From Baaji's trailer, I expected to see a movie that would be very cathartic for Meera.
I was kind of right. And also very, very wrong.
Baaji does start on the note we expect. A senior former Lollywood actor, Shameera, is being cut from movies due to her age but she refuses to give up her career as a film star only be reduced to stage mujras. She finds a companion in Neha (Amna Ilyas), a simple beautician who becomes her manager, excelling at her job to such an extent that Shameera is seen returning to the spotlight.
It's when a Hollywood director Rohail (Osman Khalid Butt) expresses his desire to work with Shameera in hopes to revive Lollywood that we find out just how insecure and jaded the industry has made her. Forever afraid of losing her place or being usurped, she projects her insecurities on younger, prettier Neha.
All the while Shameera's ex Rameez (Ali Kazmi) is taking their break up pretty badly and making sure Shameera suffers one way or another.
On the other side of stardom we meet Ajji (Mohsin Abbas Haider) who aspires to be a hero on the big screen and crosses paths with Chand Kamal (Nayyer Ejaz), a creepy talent hunter who vows to make it happen, but seems to expect a few favours in return. Chand Kamal also wants Shameera to return to stage shows and is not happy that she rejects his proposal.
That's already a little too much going on for a singular film. But there’s more.
In Baaji, more is too much
If the film focused solely on the main plot of Shameera's fading career and her insecurities, I believe Saqib Malik's directorial debut, Baaji, would have been a very important film for the Pakistan film industry. It would've touched upon the subjects of female friendships, the importance of support in the entertainment industry and also brought up the topic of ageism. It would also have been narratively cohesive.
If you've ever read a story about Meera, you'll be able to see the similarities between her and Shameera. Maybe that's why the writers went with the name. From getting harassed by an ex via a fake nikahnama to suffering revenge porn, Shameera goes through all the tribulations we have read about our own icon.
That just might be why Meera did exceptionally well in her role, it was tailor-made for her.
The tense relationship between Shameera and Neha was also subtle enough to make sense. The film devoted enough time to their characters to justify Shameera's insecurities towards Neha. This is a woman getting cut from movies and cast aside for a fresh young face. That can take a toll on the strongest person and for Shameera to have a paranoia of everyone being against her is not illogical.
There's not a single non-problematic man in this movie. All the men are contemptible. I'm wondering if this is to drive home the stereotype that the entertainment industry is filled with villainous men and suffering women.
At certain points though, the film veered towards caricaturising Shameera, almost stereotyping her as a ‘crazy older lady.’
This could have been avoided if the film didn’t waste so much time on subplots and redundant characters. And that's how the film starts to disappoint.
Case in point: A subplot about Mohsin Abbas Haider. Mohsin Abbas Haider played his character Ajji perfectly but it was unfortunate that he had no reason to be in the movie. His screen time added nothing to the film save for one instance that could've been played by anyone else. Also, his most consequential action in the film was left completely unaddressed by the end, totally unresolved.
The same can be said for Nayyar Ejaz, who carries a threatening attitude throughout but rarely acts upon it.
All that time could've been utilised to either define Shameera or just remove all the draggy bits from the movie, of which there were a lot.
I was interested in watching Osman Khalid Butt act alongside Meera. After all, who can forget OKB's earliest works as a YouTuber reading Meera's tweets. It's an interesting journey for him to start there and now be starring alongside his video's actual star.
Unfortunately I was not won over by his acting and missed The Living Picture more than I already do. Rohail Khan was a confusing character and sometimes would be as erratic as Shameera which wasn't warranted on his part.
Meera and Amna Ilyas' chemistry was spot on and it was actually painful to see them suffer at the hands of the monsters surrounding them.
Ali Kazmi's existence in the film as the volatile and obsessive ex is a mere means to highlight the stories that we know as 'Meera's scandals,' such as his claim of being her husband. But there is no dimension to his character and he seems like a caricature of a bad thriller villain.
Worse, he is inconsistent, appearing and disappearing from the narrative at random moments just to drive the plot forward. Like Ajji, Mohsin Abbas Haider’s character, his terrible actions are left unacknowledged and unpunished by the end of the movie, as if we are meant to forget that he ever actually existed at all.
These are just some of the holes the film forgets to film, making for a confusing viewing experience.
This is not an aspirational movie
Meera and Amna Ilyas are not only at their best but they are the best part of the movie. There were moments between the two that genuinely captured my interest and if the spotlight shifted to someone else, I'd just wait for them to come back on. Their chemistry was spot on and it was actually painful to see them suffer at the hands of the monsters surrounding them.
Which brings me to this point: there's not a single non-problematic man in this movie. All the men are contemptible (except Ajji, who more clueless than cruel). I'm wondering if this is to drive home the stereotype that the entertainment industry is filled with villainous men and suffering women.
The sad message I ended up receiving in Baaji is that if you join the entertainment industry you will become an alcoholic that either destroys lives or is destroyed.
What was more painful was the lack of retribution for these men, who all get off scot free despite commiting some very heinous acts. How is Rameez not being held accountable for revenge porn?
The sad message I ended up receiving in Baaji is that if you join the entertainment industry you will become an alcoholic that either destroys lives or is destroyed. Which is an ironic message from a film - made of Pakistan's top stars - that founds its story upon the revival of Pakistani cinema. Do you not want us to like you?
The film also takes a few odd dark turns.
Spoiler Alert: The biggest twist we get is in the last 15 minutes of the film and seems like a rushed attempt at wrapping things up. It also comes with absolutely no foreshadowing. I understand the desire of an element of surprise but should something completely unexpected happen, it should be on the audience to attempt to connect the dots and marvel at how we didn't see it coming, not be sprung upon us. [End of spoiler]
These unexpected twists stray away from the main idea of the film and ended up showing the desperation of a lazy script.
This also confused us about the tone of the movie. Is Baaji intent to show the reality behind the glitz and glam of the film industry, or are does it aim to be a thrilling noir film? You can't have it both ways, especially with the presentation of Baaji.
In all honesty, you have to work hard to find the actual plot in Baaji and that's not okay. Were the filmmakers afraid of the film being too predictable? Because, a predictable but thought-out film is still better than a botched up hotpot that really doesn't connect.
I went in Baaji with zero expectations but still ended up getting less than expected. A decent story is the bare minimum after all.