Going into the premiere of Chupan Chupai last night, I had one major concern: I hoped that the film wouldn’t be another Wrong No or Na Maloom Afraad… I felt it was the filmmakers’ task to definitively distinguish this new comedy caper from its blockbusting predecessors.
Less than halfway into Chupan Chupai, any lingering thoughts I had about other films were gone.
Directed and co-written by Wrong No writer Mohsin Ali, Chupan Chupai follows a gang of five kidnappers around Karachi — Babu (Ahsan Khan), Pari (Neelum Muneer), Koki (Ali Rizvi), Feddy (Zayed Sheikh) and Teeli (Vajdaan Shah) — as they embark on their biggest mission yet.
However, their victim Bobby (Faizan Khwaja), who is the corrupt son of an honest minister named Aijaz Durrani (Talat Hussain), has some nefarious plans of his own. Soon enough, notoriously bad cop Chaudhary (Adnan Jaffer) is called in to investigate the kidnapping and it’s up to all-round fixer Khan (Rehan Sheikh) to extricate the gang from his lethal grip.
New characters keeping coming in as the plot gets more and more convoluted — we see appearances by Javed Sheikh as the Chief Minister, Sakina Samo as Bobby’s doting and distraught mother/Aijaz Durrani’s wife, Arshad Mehmud as the DIG and Saifee Hassan as the vengeful orchestrator of Bobby’s kidnapping.
With a dizzying number of plot twists and turns, is it any surprise that Chupan Chupai managed to shake off the vestiges of crime capers past?
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW
In Chupan Chupai, you’ll see Babu’s gang of kidnappers emerge unscathed (except for some cuts and bruises) after being pursued by police, tried in courts, the whole shebang. Conversely, the good guys lose out big time… honest minister Aijaz Durrani is ridiculed, tough cop Chaudhary is villainised and we see a hardworking man such as Feddy turn to crime and be spectacularly rewarded when his attempts of earning an honest living fail him.
This flipping of convention doesn’t seem very unusual, not because we’ve seen it in the movies before, but closer to home. It leaves one thinking of the futility of goodness in Pakistan… it’s a question we have all asked ourselves at some point: Can good guys really win here?
Far from mourning the tainted moral fibre of the nation and sermonising about the need for reform in a heavy-handed, didactic way (we’ve had enough of that already), the film holds a mirror to Pakistani society and dares us to laugh at ourselves.
And laugh we do, for after a slow and stilted start, Chupan Chupai regales us with the novice kidnappers' antics, which surprisingly turned out to be fresh and fun to watch. So the film gets high marks on entertainment value. Ahsan Khan had promised it as a New Year’s treat for cine-goers and it is.
Despite its lightheartedness, the film is almost defeatist in its outlook of life in Pakistan except for the karmic twist right at the end. Make sure not to miss it.
Neelum Muneer stars as Pari, who is Babu’s love interest and sidekick. Her sole function is to look good for Babu and be shushed by him. The fact that Pari is a literal product of the male gaze (you’ll see how in the film), her scant role could be explained away as a reflection of how a man like Babu would conceive his ideal woman — to be seen and not heard.
However, there are moments when Neelum appears downright vacant until it’s her turn to deliver a dialogue and it becomes painfully obvious that she didn’t receive a lot of direction.
A meatier role went to Sakina Samo as Bobby’s unscrupulous mother, who drives the plot forward by raising enough hue and cry to crumble her husband Aijaz Durrani’s ethical resolve to not pay the handsome ransom demanded for the safe return of his son. At one point, Aijaz says, “Agar insaan ko acha kaam karna ho tou uske biwi bachay nahi hone chahiye.” Sakina Samo’s histrionics drives homes the point of how vulnerable a family man can be in Pakistan and her flawed mothering is also refreshing to watch, given that the audience must be tired of the cookiecutter representations of mothers on screen. Again, we see her repeatedly being shrugged off by her husband, as many wives do in Pakistani household dynamics, but at least she gets her way in the end.
Chupan Chupai leaves one thinking of the futility of goodness in Pakistan… it’s a question we have all asked ourselves at some point: Can good guys really win here?
On the other hand, Pari contributes to the progress of the plot only once and I was honestly surprised that the film even gave her that much because there is generally very little regard shown to the younger women featured in this film.
Not only is the film’s song ‘Jhoom Jhoom’ just five minutes of unadulterated female objectification, we see Feddy’s sexy but predatory colleague Farah get him fired on trumped up sexual harassment charges. It's an uncomfortable plot point given the ongoing global debate on sexual harassment — and if writers Mohsin Ali and Zayed Sheikh sought to highlight how men are preyed on at Pakistani workplaces, there was definitely a more sensitive way to communicate that little incidental message.
Chupan Chupai’s producers must be commended for their carefully considered use of star power. Ahsan Khan and Neelum Muneer’s presence attracts their fans to cinemas and they have been given central roles (and a couple of extraneous songs) to suit their skill and stature.
But they are stopped short of overshadowing their lesser known co-stars, who are a real treat to watch for the audience. Ali Rizvi steals almost every scene he is in as the bungling Koki to the point that it's a tad unfair to the rest of the cast. That being said, the trio wouldn't be the same if it weren't for solid performances by Vajdaan Shah and Zayed Sheikh, who also produced the film.
Same goes for Faizan Khwaja, who makes a confident film debut as Bobby. His uncanny resemblance to Fahad Mustafa poses him no hindrance; in fact, he could easily be mistaken for the star.
Like mentioned before, Chupan Chupai has a convoluted storyline and as a viewer, there were times I couldn't connect events together. Like, how exactly the gang ended up in Chaudhary's custody a second time after they accidentally destroyed the evidence that saved them in court.
Also, the script took advantage of the audience's suspended disbelief because there were quite a few aspects of the story that were totally implausible, even for a comedy. Like, how the gang's super-conspicuous Volkswagen never got them traced or caught or how they rarely wore disguises or blindfolded their victims while kidnapping people.
These are minor gripes for an otherwise solid script that combined with powerful performances and cinematography made for a fun experience. Watch it on this New Year's weekend.