Load Wedding, like most Pakistani films, begins with a shaadi. But it doesn't go where you think it will.
A heart broken Raja (Fahad Mustafa) is fixing the lighting for a wedding, but he is distracted. He is watching the love of his life get married to someone else.
Raja has loved Meeru (Mehwish Hayat) since they were children. But he could never get himself to confess his love for her, because he knew that he couldn't marry her until his elder sister Baby (Faiza Hasan) is married. And that isn't happening because Raja, being the head of the family after his father's death, can't get enough jahez to get a decent rishta.
Turns out, Meeru's husband has passed away on the day of their wedding. As a widow she returns to a town not kind to her new label, but Raja realises he can't lose her again and despite his sister's single status, he must declare his love for Meeru.
Raja's situation had me infuriated, but not at the movie. In fact Load Wedding has been one of the better films I have seen in a long while. I was infuriated at the realities the film was portraying. I was upset that these issues are still prevalent in our society.
Where many Pakistani films show the happy mehndis and dholkis, Load Wedding shows the actual stress, pain and unnecessary hassle behind making a wedding happen in the first place. And that made me really enjoy the film.
Load Wedding points out all the toxicity towards women in desi wedding culture
From the name I was expecting the movie to have many jabs at the electricity crises that Karachi goes through (pun on load wedding ya know?) but the film takes place in Nirali, a town near Lahore.
MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
The 'load' in Load Wedding is about the burdens that must be borne to make a marriage happen, namely jahez (dowry). And while that in itself is an important issue, the team behind the film takes it one step ahead by showing how this damages one's mentality at every stage and how it affects the women who fall victim to this gruesome mindset.
Farhana, affectionately known as Baby baaji (Faiza Hasan) can't get married because her family can't afford the jahez. Consumed by the fact that Baby isn't getting a good rishta, her mother (Samina Ahmed) reacts by shaming her looks, telling her to lose weight, watch her skin tone and the works. She even loudly complains about how "Baby ki umar nkli ja rahi hai (Baby is getting too old for marriage)."
Raja protests waiting for his own marriage because of his Baby baaji, pointing out that even he is growing older. His mother responds with "Mard ki umar koi nahi dekhta (No one looks at a man's age)."
Meeru loses her first husband and instead of any form of compassion, is treated like a pariah. She is sent back to her sister by the late husband's family, returned like goods at an electronic store. Because of her widow status she is shunned by society and even asked to leave her own cousin's wedding because she might jinx the bride. It was painful to watch, but it was more painful to acknowledge this is what happens in our society.
When Raja expresses his desire to marry Meeru, his mother and sister immediately call her a churail who has trapped their innocent son/brother. At this point, the two women have never even met her, but they know she is widowed and that Raja wants a love marriage, that's enough for them to hate her. Even Raja's best friend asks him "Beywaa se kon pyaar karta hai?* (Who falls in love with a widow)" because "Jor barabar ka acha lagta hai (a couple should be equal)."
And when Raja finally gets to marry Meeru, Baby baji refuses to celebrate and hates both her brother and sister-in-law, because she is still single.
Had this been any other film, I would have been so annoyed and wondered why this character is so obsessed and spiteful, because such characters are rampant in our dramas and movies. But in Load Wedding we see Baby as a young woman raised with no ambitions but marriage. Her mother sees her as nothing more than a future bride. Baby has been growing up around a mother who says nothing but words related to marriage. She hears nothing but how she is a burden herself and how her mother has no other worries in life but her single status.
We all know a Baby baji, we all know many Baby bajiyan. While it annoyed me to see Baby so aggressive, it pained me to see her situation as well. It's 2018 and there are still many many women in the world who don't know their own worth. Sure, we've hit some strides, but outside of urban cities, many women are just like Baby baji -- on the verge of breakdowns because their value is tied to their worth in marriage.
Baby baji wouldn't have been so spiteful if the whole desi marriage culture wasn't so toxic.
And of course, the film highlights the sense of entitlement desi families have for jahez.
Baby's rishta comes with a page listing household and luxury items and hands it over in a manner so privileged, you'd think they wanted to be worshipped along with it. As the movie progressed I could see why the larkey waley were behaving like this; they had the power. Them even expressing their uncertainty over the rishta would be enough for the larki waley to beg at their feet. Sounds disgusting doesn't it?
While the film had these tough moments, the makers of Load Wedding made sure to never show these crucial parts of our society as something that ought to be normalised. The tone of the film is set in a way to make the audience uncomfortable at the comments and the mindsets of the characters. And I hope people get uncomfortable enough to make a change.
Finally, a love story I enjoyed
The love story between Raja and Meeru is one that did put a smile on my face. It was adorable, innocent and real. Raja's romantic gestures weren't larger than life as in many rom-coms, but the simplicity and pure wholesomeness made it much better than any dance in a field or fireworks display.
Heck, when Meeru is insulted and told to leave a wedding function, Raja causes a blackout (Load 'wedding' nudge nudge) and that's the kind of love I want in life. Someone be super salty along with me please.
Also, this is one of the very rare movies where the male protagonist did NOT stalk the woman of his dreams.
The only segment which appeared stalker-ish was where Raja is working up the nerve to tell Meeru he loves her, so it was more of a going up to her and backing out last minute kinda scene. Again, kinda adorable. Phew.
When Meeru initially rejects his advances, Raja makes it a point to avoid her at all costs, to the point of jumping off a bridge to not cross her path (It wasn't a dangerous bridge, relax) and yes, this became my favourite part of the love story; the fact that Raja did take no for an answer and let her understand the situation and reach out to him instead of harassing her till she breaks down or whatever the plan is for creepy stalker heroes.
Romance and chivalry is not dead, its just evolved and about friggin' time.
The acting brought out the best of the film
The characterisation and the themes of the movie were brought out brilliantly by the actors.
Fahad Mustafa and Mehwish Hayat shone in their roles and despite seeing the two in numerous other films, I could see the hard work paying off for this flick. There was a touch of innocence to their characters and I was impressed by their control over their voices despite an accent. I wasn't quite won over with the accents, but I could tell they tried.
Mehwish as the shunned widow does well to keep the balance of her character. She shows her frustrations while maintaining composure and her realistic portrayal of holding her head up high in difficult times was interesting to watch in an industry full of one-dimensional love interests and helpless women. There were times when Meeru lacked depth but I blame the script for that.
Faiza Hasan, although a bit over dramatic at times, did justice to her role as Baby Baji, she played a temperamental character who is surprisingly spoilt and entitled, considering things are really not going her way. I did wonder at times if her loud personality was stereotypical presentation of Punjabi folks but as I said before, her angst and frustration made sense with the journey she'd made.
Samina Ahmed as Raja and Baby's mother was a joy to watch. She was a desi mom, the kind brown teens make videos on YouTube about. Her dialogue delivery was on point, not that I should expect any less from a veteran. I also loved the dynamic she had with her children and could see her desperation in an unforgiving society.
Unfortunately not all actors stood up to the mark. I was very disappointed in Qaiser Piya's performance, both as Raja's best friend and as the narrator. His character came across as the most two dimensional and over the top. I felt like he could not read the room and was on a completely different wavelength from the rest of the cast.
Also, huge shout-out to Ashiq Rafaqat! The game show host was hilarious and spot on with his comic timing. I was worried that a caricature of Amir... ahem ... a game show host might end up being over the top but Ashiq Rafaqat's humour comes in small doses and gets its points across. I enjoyed how the game show silliness was shown in contrast to the real world silliness in Raja's life with Ashiq Rafaqat (seriously that name though) standing parallel to the film's narrator.
While I enjoyed the film overall, there were a few lows in Load Wedding which prevented me from saying "This movie is the best!"
Load Wedding has the same glaring issue that every Nabeel and Fizza production has; time. The film was too long! There were fifteen minute scenes that could have very easily shortened to five and the songs became overbearing for this very reason. Load Wedding goes over two and a half hours and should have been wrapped up in less than two, if not one and a half.
Despite having strong points to make, the script for the film did need work. The first half of the film had some great moments but was very haphazard and clumsily put together. I felt like the script needed more than a final edit, it should have been reworded.
The songs in the film could also have been improved. I say this knowing it'll be some time before they are removed. I just realised that rhymed...
The songs not only took up a lot of the film's time, they also provided nothing to the film. A whole song was visualised with the characters staring off into a distance after facing some hardship. There was no action taken, no update to the problem. Just... starting... into the distance... and while I know that many films have this issue, I remember this being the case in Na Maloom Afraad 2 as well, and I would much rather not see the same stuff again.
The movie has some amazing messages to get across, and if the film had been limited to that instead of trying to add other small jabs, the film would have done better. I know you aren't going anywhere Nabeel, you can use those extra bits in another film!
Does Load Wedding get its point across?
Load Wedding may not have the indie factor that Cake does or the extreme artsy style of Moor but in the genre of fun, commercial films, it holds its own and is an important film.
Many (And I mean many) have come before this film, claiming that their movie is an entertainer for the family with an important message but I never bought it. Either the film was not entertaining for the whole family or was pandering and force feeding said important message.
However, Load Wedding is in fact a film for the family and it has a message that needs to be highlighted now more than ever.
Sure, I can easily sit here and say "But why is Baby baji hung up on marriage?" But that is a topic for a different time and for a different group of people, the type who have moved on from the "Daughters are a burden" mindsets. Load Wedding talks about issues that a majority of women in Pakistan face, and it does so brilliantly.
If nothing else, I can imagine people watching Load Wedding and talking about it. That conversation is going to be the win that the makers of this film need.