Balu Mahi proves Pakistan can't stomach love without marriage

Balu Mahi proves Pakistan can't stomach love without marriage

The film is a rom-com with some dark, dramatic moments, but perhaps it’s better described and digested as a fantasy film
Updated 16 Feb, 2017

In Balu Mahi, we see the blooming of an accidental love.

Balu (Osman Khalid Butt) crashes the wrong wedding and professes his undying love to the wrong bride, that is, Mahi (Ainy Jaffri Rahman, while she’s hidden under a ghoonghat). Mahi isn’t too keen on her husband-to-be (or marriage at all, for that matter), so she runs away with him anyway.

So starts the adventure of Balu Mahi — a long-winded, two-part journey that takes the duo through old Lahore and beyond with Mahi’s family of quasi-goons in hot pursuit. Mahi just wants to live her own life, not what her traditional family demands of her. Balu follows her around, partly because he feels responsible for her safety and partly because he is fascinated by this strange ebullient being who is unconsciously healing his broken heart.

The adventure stretches over two and a half hours, during which we see some song and dance sequences, a fair number of LOL moments and lots of pretty shots of Pakistan. All the while, the film’s message about women’s rights is intermittently hammered into the script.

The film thus tries to balance Balu and Mahi’s role as its didactic mouthpieces with the more fun parts of the narrative, making it a fairly solid commercial fare. But it drops the ball at a few places — and quite noticeably so, which mars our overall enjoyment of the film.

But first, the good parts...

Balu Mahi's actors might be the best part of the film

It has to be said that Balu Mahi owes its success to good casting.

Both Osman and Ainy did justice to their main roles. They look good, they dance well and portray their respective roles with honesty. And they made us happy that the filmmakers took a chance on this first-time couple.

But at times, Osman and Ainy are beleaguered by unnatural dialogue, for which their performance suffers.

This is most evident in Balu’s last sermon (you’ll know it when you see it) where he launches into a speech about women’s rights. This was a message that was better subtly shown, not told. The film was doing an adequate job of doing so until this point, and his final sentimental outburst lent the film a kind of preachiness that partly undoes its efforts to make it a fun watch.

It’s like the OKB we see on TV. We know he’s a great actor, but what can the man do when he’s handed a script full of trite lines.

Ainy charms us with Mahi's spunky spirit, but if her portrayal had a hint of vulnerability that a runaway bride must feel, it would have made her character more relatable.

A lot of eyes were on Sadaf Kanwal, who makes a confident debut as the seductive Sharmeen. Her performance is mostly consistent and she thankfully saves us from cringing through the racier parts of the film. Khurram Patras manages to portray the captain’s quietly simmering rage at the sudden rise of new boy, that is, Mahi in disguise. Mustafa Ali Khan buoyed up the film with his comic ability and the cameo by Javed Sheikh had the desired comic effect too.

Hits and misses in the soundtrack

The title track turns out to be quite the infectious earworm, particularly because it’s accompanied by high-octane performance. Rahat’s qawwali is great, the soft, lilting 'Tu Kya Janay' also doesn’t offend.

However, the post-interval 'Bechaniyaan' is so sappy that Mahi would have retched like the time Balu told her he’s still in love with his college sweetheart. The song plays out almost like Osman and Ainy’s mock cover letter to Bollywood. There's no clear purpose to its existence, except as plug in for a time lapse and there are more effective plot devices for that.

Now, on to the not-so-great...

Genre confusion

Balu Mahi is a rom-com with some dark, dramatic moments, but perhaps it’s better described and digested as a fantasy film.

I say this because within the context of the fantasy genre, a lot of the director Haissam Hussain and writer Saad Azhar's liberties with the real world would be acceptable. Otherwise, some events are too implausible, even for our state of suspended disbelief.

[SPOILERS] While we can stomach the script’s many departures from reality like a bride charging out of her wedding venue on a horse or her impromptu casting in a dance sequence, for example; it’s too much to expect the audience to disregard facts as glaringly obvious as the human anatomy.

Ainy Jaffri really didn’t look like a man (when the second half of the film demands that she be in disguise as a male polo player). And it’s a really strenuous stretch of the imagination to believe that: a) a team of testosterone-charged polo players failed to notice she wasn’t a man; or b) they did not bully her for appearing effeminate; or c) she felt secure enough to discard her disguise in her tent during the night.

This occasional laxness in the script is likely to exasperate the viewer. No one expects realism from a rom-com, but the script shouldn’t assume the viewer is well, stupid.

Inevitability of marriage

We get it. Audiences love a happy ending and those don’t happen without a spouse in the bag in the Pakistani imagination. [SPOILER] So, in a crowd-pleasing move, Balu Mahi ends quite predictably — with a declaration of love and shaadi plans. No points for guessing who’s the happy couple.

We can’t fault the filmmakers for wanting to meet audience expectations, but we have to ask: Can Pakistan not deal with love without marriage? Why does (almost) every love story culminate in a wedding?

This is especially true for Balu Mahi where the heroine Mahi is quite vocal about not being keen on marriage, and though she says she wants to marry on her own terms one day, she’s shown to warm up to the idea pretty darn fast. Two months and some days, to be exact.

Is it really too early to expect a writer to flip conventions? Can we have a rom-com where two people don’t end up in love... or fall out of love... or love each other, but don’t marry? Is it too soon to take that risk?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


hina Feb 16, 2017 10:57am
SUPERB ....!
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Lynch Feb 16, 2017 11:32am
Much of contemporary Pakistani 'actors'/actresses' are more suited to commercial/fashion modelling. They should stay away from performing arts.
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Yasmeen Feb 16, 2017 11:34am
BaluMahi is a BIG disappointment. Coming from HH it seems doubly so.The songs seen separately are done nicely but don't blend in at all.The biggest objection I have is towards the vulgar innuendos and crass behaviour.It was the high class humour that made us different from Bollywood vulgar jokes. Sadaf as a nymphomaniac was indigestable and Ainy in that fake beard was so unconvincing. There were huge gaps in the story which left one perplexed. What exactly was Durdana butts role is something I can't understand. Can I please have a gun wielding Dadu too? OKB is getting too feminine. I loved him in DD but he reminds you of KJo in Sanam. Here he oscillates between these two extremes. Hence zero chemistry between the pair. Just giving diplomatic reviews will not solve the problem. I would love Pakistani cinema to do well. But if our best directors will serve us garbage dressed up with chaat masala coldrink and nimko we will still complain about the garbage !!
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Sohail Feb 16, 2017 11:40am
I would say, why at all we need love script to come up with a good movie? I think there are many other ways of producing a good movie. Utterly sick of half cooked, confused mentality of so called liberals of my country! How can you come with an idea, which is not applicable to or at least approved by even 0.00001% of our population, the whole thoughts of this very author are running in circles? Nothing productive or positive at all, or at least I fail to see any!!
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Nikama Feb 16, 2017 11:54am
Osman butt is a pathetic actor.just over acting
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Ahmer Feb 16, 2017 12:19pm
It's been a very very long time since I watched any Pakistani or Indian movie. However these days I am watching PSL. There are ads of several tv serials during the games and all of them have a common dialogue/theme. Someone telling a woman, "chali jao yehan sai." Same ideas, different faces over and over again. Pathetic.
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Sarah Feb 16, 2017 12:33pm
THANK YOU for this amaze review. Seriously. Amidst all the reviews that sound like PR pieces and "celebrity endorsements", this one at least says it the way it is!
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P.K. Jain (India) Feb 16, 2017 12:48pm
These are the ways in the subcontinent . But let me tell you, as a father of a young woman, i am leaving things pretty in her own hands and the girl is enjoying every bit of it. And let me further tell you, as somebody used the term chutnification: the young people are mixing and marrying across the vast land of the country: nobody has the power to control it and many fathers like me are not complaining either.
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Sarah Feb 16, 2017 01:03pm
As a fan of Haissam Hussain, I had a lot of expectations from his debut movie as a director. Unfortunately, the movie has fallen extremely short when it comes to the storyline. Great visuals can only go so far. The antics of the actors in Bechainiyan are hilarious to say the least.
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Aamer Feb 16, 2017 01:34pm
@Lynch I am sure you never saw this movies so shut up. it was a great movie with great acting and songs.
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Aamer Feb 16, 2017 01:35pm
@Yasmeen I am sure you didn't see this movie at all so stop being so negative. i was a great movie. Everyone enjoyed it.
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Alanore Feb 16, 2017 01:58pm
I saw Balu Mahi over the weekend and just fell in Love with it, music was fantastic, the actors performed beyond expectations especially Shafqat Cheema and Aniy Jaffri, Shafqat Cheema is not that old to play grandfather. Osman Khalid Butt was good too. No wonder Bollywood is crazy over our actors and musicians. Aniy Jaffri was beautiful she played boys part well and looked even prettier with less make up. People who are criticising should think positively and pray for the Pakistani Film Industry. Balu Mahi was much better then the recent Bollywood releases like Raees and Kaabil. I hope it earns a lot of money (I am sure it will) so the producer can make even better movie next time. I watched this movie in Westfield Stratford cinema, the house was full. Everyone I knew just loved it.
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Alanore Feb 16, 2017 02:02pm
@Ahmer What does that have to do with Ballu Mahi?
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Someone Feb 16, 2017 02:12pm
@Sohail If you believe in democracy (majority is authority) then you can't do anything productive.
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Alanore Feb 16, 2017 02:14pm
@Yasmeen Yasmeen you saw Ballu Mahi which is suppose to be a pure entertainment movie. Yes there was no Chemistry between the girl and the boy but that was the point. Two stranger bump into each other and become friends. How many people you see in real lives that have chemistry? You said the movie is garbage but have you seen the old Pakistani movies from 80’s and 90’s with Reema, Babar Ali, Ramboo,Shan and Neeli ? Garbage seems much better compare to those movies.Pakistan film industries is picking up and trying to produce good quality movies and movies like Bol, Waar, YJPA, Lahore Say Agay and Ballu Mahi are just a start. Think Positive we don’t need negative people like you.
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Princess_of_DHUMP Feb 16, 2017 02:34pm
@Yasmeen You are watching a movie. Movies depict real life. In real life people exhibit crass behavior. Those who grew up with General Zia's dupatta policy want even movies to be made like TV drams. I loved Balu Mahi. Sure there were things where you are like 'really?' but by and large it was an excellent effort by the first timers.
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Falcon1 Feb 16, 2017 02:45pm
Did the author forget to mention, finally the couple sought asylum in Canada to escape the wrath of the Pakistani society for... well you can finish the story...??
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Ruby Feb 16, 2017 03:07pm
Sounds like a pretty good film to me. ANd I do not even like Indian or Pakistani movies. I think the author needs to relax and live a little.
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Alanore Feb 16, 2017 03:22pm
MY GOD, Why is everyone being so negative about Ballu Mahi which is supposed to be a pure entertainment movie? Those who say film is a garbage or a disappointment I ask them have you seen the old Pakistani movies from 80’s and 90’s with Reema, Babar Ali, Ramboo,Shan and Neeli ? Garbage seems much better compare to those movies.Pakistan film industries is picking up and trying to produce good quality movies and movies like Bol, Waar, YJPA, Lahore Say Agay and Ballu Mahi are just a start. Think Positive we don’t need negative people. Anie Jaffery and Osman Khalid but carried the entire movie on their shoulders and did a great job. Everyone i know who saw this movie just loved it. Even my friends and family in UAE and USA loved it.
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Ali Pirzada Feb 16, 2017 03:31pm
I think the review did make some potent observations but then the writer departs from reality pretty much like the movie itself. Can Pakistan not deal with love without marriage?Seriously. Commercial flicks, like this one, are for entertainment alone and to me this was a good Paisa Wassol movie. Reality? Well, that we face every day in our lives so why to waste money on popcorns,drink an multiplex. BTW, what reality are we referring to? The same which we have found in hit Bollywood flicks like Jab We Met and Chennai Express, to name a few. The jokes were actually good (a bit cheap at times, but aren’t we cheap as a nation). Songs were better than most recent Bolly flix, cinematography was exceptional. Story line was a bit weak and acting was average but you can’t compare novices with professionals. Even the effort to match Bollywood deserve accolades. Overall, a much better than the useless crap Bollywood dishes out in numbers every year which we can’t wait queuing up for.
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Hassan Feb 16, 2017 03:32pm
Marriage is the basic need of human beings. That's what euorpean ladies are hungry for but euorpean men don't go for marriage. As they feel it's kind of extra burden. And that's the reason we see ladies from other countries rushing to Pakistan to get married.
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Ahmer Feb 16, 2017 05:18pm
@Alanore Just because you liked it and others around you did too, doesn't make the film and automatic success. My point with the tv serial was in relation to the garbage being churned out as entertainment. These days there is no creative or different idea. Everyone is milking same old cliches. Be it Lollywood, Bollywood or even Hollywood. To a certain extent some art cinema is all right still but that too is struggling because of low bar of movie goers these days. We need these negative people so maybe we can get some positive films.
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Amna Feb 16, 2017 06:45pm
Balu Mahi is an EXCELLENT film. Loved it. This is one film that looks like a commercial feature film & not a tv drama. Amazing screenplay, acting, direction & production value has made this a great cinematic experience. I only have good things to say about it & am recommending it to everyone.
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Sarah Feb 16, 2017 10:18pm
It seems Balu Mahi's PR team has hijacked this post, putting down the reviewer and commentators who are criticizing the film. Why so insecure? If the film is good, it will do well regardless of reviews. Films are critiqued all over the world. And at least this one's a balanced review, looking at the good and bad points.
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Trump Feb 17, 2017 10:00am
Waste of time.
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Nikama Feb 17, 2017 11:15am
Who wud stomach love without marriage????that isnt love then is caled lust
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Saima Feb 18, 2017 01:22am
Seriously Love without marriage? You've got to be kidding! Right? Loved Balu Mahi except the Javaid Sheikh crass humor. Ainy was amazing!! OKB did well too! Those being highbrow about expectations from Haissam, the guy couldn't give you a Dastaan, he needs to make money too!! As it is Pakistani awam is preferring the Bollywood releases if he gave you a literary classic instead of a commercial rom com no one would show up at the theaters! Balu Mahi is a great step forward for Pakistani cinema! Btw absolutely loved Ainy in that beard as polo player. We go to the cinema for escapism from the grim reality we live in. So set aside your disbelief and enjoy the fun ride that is Balu Mahi!
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Amber Feb 18, 2017 07:02am
I am surprised at the statement that Pakistan can't stomach love without marriage. Do you want the media to portray 'live-in' relationships. It's a shock to see how disconnected you guys are from Pakistani society. You live in a bubble!!
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Akram Feb 19, 2017 02:15pm
Watched this in Australia today to a full house. An enjoyable film with good music, nice cinematography, great casting and lilting music. This isn't a perfect movie, but can't find many faults. Durdana Butt was awesome, Ainy Jaffery and Sadaf Kanwal good. OKB felt like he was still in (Hum TV drama) Sanam mode. Very pleased to see the revival of Pakistani cinema.
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