This review may contain spoilers.
Heer Maan Ja can’t decide whether it’s a comedy, drama, romance, tragedy or action, but by attempting it all, it puts off making that choice.
What sets the tone for HMJ is not its roller coaster plot, the potency of its comic dialogue, half-baked chemistry between the film’s leading pair, a cursory exploration of serious socio-cultural issues, or the camaraderie of its supporting characters.
What makes it a worthwhile watch is the film’s promise to entertain, and by being a jack of all trades, entertain it does.
It all starts with Kabeer (Ali Rehman Khan), an ambitious architect and a rising star who seems to have it all: a lavish home, an expensive car, a fulfilling career, great looks to go with it and a loyal friend, Jerry (Mojiz Hasan), who positively manages to keep the film afloat with his naturally-delivered and well-timed comic relief.
Early on, Kabeer finds out he has lung cancer and, faced with his own imminent death, decides to revisit his past to make amends. He recalls Heer (Hareem Farooq), his previous love interest and decides to apologise to her for his role in their separation.
Heer and Kabeer don’t just have a history, but carry the baggage of their past selves.
While the preliminary storyline may seem solemn for an opening sequence, the film manages to inform right in the beginning that it’s a light-hearted narrative, peppered with a few one-liners and inundated with slapstick humour.
Mikaal Zulfiqar’s portrayal of Dr Zafar Zafarani, a seedy and perplexed doctor, was quite unnecessary, but provided a way to take the cancer news lightly — or rather the whole plot.
But here’s where the story really takes off (and refuses to land till the end): Heer, who we see on the cusp of getting married, has her own issues to deal with: pressure from her conservative family, a society that reduces her role to her gender, a textbook villain and her soon-to-be husband, Wijdaan (Faizan Sheikh), vying for her hand (and property) by consolidating a cousin marriage, and in all this, her refusal to accept an unfair hand dealt by life.
Heer is a quintessential modern Pakistani woman with a mind of her own and sets the pace for the rest of the film as she escapes her wedding and ends up in Kabeer’s car.
But what initially seems like an ode to Runaway Bride quickly comes into its own with a fast-paced merry chase that includes outrunning the villain’s tentacles, meeting new characters, getting kidnapped, escaping and then confronting a painful past.
It’s a journey that essentially brings Heer and Kabeer together again to revisit a misunderstanding and reconnect in the process.
With its highs and lows, HMJ manages to deliver a refreshing take on what a rom-com genre can do for a few good laughs, if not a story.
What HMJ lacks in script, it makes up in style
It’s not that the story lacks something solid, with multiple shifting narratives — enough to lose yourself in them — HMJ reads as a story that is trying to say too much. Heer and Kabeer don’t just have a history, but carry the baggage of their past selves.
Given that character development is an integral part of any plot, the film takes too much time in navigating through their emotional tension before reuniting the pair.
Their storylines sometimes lack the necessary focus, as the film leaves the truth of their estrangement for a few scattered nostalgic scenes, mostly after the interval.
While the story comes full circle when we’re given more insight into Heer’s family dynamics and her misunderstanding with Kabeer, he is flat as far as leading characters go. And that has nothing to do with Ali Rehman Khan’s portrayal — rather, it's down to weak character development and writing.
Additional characters, whether that’s Shamayale Khattak or Aaminah Sheikh, didn’t add much to the overall storyline and thus seemed like weak caricatures. Included were also a few imaginary scenes that were completely unnecessary.
However, the strength of the film lies in its strong cinematography and drone shots, its sets and costumes, a portrayal of a modern affluent city and relatable characters. HMJ makes you sit through the movie only to appreciate its masterful depiction of a weak script.
Moreover, HMJ’s soundtrack was powerful and melodic, if only a bit outdated. The dance number in the beginning and the end was only a way to show off a few choreographed moves, but the audience seemed to love it.
A good chemistry replaced with good camaraderie
Though no one can fault their acting, a craft they both seem to excel at, Ali Rehman Khan and Hareem Farooq just weren’t believable as a jodi. Given that their pairing was the highlight of HMJ, their rapport lacked authenticity. Heer and Kabir seemed more like good college friends rather than two people who were at some point in love with each other.
Maybe because Heer’s character was explored more than Kabir’s in the plot, it sometimes tended to overshadow his but gave her more depth.
On the other hand, Kabir’s character was one-dimensional, But to be fair, Ali Rehman Khan did justice to the portrayal of a character that seems self-centred, simplistic and, in some respects,superficial.
The saving grace of HMJ was not the on-screen chemistry one would expect out of Khan and Farooq. Instead, it was Jerry’s comradeship with the rest of the cast.
The pace keeps you engaged
Notwithstanding the script, dialogue or acting, it was the pace of the movie that kept the audience hooked and on the edge of their seats.
With the speed of the story unfolding, different characters making an entry, a never-ending chase in trying to outrun the villain, and in all this, facing the possibility of love lost twice, HMJ did not leave even a single cinematic moment empty.
It's not that its chase-driven narrative doesn’t work; in this case, a stereotypical narrative was made seamlessly alive with good comedy, often funny dialogues and sets and costumes.
Regrettably, there were parts of the film where animated cartoons were used as a transition from one scene to the next. One is very weary of such cartoon animations in a plot that is already filled to the brim with everything a successful box-office hit movie must have.
All in all, HMJ was a good, fun movie one can see with friends and family; it’ll give you time to take your mind off more serious things, laugh at jokes that are relatable (but thankfully not crass) and perhaps appreciate the quality of a film, but sadly, not so much the content.
Have you watched Heer Maan Ja? Let us know what you thought in the comments below.