encouraged to find a way back to his parents because he never lets his disabilities stop him from completing his chores or his responsibilities.
There are various sub plots that merge into one: a journalist attempts to uncover the truth as well as help Saawan’s family; two child traffickers are on a joy ride abducting young children from villages; a Sardar of Balochistan offers fake promises to his people in order to gain their trust and support. And of course, Saawan’s parents who are shown as fighters and not passive victims of their conditions.
Perhaps the biggest crime committed by this film is that it could have easily been a little shorter in duration. There are some very lengthy scenes that could have simply been done without. Also, some performances could have been better. Saleem Mairaj unfortunately is borderline overacting in the film; the journalist is given a back story but we’re unable to humanize him; some of the extras needed some work.
But the hits in this film are stronger than the misses. The main cast is simply phenomenal, special credit goes to the star of the film, Saawan, played by the very young and talented Syed Karam Hussain. Najiba Faiz, who plays Saawan’s mother, is brilliantly relatable. The young abducted children are also an absolute treat to watch on screen.
Of course, the picturesque backdrops of Skardu, Gilgit and various other Northern regions along with the befitting musical score simply add to the story.
The most important thing about Saawan is that it offers a perspective. Nobody is preaching or giving sermons on how to fix society and its problems. The film simply shows a very ugly reality of our lives with grim precision. And the idea is to make you understand, not to make you suddenly get up and change the world. So the next time, for instance, you see a disabled beggar on the streets, you think twice before rudely shrugging him away. So you understand why some Pakistanis are scared to give their children polio vaccines. So you understand the polio epidemic in this country.
After watching the film, one is left with various perspectives from another side and that is what art is really about. Saawan is in no mood to make you feel good and fuzzy on the inside, or to entertain or make you laugh (even though it does manage that on several occasions as well). Saawan simply offers you a reality check, fused with a small dose of fantasy.