Fahad Mustafa steals the show, gender stereotypes are avoided, and a lot of laughs ensue.
Fahad Mustafa steals the show, gender stereotypes are avoided, and a lot of laughs ensue.

In a cultural climate where films featuring diverse, non-white casts (I’m talking about Crazy Rich Asians) are defying industry expectations and making bank at the box office, and where women, not men, are precipitating a serious reckoning with the entertainment scenes seedier side (I’m talking about the #MeToo movement at home and abroad), I wondered if it’d be possible to truly enjoy yet another film about a bunch of dudes trading bro-jokes while they find themselves.

Also read: Jawani Phir Nahin Aani is a drunk desi uncle on the dance floor. Here's why you should watch it now

After all, the above is a fairly accurate description of JPNA, Nadeem Baig’s 2015 directorial venture starring Humayun Saeed, Vasay Chaudhry, Ahmed Ali Butt and Hamza Ali Abbasi.

JPNA was an entertaining film three years ago, but times have changed. I knew that its long awaited sequel, JPNA2, would have to take into account the subtle and not-so-subtle cultural shifts that’ve taken place in Pakistan since 2015 in order to be both a financial and critical success.

After roughly three hours in the cinema — too long, but more on that later — I was rewarded with an answer. Is JPNA2 a good film, and is it mostly OK to like it?

Yes and yes.

Where them boys at?

Fahad Mustafa takes the helm, with great results.
Fahad Mustafa takes the helm, with great results.

JPNA2 picks up a few years from where we left our gang of man-children in the original.

In the intervening years Sherry (played by Humayun Saeed), the group’s bad boy, has all but vanished into obscurity. Hamza Ali Abbasi’s character is likewise abroad and out of touch. Only two of foursome remain, the hapless PP (played by Ahmed Ali Butt) and Sheikh (played by Vasay Chaudhry). PP and Shiekh, still fast friends, stand together as they silently endure mid-life’s lesser humiliations: unfulfilling careers, disrespectful children and marriages made unexciting by routine. A major thorn in PP’s side is his brother-in-law Rahat (played by Fahad Mustafa), who always finds a way to one-up him.

The action begins when Rahat, who is a super successful yet slightly shady investment banker in Turkey, invites PP and Sheikh, plus their wives (played by Uzma Khan and Sarwat Gilani) to Istanbul to bless his engagement to a multi-millionaire’s only daughter, Zoe (played by Mawra Hocane).

Mawra plays a diva
Mawra plays a diva

It is in Istanbul that PP and Sheikh stumble upon Sherry, who is intent on not recovering from losing the love of his life.

As PP, Sheikh, Sherry and Rahat collide, each character’s major and minor deceptions begin to unravel. Helplessly intertwined in each other’s messes, the foursome scramble to cover for each other and thwart each other in turn.

What’s at stake for each of them? Love, whether it takes the form of a new romance or a stable marriage. It is for this love that they’re willing to sacrifice their self-respect, which obviously creates some hilarious moments for us, the willing audience.

What makes JPNA2 work?

Every major role in JPNA2 is well-cast. Humayun Saeed, who first flexed his funny bone in JPNA and then proved his comedic muscle in Punjab Nahi Jaungi, is strong as Sherry. In the film’s latter moments he veers into drama serial territory with unnecessary emotional flourishes, but perhaps that’s the script’s fault, not his.

Ahmed Ali Butt and Vasay Chaudhry have an edge over him as they are yet again the perfect slapstick duo, playing off each other well.

Better than all of them, however, is Fahad Mustafa.

I believe the wisest move JPNA2’s creators made was the decision to relegate Hamza Ali Abbasi’s character to a bit-part, replacing his role in the foursome with Fahad Mustafa.

At this point Hamza Ali Abbasi is too much to believably inhabit a character onscreen — too much a politician, too much a moraliser, too much a Tweeter… just… too much of everything except an actor. I have to give JPNA2 props here, the few seconds of screen-time he does receive are incredibly well-utlised: the role he plays during those moments is clearly what he aspires to in life, so let him have it.

More Fahad, please
More Fahad, please

But coming back to Fahad Mustafa. It’s apparent that he throws himself whole-heartedly into Rahat, holding nothing back. He uses his long, lanky body as expressively as he uses his face, and he is the only actor who can rival Ahmed Ali Butt in terms of excellence in physical comedy. The overall effect is pretty marvelous.

I believe the wisest move JPNA2’s creators made was the decision to relegate Hamza Ali Abbasi’s character to a bit-part, replacing his role in the foursome with Fahad Mustafa.

Unfortunately the film doesn’t give its female characters enough room to shine. In a comedy film, it makes sense that the characters with the best jokes and the best repartee walk away with the prize. In this case, the only female characters written with wit and humour are those of Sarwat Gilani and Mawra Hocane. Consequently both actors did well, but owing to their minimal screen-time they couldn’t exactly steal the show. Uzma Khan’s character is unfunny and so she faded into the background.

A fuller character would've served Kubra Khan better
A fuller character would've served Kubra Khan better

Kubra Khan, who plays Sherry’s love interest Selina, looks great onscreen but didn’t have much to work with. Her character was flat and she elicited no laughs. Bo-ring.

The only female characters written with wit and humour are those of Sarwat Gilani and Mawra Hocane. Consequently both actors did well, but owing to their minimal screen-time they couldn’t exactly steal the show.

Still, the overall effect was of a cast that worked well together. Smaller characters like Zoe’s flamboyant father (played by Sohail Ahmed) fit their roles to a T, more than holding their own against JPNA2’s leading actors. These minor characters are actually the glue that holds JPNA2 together; their unfaltering funniness ensure that the laughs didn’t stop even when the focus shifts away from the foursome.

JPNA2’s script is sound, with just enough trending pop culture references to keep it relevant. There are moments when JPNA2 gets too preachy - a tribute to Imran Khan is mostly unnecessary, as is the emphasis on Pak-India dosti.

Moments that really did it for me

What really allows JPNA2 to shine, however, is that it steers clear of gender stereotypes and heavily gendered action.

In JPNA2 the women have their shit together and the men are always on the verge of losing theirs.

Of course in reality neither gender has a monopoly on emotional stability, but it IS nice to stroll into a theater and watch two-plus hours of no-nonsense women efficiently navigating men without succumbing to despair or melancholy.

Also nice: when Sherry asks Selina out for the first time and she says no, instead of forcing his hand or throwing a tantrum as the typical desi-male trope demands, he accepts her answer with respectful grace and — walks away. This makes space for Selina to make up her own mind in her own time and reach out to him. A small step towards rethinking desi romance, perhaps — but I noticed, and I'm sure you will too.

We can infer that Zoe’s father is a gay man, or at least gender non-conforming. And though JPNA2 dresses him in flashy robes, dyes his hair and asks him to adopt effeminate mannerisms, he is never placed in a position of weakness.

Besides this, JPNA2 contains several situations that could’ve been badly botched -- but weren’t.

For example, it is never openly stated, but we can infer that Zoe’s father is a gay man, or at least gender non-conforming. And though JPNA2 dresses him in flashy robes, dyes his hair and asks him to adopt effeminate mannerisms, he is never placed in a position of weakness.

Zoe's father calls all the shots
Zoe's father calls all the shots

In fact, he holds all the power. He is the one who will decide whether Rahat is worthy of marrying his beloved daughter Zoe. Much of the movie hinges on Rahat successfully wooing him, so the foursome is very careful to never cross him or insult him in any way. Yes, the character is thus placed because of his wealth and privilege. But still, the reversed power dynamic — the cis boy now seeking social approval and validation from a gay man — is very satisfying.

It is also heartening that the male characters in the film seem to genuinely love their love interests (well, with the exception of Sherry, who can fall in love at the bat of a perfectly curled eyelash).

While love for a woman is often seen as a weakness in desi pop culture, JPNA2 shows us a world where male friends can fully support each other’s variegated love lives and respect their partners, never resorting to pyaar-shaming or mean-spirited comments.

What doesn’t work

It’s a short list, but here goes: the fat jokes, the suicide jokes.

The idea that two people can fall so much in love within a day that one of them will sabotage a multi-million dollar wedding.

The film’s excessive length.

The Fawad Khan cameo (cringe-y).

The Imran Khan bit (overkill), the dance sequences (unnecessary), and the odd flashback cartoon sequence featuring Sherry and his dearly departed love (played by Mehwish Hayat).

So where do we go from here?

If I sound surprised that JPNA2 could hold my interest for almost three hours — well, I was surprised.

JPNA2 is a cohesive, well-structured cinematic experience. But it is also absurd. Its many key plot developments require you to undertake great imaginative leaps, and it is a credit to the cast’s chemistry and JPNA2’s humorous script that we don’t zone out or drop off along the way.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a progressive film in terms of content, but it is certainly not regressive, and it does take pains to understand and grapple with the moment in which it is birthed.

Technically, the film does makes strides.

Apart from the Mehwish Hayat-Humayun Saeed sequence I referenced above, no shot took me out of the moment, no action sequence felt forced or below par. Everything from the art direction to the cinematography to the sound complimented each other. He has already proved it in the past, but with JPNA2, Nadeem Baig reminds us that he really can deliver, and I look forward to his next.


JPNA2 is in cinemas today

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