Last night's premiere of Rangreza has left me conflicted.
Aamir Mohiuddin's directorial debut has been called a musical film and I was excited when the first song by Abida Parveen and Asrar Shah came out. 'Phool Khil Jayen' is to date the best song in any recent Pakistani film and it piqued my interest.
Rangreza turned out to be a love story between a pop rock star Ali Zain (Bilal Ashraf) and a young woman from a qawwal family Reshmi (Urwa Hocane). Reshmi is betrothed to Waseem (Gohar Rasheed) who is more territorial about Reshmi than in love. The story progresses with a clash of backgrounds, a love triangle and a message on the importance of family support.
Heading in to the film. I was fully prepared for the film to either be surprisingly good or a let-down. What I didn't expect was feeling... meh.
Here are thoughts I had during Rangreza.
1) "The film's irregular pacing may tire people out."
Ali's father says at one point, "Now things are going to heat pretty much" and that describes how every new conflict in the film occurs... with a quite a bit of intensity. But then there would be no momentum for that and we'd lose interest in that plot.
Barely 15 minutes into the film, Ali is introduced to Reshmi and is smitten by her. But it's only after the interval that they really fall for each other and the romance grows. Yes, that is a really long time to wait for the inevitable.
What happens in the meantime? Ali is swooning over Reshmi, who is upset that his star power has created rumors, rumors that her family doesn't appreciate. After a while I was just wondering "So are you guys getting together or not? Do you even like each other?"
I think Rangreza has the same issue that almost every Pakistani film has and that is of a weak script. Had the script been tighter and the film at least half an hour shorter, it wouldn't feel so all over the place.
2) "Waseem Wallay's eccentric antics were a bit too far-fetched"
Gohar Rasheed is one of the few promising actors in the industry but I thought his performance as Waseem suffered due to shallow writing.
When we're introduced to Waseem, he is shown as eccentric and unpredictable in all the wrong ways. He is highly volatile, never thinks through and lashes out whenever he gets the chance.
I honestly felt as though Waseem's self-destructive tendencies were symptomatic of a mental illness, but that's never confirmed in the movie. I'd have preferred this to be Waseem's story, it would have made it believable.
Instead, Waseem's constantly varying tone of speech, odd body language and inability to pick up on social cues is presented as funny and that irked me. Waseem looks like the guy who would cry on Joffrey's death in Game of Thrones.
Gohar Rasheed still managed to captivate the audience with his fluent movement and powerful body language, proving he can do anything. But it was the lack of explanation for his abusive tendencies that didn't win me over.
3) "The film doesn't caricature conservative parents — and that's a good thing."
Reshmi's qawwali gharana is a strict one, where the daughter is not allowed to go out on her own. While many in 2017, including myself, would be annoyed by such restrictions, Rangreza presents it well, as neither good or bad, but something that exists. It also portrays the parents of Reshmi as strict but caring, albeit in an overprotective way.
We see this when the parents allow her to go to a friend's party for the first time. I quite liked that interaction, it felt real. We see that they love her and trust her completely and Reshmi also takes pride in having this blind faith.
What really made this view worth appreciating is when Reshmi is the target of false rumours, the strict and overprotective parents take her side, showing the kind of family support that ought to exist.
4) "Was the transgender song just a gimmick?"
Instead of the average item song, we have Gohar Rasheed dancing with a hundred transgender performers. Here's a little context.
The scene is set up to be the celebration of a baby, except we don't know whose baby. Waseem could have either arranged the party or crashed the party, nothing is clear. And then he dances with transgender performers who are... just there.
There is no transgender character in the film. There is no message related to transgender people. Why did a 100 transgender people show up to dance with Waseem? This felt like the makers were trying to capitalize on the conversations we're having currently regarding transgenders and their place in the community.
We're in 2017. We have the likes of Kami Sid, who's defying stereotypes by breaking into fields like modelling and acting. A recent comic book has tried to promote transgender rights. It's not difficult to highlight the plight of a trans person. I'm glad there's no item song in Rangreza but this didn't sit well with me. The cash grab was too obvious and it felt a little exploitative.
5) "The film, like way too many before it, has a corrupt politician."
Ali's father is a politician. He has a friend who is a politician. The friend has a daughter. Both fathers want the children to unite to bring their political parties together. Also, the politician friend has corrupt connections. Surprise, surprise.
The moment Ali's father is introduced and is shown as a politician I rolled my eyes and thought "Not this again."
This has become almost a trope in Pakistani cinema. The big bad politician. And it's getting tiresome.
The film was hoping to tackle the issue of elitism in Pakistan, with Ali's father looking down on Reshmi's family for being a miraasi gharana. But it couldn't be conveyed because of the politician trope. The film could have gone easy on the politics angle.
6) "Urwa shone the brightest amongst the leads."
Urwa Hocane delivered as Reshmi, the innocent young woman caught up in unwanted drama. From giving timely sharp responses to Ali's advances to breaking down at the thought of disappointing her family, she was able to provide what the character demanded.
What I enjoyed about her performance was that, despite feeling helpless, she was never portrayed as the damsel in distress or beaten down heroine we've grown tired of in dramas. It was easy to empathise with her fears and struggles. I'm sure many Pakistani women would relate.
Bilal Ashraf's Ali Zain felt one-dimensional and I blame the script. Ali Zain is a person who gets whatever he wants, and is learning for the first time that you have to struggle for some things like true love. However, the struggle for true love became his entire personality. He was shown as a very linear romantic hero. Whether he talks to his family, or Reshmi or is working on music, it was all related to him being lovesick.
I wished to see another side to him, maybe one struggling on his music, or why he is detests his father's political background. Love cannot be a person's whole personality.
I did enjoy the chemistry between Reshmi and Ali. It was sweet and simple, without the over the top "I will die for you" claims.
Rangreza's leads may have needed a bit more background, but their side characters got my attention. Ghana Ali as Saba did a decent job as Ali's cousin and Reshmi's friend. She is genuinely concerned for Reshmi's situation and calls out Ali when he gets too cocky.
Saleem Mairaj plays Akbar and is shown as an enabler of Waseems eccentrics.
The parents of the leads also did a fantastic job, particularly Seemi Pasha as Ali's caring mother and both of Reshmi's parents. Tanveer Jamal and Saba Faisal show the loving yet strict parents many Pakistanis will remember having or identifying with. I definitely did.
7) "Rangreza is as musical as every other film."
Rangreza marketed itself as a musical film and while I enjoyed the soundtrack and have made my love for 'Phool Khil Jayen' very well known, I can't call this film a musical. Yes it has songs, but the same number of songs as the average Pakistani flick. Going in to see Rangreza, I was hoping to see a difference in presentation. Maybe a conversation in song, maybe a fantastical approach or at least a song instead of a narrative as an introduction!
Heck, Reshmi comes from a family of musicians and not once do they ever perform!
While the film was a decent watch, this point kept bothering me. What makes this film stand out as a musical compared to all the other releases we've had so far? Aamir Mohiuddin paid close attention the score, but that should be the demand of every film that has music.
One thing's for sure, Mohiuddin, with his directorial debut has definitely set the bar high for films to follow in terms of background score. The music was really engaging and helped make many dragging scenes tolerable. Not all though.
Rangreza left me conflicted. I enjoyed the visuals and the music. Some actors surprised me and made the experience much better. But it was also another example of a film that could have been improved with a tighter script and attention to detail. Also, while the film was simple, it was not what it promised to be, a musical distinct from films before it. It has its moments and drawbacks, but overall, Rangreza is a nice one-time watch.