Nothing lasts forever. Nothing is permanent. And if you’re a tortured Pakistani artist, Shaan Shahid’s Arth ─ The Destination may tug at your heartstrings.
But that’s all that there it is to the film, sadly.
As part of the younger audience, I was excited to watch Shaan’s directorial comeback. The trailer was packed with drama and glamour, and had a very Dharma Production feel to it. And the fact that it was a remake of a classic film with a feminist theme, I was eagerly looking forward to be wowed by Shaan.
And I was wowed ─ quite a bit ─ but not in the way I was expecting.
I'm still confused: how was Arth 2 a remake of the 1982 classic?
Remaking classics is a daunting task as it is ─ but why would you tout your film as a remake and then change the entire plot?
While Shaan has admitted that he "took the basic concept of the film and played around with the screenplay a lot", I feel he went too far in putting his own spin on the classic. Other than staying true to the sequence of events in Arth, this new film doesn't retain the essence of the original.
The original Arth is centred on a female protagonist Pooja (played by Shabana Azmi), who grows up in an orphanage and gets married to a struggling but undisciplined filmmaker Indar Malhotra.
Pooja is a resilient woman, a loving wife and a generous life partner. She dreams of having a home and bear Indar’s children. But she also understands the expectations of a patriarchal society, which dictate a woman must bear the burden of saving her marriage no matter how seriously her husband wrongs her. And though she doesn't believe in this form of self-destruction, when Indar cheats on her with a famous film star Kavita (played by Smita Patil), she fights.
We see her constantly at a war with herself as she tries to get her disloyal husband back, even making a call to Kavita, pleading that she distances herself from Indar and save Pooja’s marriage. In vain, Pooja then decides to let go of Indar, forgives Kavita (who is struggling with a mental health problem), and treads on a path to build herself. She meets Raj (played by Raj Kiran), a struggling singer, on the way whose friendship helps her stay spirited. But Raj falls in love with Pooja and asks her to marry him.
Pooja refuses, saying marriage is no longer the arth (purpose) of her life, and that she has found a new meaning. She then adopts the daughter of her housemaid, whom she had bonded with as both women had suffered at the hands of their disloyal spouses.
This 1982 film was about sisterhood and bravery and female camaraderie where women supported each other and forgave each other and empowered each other.
Shaan, who also wrote Arth 2, has completely let go of this "basic concept" of the film.
Because in Arth 2 the focus is shifted to an ageing, forgotten artiste named Ali (played by Shaan) ─ who is extremely bitter with the entertainment industry. True that he falls in love with Uzma (the parallel of Pooja, played by Uzma Hassan) and wants to spend the rest of his life with her. But unlike the classic, Uzma agrees to get together with Ali.
Oh well. It's all about Ali and Ali has to have everything in his life, so I guess it’s only okay if he finds love again too.
It's beyond me how it can be considered okay for Shaan to hijack a classic script and mangle it to serve his own purpose, that is, deliver his critique of Pakistan's entertainment industry and its lack of regard for its senior artistes. The film is too thematically divorced from the original and cannot reasonably be called a remake.
Uzma Hassan is the only thing good about Arth 2
I admire good acting. And I was only able to sit through Arth 2 because of Uzma Hassan, both the actor and the character.
In the film, the character Uzma is married to Umar (played by Mohib Mirza), who is looking for a big break as a filmmaker. It is established early on that Uzma is a loving and supportive life partner who puts her dreams of becoming a writer on hold so she can help her husband achieve his. And as often happens in a typical desi marriage, she loses herself completely in trying to keep the marriage going for 10 years.
We see Uzma complaining about her weight gain, her lost sense of purpose and a husband whom she misses terribly when he's away on work trips, which is often. To add to her misery, she's unable to conceive his child. Her husband is the pinnacle of her existence. So you can imagine the shock she gets when her husband tells her he is in love Umaima (played by Humaima Malik), the famous film star.
She too, like Pooja in the original Arth, tries to get her husband back but her strategy to talk Umaima out of her affair with Umar turns a lot more confrontational. And it gets uglier when Umar comes home and beats Uzma black and blue after a drunken face-off she has with Umaima.
And though there were glaring gaps in the writing, Hassan's solid acting leaves you convinced her character Uzma is exhausted, extremely heartbroken, depressed even. Her body language, the way she breaks down, cries and curls up in the darkness under a piece of furniture, feels all too real. Her ability to emote the emotional assault her character experiences was on point.
She even made the absurdity of Uzma's fangirling over Ali like a teenager (something that made no sense at all) look convincing. Safe to say, Uzma Hassan is the true saviour of Arth 2.
All the other places where Arth 2 failed
Being a bad remake isn't the only place where Arth 2 failed. There were other problems as well.
First, Humaima Malik was severely objectified in the film. She plays Smita Patil's character from the original Arth, which is based on the tragic life of late Indian actress Parveen Babi.
However, this character Umaima has no contribution to the story except for looking glamorous and sexing up Umar. There's no other way of describing how ghastly this portrayal was. All Humaima's character does is show off leg or slobber over Mohib Mirza. And when she's not doing that, she's throwing a temper tantrum, which is supposed to be because of schizophrenia but is really only a stereotypical portrayal of an arrogant movie star. It's not only a disgrace to Parveen Babi's memory, but also a disservice to everyone suffering from schizophrenia and all those who are providing care to a patient with this illness.
The other thing that left me feeling exasperated was the sexist dialogues written for Ali. His toxic masculinity is evident in the way he patronises Uzma, a remarkable woman in everything she has experienced so far. We see Ali trying to take the credit for Uzma's efforts to save herself, telling her she needs to stop feeling sorry for herself and should "choose" to be happy, even though all he does is pity himself because nobody cares about him or his music.
And then we see him trying to give first-aid to Uzma instead of taking her to a doctor after her husband beats her. He says he knows what to do because "men get in fights all the time". Because what's wrong in normalising aggressive behaviour? It's just a "guy thing".
Also, the idea of reporting the assault to the police is not even remotely floated. There's absolutely no repercussion for Umar for beating his wife. Instead, Ali romanticises Uzma's battery, giving his expert opinion on her life and saying she didn't know pain prior to her break up.
But now that she's been lied to, cheated on and beaten by the love of her life, she has pain and can write better.
Throw away your literary skills and knowledge, everyone. Apparently, abuse is what we need to be able to write well.
A little less bitter would've been appreciated
Arth 2 has very little to offer to anyone, except for forgotten artists who feel bitter towards the Pakistani entertainment industry and want someone to validate their anger.
Because I don't know what else to make of the film. Was Shaan trying to send a message to the entertainment industry through the way Ali ─ an older, forgotten artist ─ is treated? That the general public doesn't value him either?
As we see in the beginning of the movie, when Ali is signing his divorce papers, he tells his ex-wife that he doesn't care about anything except for his music. But all we see is him feeling desperate for fame. He keeps whining about how he doesn't have any fans, but when two grown women, dressed in simple shalwar kameez, excitedly want to take a selfie with him, he feels ashamed. In a way, he devalues his own fans.
Arth 2 was painful to watch. I did not want to feel pity for an artist like Shaan, someone with my lifetime's worth of experience in the film industry. Not to forget, what an absolute disservice it was to the original 1982 classic.
Watch the original Arth if you haven't, and don't take the parents to watch the remake ... they'll be upset.