Mah e Mir strongly criticises the commercialisation of the arts, but will anyone listen?

In its form and content, the film echoes woes of modern-day artists, weary of growing demand for easily digestible 'art'
Updated 10 May, 2016

Mah i Mir is an unlikely blockbuster, and its writer Sarmad Sehbai knows.

Directed by Anjum Shahzad, this is a film that follows poet and columnist Jamal (Fahad Mustafa) as he navigates the increasingly commercialised world of publishing and the larger media sphere, refusing all the while to compromise his integrity as a writer in the face of pressure to produce more saleable content.

Jamal loses his regular writing job as a newspaper columnist when he sends in a critical piece about his very influential literary rival Naina Kanwal (Sanam Saeed) on the same day that her interview is being printed on his own publication's cover.

Subsequently, Jamal is unable to find work, as no employer is able to appreciate his literary ideals. So, he finds the time to write poetry - and in a new style, inspired by a chance encounter with a fellow poet (Iman Ali) whom he falls in love with at first sight.

He is eventually lifted out of his difficult circumstances when a leading scholar Dr Kaleem (Manzar Sehbai) offers him a handsome advance for a collection of his poems. Dr Kaleem departs after gifting Jamal his latest work, "50 pages on the madness of Mir".

After long regarding Mir as a dated or irrelevant poet, Jamal finally delves into his work, and discovers many parallels between Mir's predicament and his own.

This is how Jamal's story intersects with Mir's.

Mir Taqi Mir (1723-1810) was an 18th century Urdu poet, whose ghazals and masnavis elevated him to superstar status. Born in Agra, India, he lived his creative life in Delhi and Lucknow, where he was a regular in the courts. His most famous works are the love-themed Kulliyat-e-Mir and Mu'amlat-e-Ishq. Nearing the end of his life, he had a falling out with his royal patrons.

Just as Mir grew to spurn the court's opulence to write and recite for the common people, Jamal refuses to pander to the demands of what sells.

As Jamal entreats his publisher to not underestimate readers, he brings to mind current-day film producers who do the same.

As he lambasts his editor for replacing his column with a fashion report, he brings to mind the dumbing down of content on TV and in print.

And so Mah e Mir is a film about obsession, about pursuing your passion, about hearing (and listening to) your inner voice, about staying true to the purest, most honest part of yourself while society around you brays at the gall of your non-conformity.

The making of this film itself embodies this central theme.

After a lengthy four-year production and several delays in release, the highly awaited Mah e Mir emerged as anything but conventional cinematic fare.

It was initially thought to be a neatly packaged biopic of Mir. But instead of staying rooted to the somewhat obscure facts of his life, writer Sehbai imagines the poet's famed 'madness' and isolation and relates it to the woes of the modern-day artist or writer, who is weary of an increasing demand for easily digestible, mainstream art.

Mah e Mir is a rather prescient work that anticipates its every challenge in the box office, yet refuses to pander to what sells.

The film is thus framed as a damning comment on the commercialisation of the arts and its criticism.

As Jamal entreats his publisher to not underestimate readers, he brings to mind current-day film producers who do the same.

As he lambasts his editor for replacing his column with a fashion report, he brings to mind the dumbing down of content on TV and in print.

As he's advised to switch to novels from poetry, he brings to mind a sweeping preference for the tried-and-tested and a disdain for new (or old) ideas and experiments.

As his fate is determined by those who hold the pursestrings, he brings to mind the commercial interests that dominate the arts.

This makes Mah i Mir a rather prescient work that anticipates its every challenge in the box office, yet refuses to pander to what sells.

With a dialogue-heavy script in archaic Urdu, a two-track story that audience may struggle to grasp, a mostly restrained romance and a deeply philosophical slant, the film has relied solely on the star power of Fahad Mustafa and Iman Ali to draw in the crowds. It may work, but the crowd may not stay. The two-and-a-half hour film tested the patience of its audience on the first day of the film's screening, as significant numbers left the halls at various points of the film.

Many people may not care about the enduring relevance of Mir, but it's a message that Sarmad Sehbai is bent on imparting. In an earlier interview, he talks about how Pakistan has learned to look down on its heritage. Through Mah e Mir, Sehbai is both reclaiming our history, and insisting on not catering to our unfortunately acquired taste for Hollywood and Bollywood formula films.

In a key moment in Mah e Mir, Dr Kaleem, on handing Jamal a set of Mir's poetry, tells him: “You can’t drive without a rearview mirror.” The rest of the film drives this point home; we need to learn from our past mistakes, we need to retain elements of our culture that made us who we are even as we take steps forward. Jamal is able to realise his poetic potential after he stops resisting the old masters and discovering his parallels with Mir’s 'madness'. He is able to do this despite his non-conformity with the standards of the publishing world.

In short, Sarmad Sehbai has told the story he wished to tell, and acknowledged that it won’t please the crowds.

But in doing so, I hope the very important message — that commercial or monetary concerns shouldn't trump important artistic traditions or considerations — isn't lost.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆


shayan May 09, 2016 11:08am
a Very good movie to watch and you will lost in 18th century. if you love poetry you must watch it.
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Ali May 09, 2016 11:11am
Awesome Movie for those having a nack for Urdu Adab.................... Greating acting by Sehbai, Fahad and Imaan Ali. Bravo
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khuram May 09, 2016 11:13am
The film itself is a piece of Art and not everybody is interested in art that much so yeah it won,t do very well commercially. I have seen it yesterday, its a treat for the art lovers
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Aamer May 09, 2016 11:21am
This movie didnt release in the UK or USA why? I am still waiting.
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Siri May 09, 2016 12:15pm
Eagerly waiting to see this movie. The promos reveal an intensity and poetic beauty which is far above the commercial crap we get served by the worlds biggest film industry. Will the movie be released in Norway?
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Mubashir Mahmood May 09, 2016 12:38pm
Many will see it on TV as this type of cinema is not mostly viewed in theaters
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Madiha May 09, 2016 12:40pm
The film is superb piece of art and definitely not on the pattern of formula commercial film. So giving taste of pure art and poetry to its viewers. Amazing work by the cast and the director who smoothly swung between two eras. It's a must watch.
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Huma May 09, 2016 12:40pm
Watched it on the first date of release here in UAE. Amazing piece of work, simply loved it. But I agree you have to have a taste of Urdu poetry or at least have some understanding of it, in order to enjoy it. Well done
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Optimistic PK May 09, 2016 02:32pm
A very good movie. a great combination of knowledge and entertainment. The young generation should watch this movie to know the true essence of love and courage. this movie presented very effective picture of Mir Taqqi Mir. i admit that this movie is commercially a slow stater but i expect it to boost later on. Well acted Fahad Mustafa.
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Nazish May 09, 2016 02:56pm
I just watched the trailer but instantly fell in love.(deg Ka aik Dana chakh ker puri biryani ka pata lag jata hey).
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Nazish May 09, 2016 02:58pm
I just watched the trailer but instantly fell in love.
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Shah May 09, 2016 03:12pm
Art survives and thrives in the coattails of commercialization. Necessary evil
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Tayyaba Rana May 09, 2016 04:21pm
Beauty is the only word that can describe the movie. it's a 'movie' not masala or hotch-potch of several items that sell. it's very much cinema. People should watch it.
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Mukhtar May 09, 2016 05:45pm
Have you ever met a starving artist? It is one way of making a living. On empty stoch, bare body and roofless dwelling, one can only think of peddling what ever art one has. It could be the art of even begging. Artistry comes only on full stomach, and it is a busines, so please quit being a righteous artist!!
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Ehsan May 09, 2016 05:56pm
Release on Netflix as well
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tarar May 10, 2016 06:50am
its so amazing , how Sahbai has translated and presented the notion of wahshat e meer with all its conscious/subconscious elements in different timelines as human archetypes . Nawab is the modern time media ,Souda is Naina kanwal and the Karam Ellahi represents the commoners of Jamia Masjad Dehli. Eman Ali and Fahad Mustaf have played their vintage and modern characters so immaculately and their presence and departure from one time zone to an other is so effortless and subtle (so is the editing) . Sarmad Sahbai aap nay kamal kar dia
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Fahad Y Khan May 10, 2016 09:38am
The movie is a great piece of art and can only be understood by those who read Urdu literature. Anjum Shahzad reflected the concept of Mir's "madness" according to modern trends very professionally.
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Sadaf May 14, 2016 05:12pm
A big boo-boo in casting Fahad Mustafa as the rebellious artist. While in reality he's epitomizes selling out. Too much to digest. This film flopped even before it started production.
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