There is a big difference between what I saw at the premiere compared to what I’ve been reading in the newspapers. People left the movie midway; those who stayed back could be seen laughing and talking loudly, commenting on how they don’t get a word of what’s being said in the film. On the other hand, reviews suggest that Mah-e-Mir is a smashing success and is one of the best films made to date. So which one is it? Do critics only praise films that the masses don’t really like?
To address the first opinion, there were some factors in the movie that made me want to get up and leave too. For instance, the language indeed was too difficult to follow. Sanam Saeed has delivered a very one dimensional performance which was not believable or enjoyable. The styling is quite bad- really unattractive clothes and Fahad Mustafa, why did you allow them to do that to your hair?
But there were some things that Mah-e-Mir has done differently compared to any Pakistani film I have seen recently: It delivered a thought and did so very intelligently. This is basically the power of good writing, for which we must thank Sarmad Sehbai, who has penned Mah-e-Mir. When a story has been constructed well, you can look past bad acting and average art direction. Fahad addressed my queries at the film’s press conference earlier, where he said ‘you will leave the theatre with a question,’ and he was right.
The film talks about classic versus modern, shedding light on the dying appreciation for classical Urdu literature through the life of a writer, Jamal, played by Fahad, and his own personal struggles. It talks about new age media and how it’s affecting the quality of literature being produced. It talks about how people nowadays are not interested in appreciating our own language and literature, as can be reflected in the scene where Fahad’s editor asks him to write a glossy interview of a celebrity instead of writing a critical piece on a famous writer’s work.
But there are other questions that this film asks as well. What makes a classic a classic? Is it dependent on the age of a writer or the language? Can we make classics in this day as well? Manzar Sehbai, who plays Dr. Kaleem in the film, explains this with ease: a classic is a classic because of its timelessness, its ability to speak to an audience from any time era. In the film, he says that we don’t speak of writers Mir or Ghalib in the past tense, we speak of them as if they are very much alive today. He also explains that Mir or Ghalib didn’t speak to any one in particular, their writings are musings of their mind, as if they were trying to resolve their own issues by talking to themselves. Perhaps that is what makes their work relatable to all audiences.
This is something our filmmakers can learn today as well. We all have heard the line “We’re making what the masses want and will pay money for,” but what ends up being produced on the screen is something half intelligent, and unimpressive. Jawani Phir Nai Aani may have made a lot of money on the box office, but ten years from now, will critics and students or simply cinema-goers be talking about the film? Will it be considered a ‘masterpiece’ and something that is representative of the society we live in today? Unfortunately, JPNI was a mindless comedy and does not realistically depict Pakistani lives.
Mah-e-Mir can mostly definitely be a film that can and will be discussed and studied in the future. However, it probably won’t do well at the box office because clearly, it’s not something that the masses will necessarily pay money for. I do hope that more filmmakers are interested in making something other than money: Classics. I also hope that our masses are more accepting of films that challenge them to think and understand the world around them.