Would you expect Mahira Khan to make you laugh out loud? I didn't and I was pleasantly surprised
Would you expect Mahira Khan to make you laugh out loud? I didn't and I was pleasantly surprised

Would you expect Mahira Khan to make you laugh out loud? I didn't.

With every role she takes on, it's becoming evident she's on a mission to reinvent herself, step out of her comfort zone and grow as an actor.

With Verna, she proved that she can be more than just a damsel in distress, heck, she was a total fighter. In Raees, we watched her hold her ground opposite SRK and in Saat Din Mohabbat In (7DMI), Mahira is funny.

No, really, she is. Like laugh out loud, "stop it you, my tummy's hurting" funny! I was pleasantly surprised to see her take on the role of the bubbly, vivacious and charming Neeli...who is in love with her cousin but more on that later.

What 7DMI's all about

In this Eid's most anticipated release, we're introduced to Tipu (Sheheryar Munawar), a dorky, timid 29-year-old who lives with his strict mother (Hina Dilpazeer) and spunky first cousin, Neeli (Mahira Khan). He has a dead-end job at a jewellery store and lives in the bustling neighbourhood of Saddar that serves as a prominent backdrop to the story.

We've become used to seeing glossy/made-up versions of Karachi on the big screen (Ho Mann Jahaan, Thora Jee Le, I could go on) but 7DMI gives us a peek into the everyday surroundings and lives of people living in the heart of the city. It’s got the same grungy feel Na Maloom Afraad which I guess isn't surprising since the cinematography for both has been done by Rana Kamran.

At its most basic level, 7DMI is a rom-com sprinkled with enchanting elements and is also described as a "coming-of-age" story, except the protagonist isn't a teenager transitioning into adulthood but I guess he may as well be.

In his quest to find true love and going from "zero to hero", he crosses paths with a sinister djinn called Dwarka Prasad (Javed Sheikh) who makes him a seemingly impossible to honour deal (because he's sabotaging him as he goes along): Tipu must find a woman with a mole on her face within a week and get her to fall in love with him. If he fails to fulfill this challenge, he will have to spend all of eternity as Dwarka's slave.

Enter Neeli, who is hopelessly enamoured of Tipu but engaged to someone else; Ghazala (Amna Ilyas), a women's right activist and the object of Tipu's fleeting affection, who gets arrested on their first date; and then there's Princess Sonu (Mira Sethi), a British Pakistani who also tugs at his heartstrings but things are not what they appear to be with her and get messy...fast.

This kick-starts his journey, or rather adds fuel to his search, to find the woman of his dreams and well, himself and the movie's pivotal question becomes: will Tipu ever find the love of his life? Or is he his own worst enemy?

What made 7DMI work?

SPOILERS AHEAD

The first shout-out goes to director duo Meenu and Farjad (the team behind Zinda Bhaag) who are just incredible story-tellers; they've managed to really extract the best of what this cast had to offer. Sheheryar's nervous energy and awkward mannerisms just jump off the screen bringing Tipu to life in a way that you forget you're watching a movie. After all, everyone knows a Tipu in their lives, someone a little odd, shy with a heart of gold. And who said nice guys always finish last?

And like I mentioned earlier, they managed to make Mahira do comedy. We had our reservations and they're gone now; the woman really is a jack of all trades.

Javed Sheikh is a hoot as the menacing Dwarka taking on a million different avatars, Hina Dilpazeer is extra as always and the audience loved seeing her onscreen judging by the laughter in the cinema every time she appeared.

Aamir Qureshi was the underdog. When we're first introduced to Kankatta, Neeli's thug of a fiancé, I was less than impressed. It came off like a weak Sanjay Dutt impression, enough to prompt some secondhand embarrassment. However, towards the movie's climax, his character also manages to scoop up some serious chuckles and was still a more relevant character than Princess Sonu.

Danish Maqsood as Tipu's sidesick Tingu Master also added some terrific comic relief and I appreciate that here was an individual with dwarfism who was shown as a well-rounded character in mainstream cinema, who was allowed to shine and not boxed into a role that played into stereotypes.

What really tied the whole movie together was the art direction and cinematography. Honestly? 7DMI wouldn't have been bearable if it wasn't so darn visually appealing. The production value is striking: better special effects than I've ever seen in a Pakistani movie, coupled with thoughtfully curated and funky styling and you don't want to take your eyes off the screen.

Oh and I've had 'Yunhi Raste Mein' by Ali Sethi and Aima Baig on repeat since last night so you know the music did the trick excluding that dispensable item number featuring Rimal Ali. Man, can she dance but Rimal’s appearance added nothing to the story (you’ll know what I mean when you see it).

What didn't work

While Fasih Bari Khan is an intelligent writer, no doubt about it, the movie's story was a let-down.

All the little twists in the tale, you see them coming, and in parts it seemed obvious that sequences have been "inspired" (read: lifted) from other movies such as the old school black comedy, Bedazzled (Elizabeth Hurley = Javed Sheikh) or when Sheheryar appears in the guise of a moulvi (come on, we've all seen Andaz Apna Apna!).

Tell me you see it!

Scenes reminiscent of lousy Bollywood films were a dime a dozen; I would know because I watch those too, an example off the top of my head being when Tipu puts on his glasses in the morning only to realise his eyesight's been miraculously fixed (from Koi Mil Gaya, which took it from Spider-Man so think about that!).

It's unfortunate because the movie itself comes off really unique on all other accounts, even if it's just because it's the first of its kind in Pakistani cinema.

There are plot-holes and a handful of unnecessary bits, some reliance on clichés. Mira Sethi's character could've easily been omitted. Yes, she looks good onscreen but the accent was cringe-worthy and her grandmother, Pino (Beo Zafar) was actually the only redeeming character from that storyline.

I understand that their interaction teaches Tipu a thing or two about being courageous in love and all that jazz but they could've driven that point home in a more impactful way, starting with giving Sethi a fleshed-out, interesting character to work with.

Speaking of interesting characters, things were shoddy on the character development front; I wasn't sold on Sheheryar's transformation. He suddenly becomes this suave, appealing guy after Neeli takes him shopping and gives him a makeover. Here's why it wasn't convincing: Neeli needed a makeover herself! She was a woman in her late 20s walking around with bow clips in her hair.

Maybe that was the whole point the filmmakers were trying to make, that it wasn't much of a transition to begin with because the "hero" was always in him but I think that might just be me giving them the benefit of the doubt.

And of course, how could I not talk about the feminism angle? Ghazala is referred to as a feminist but is shown to be a misandrist, participating in secret meetings in dingy rooms where women get together to plot against men. I hope the filmmakers were being sarcastic with her portrayal because that's the only thing that makes sense to me. That being said, maybe satire wasn't the best approach in this case because we all know feminism already has a bit of an image problem, especially in this country.

She's shown as an independent woman who succumbs to becoming putty in the hands of the first guy who sends her a "decent" text. I was rooting for her when she intervened at Neeli and Kankatta's nuptials because ain't no forced marriage happening on her watch, but still, can men do their research on feminism before writing about it, please?

Now, let's discuss the elephant in the room. Tipu and Neeli are cousins, first cousins. The very first scene of the movie starts off with Tipu having a weird dream/nightmare featuring Neeli reciting sultry poetry in a garden. When he's awake though, he's a little more sensible. Neeli on the other hand is clearly gaga over him.

It's disturbing that Pakistani media has normalicised romantic aspirations for your cousins. And no, I don't want to hear the "but cousin marriages are common practice in Pakistan" argument. Yes, it is and you know what, it shouldn't be. If well-informed and smart filmmakers and actors are not going to put a stop to this, who will?

We keep recycling this narrative of two romantic leads being related on television (Khan's a repeat offender, remember Sadqay Tumharay?) but it's certainly spilling into movies now.

I'm frankly annoyed because we got what we were deprived of in Ho Mann Jahaan but why, WHY did they have to be cousins? The two have such sincere chemistry but this was just the one thing I couldn't wrap my head around. Every time Neeli would mention their imaginary "munna" or get all googly-eyed at the sight of Tipu, I just kept thinking "Dude, he's your khala's son."

Sigh. Baby steps.

The final verdict?

I usually take what the team behind a movie says prior to its release with a pinch of salt. In the case of 7DMI, lots of promises were made, some of which were that it's "something fresh" and "an entertainer through and through".

Well, they've kept their word. I'm not going to say much more. Go watch it, you won't regret spending your Eidi on this.

Saat Din Mohabbat In releases worldwide on June 15, 2018.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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