Nabeel Qureshi’s much-awaited new film, Actor in Law combines star power, solid performances and plenty of laughs this Eid. The movie lacks the rollicking comedic action of Qureshi’s acclaimed first film, Na Maloom Afraad but has the same blend of clever direction and native awareness.
Actor in Law tells the story of Shan Mirza (Fahad Mustafa), an aspiring actor who is a disappointment to his lawyer father (Om Puri). Thwarted in his acting career, he ends up impersonating a lawyer, using theatrics and over-the-top rhetoric in the courtroom while his father is away on Hajj.
He shoots to stardom when reporter Meenu (Mehwish Hayat) captures his courtroom speechifying on film and the two embark on a series of public interest litigations, picking up some powerful enemies on the way.
The plot requires a certain suspension of belief; social injustices are painted with a broad brush and facile solutions indicate that this is the stuff of fantasy. The plot gives Qureshi ample room to pull in scenes about societal issues ranging from Eve-teasing to political slogans being painted on walls.
While the episodic nature of Shan’s cases allows for plenty of satire, the story fails to gather the suspense and momentum that would have taken the film from good to great.
The movie is, however, full of ingenious visual gags and the scenes seamlessly segue from drama to comedy to romance, with the songs fitting naturally into the narrative. Atif Aslam’s Dil Ye Dancer Ho Gaya and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s Khudaya are both cleverly choreographed as is the title song, Actor in Law.
While much of the humour comes from pop culture references that foreign audiences are unlikely to recognize, local viewers will thoroughly enjoy the allusions to memorable incidents such as Ayesha Sana’s infamous ‘Bright Karein’ episode and model Ayaan Ali’s arrest for money laundering.
Satirical elements such as Bhai’s birthday party or powerful anchor Mubashir Sultan are not subtle but are deftly handled, avoiding the trap of becoming belaboured.
Na Maloom Afraad seemed to draw inspiration Hera Pheri and the courtroom antics in Actor in Law exhibit shades of Jolly LLB. Depending more on rhetoric than any sort of legal base, the law scenes underestimate the audience’s intelligence.
The courtroom drama does encourage Fahad Mustafa to indulge in some histrionics but the rest of his portrayal is effective. He has great comedic timing and is excellent in the song and dance numbers, unlike most Pakistani actors.
Om Puri gives the sort of strong performance you would expect, his measured delivery in the finale forming a telling counterpoint to Mustafa’s presentation.
Meenu is yet another feisty avatar for Mehwish Hayat, after Anmol in the TV serial Dil Lagi. While she is somewhat unconvincing as a Parsi, the rest of Hayat’s performance is very entertaining. She obviously has fun with the role though some of her major speeches could have done with more nuance.
The other female characters in the film are, however, poorly developed. Meenu, at least, gets to be independent and courageous, unlike Shan’s sister who is bland and downtrodden. Is it really necessary to show her being ordered to make tea by her brother?
The scene may reflect reality but we expect more from a crusading filmmaker like Qureshi. It’s all very well to include impassioned speeches about eve-teasing but the depiction of female characters is perhaps just as important.
In general, Actor in Law is an amusing romp. Qureshi has delivered another firmly Karachi-centric film, full of familiar landmarks and the energy of the city. It’s not a story that will grip you, but Actor in Law is tremendously funny, beautifully made and enjoyable. Definitely worth seeing this Eid.