Teri Meri Kahaniyaan review: Three very different stories in which the human element trumps all

The movie features three short films — a fluffy romance, a horror-comedy and an introspective story about marriage.
29 Jun, 2023

In a train chugging somewhere between Dera Nawab and Gotki, a young woman travelling alone to Karachi gets a call from her husband who asks the usual questions: Where is the train now? How many passengers are there in the cabin with you? — and, somewhat surprisingly — Is there anyone sitting opposite you? Despite the passable nature of his queries, and the calm in his voice, something is amiss in the assertiveness of his tenor.

When a woman (Arjumand Rahim) sitting in the young woman’s berth exclaims, like most inquisitive travellers do, that the husband seems to be keeping a close eye on the wife, the young woman says with a forlorn look that these questions only come up when the husband is out on a “date” with another woman.

Khalilur Rehman Qamar’s short story Aik Sau Taeeswaan, directed with measured equanimity, tonal precision, a lot of heart, nous and responsibility by Nadeem Baig (Jawani Phir Nahi Aani, Punjab Nahi Jaungi), is an anecdote about wisdom — and perhaps, in retrospect — the sanctity of marriage, the needlessness of divorce, the easy predisposition for infidelity, kinked dominance and powerplays in strained relationships, and the compromises in love. Mostly though, it is about wisdom.

Although it comes at the tail end of the film Teri Meri Kahaniyaan, a collection of three short films that carry no overarching genres, characters or motives, it instills a feeling of human familiarity — you just get the plight and dilemmas of the people on the screen — and that emotion makes a world of a difference for the viewer.

Despite the seemingly mixed-bag of genres Teri Meri Kahaniyaan professes to have — there’s a horror-comedy, Jinn Mahal, directed by Nabeel Qureshi of Na Maloom Afraad fame, written by Ali Abbas Naqvi and Basit Naqvi; the romance-comedy set in a wedding titled Pasoori, directed by Marina Khan, written by Vasay Chaudhry; and the aforementioned AST — the human element (a much-practiced default of Pakistani makers) trumps every other aspect.

In Jinn Mahal, the longest segment in the lot that runs until the intermission break, a hard-lucked, homeless family live secretly in long-stationed derelict train coaches until they are booted to the streets by the law.

With hardly anything to eat (the children have to resort to eating paan to satiate their hunger at one time), the family, mockingly named after royalty — Shehenshah (Mani), his sons Jahangir and Alamgir (Falak Shahzad, Muhammad Hussain Naveed), his blind mother Razia Sultana (Gul-e-Rana), his wife Mumtaz (Hira Mani) and her sister Anarkali (Khushi Maheen) — find refuge in a haunted house that lies smack dab in the middle of a bustling lower-middle-class neighbourhood.

Nabeel, in perhaps his finest narrative-work since his debut film Na Malood Afraad, keeps the comedy earnest and engaging, as he wiggles in some brief, but effective bits of social commentary.

While Mani is okay, as are the rest of the cast, including Salma Zafar Asim, Irfan Motiwala, Danish Arshad and Syed M. Jameel, it is the children, Hira Mani and Gul-e-Rana — in her finest and funniest big-screen performance — who steal the show. Not far behind them are the ambiance-fitting production design and art direction, as well as the cinematography by Rana Kamran in his most visually effective filmwork till date.

Post intermission, the mood swings from somber comedy to fluffy-romance in Pasoori.

Salman (Sheheryar Munawar) is the ideal life-partner for Romaisa (Ramsha Khan), who slips into her house in a burqa hours before their wedding.

The reason for his urgent secret visit is not out of unbridled love — rather, his summoning is to solve a dilemma: Romaisa has just gotten a last-minute invite to a talent competition and she wants to go, because, well, she needs to.

She pulls out all the emotional ammo in her arsenal — the “I am a girl, that’s why I am repressed and can’t go!” argument, the “I have ambitions too” line of reasoning, the “having just one dream of being a singer, since I was six years of age” plea, and the über-emotional finishing move: tears. Left speechless, and because he loves her so, Salman tells her to be back in a jiffy, while he stalls for time.

Pasoori is a fun romp that’s ably-handled as a space-filler between the other two entries by Marina Khan, who debuts as a film director.

Despite Vasay’s engaging script, the fast-pace, and the foot-tapping songs from Shuja Haider and Jawad Hyder (with vocals by Nirmal Roy and Ayat Sheikh), the short belongs to the cast, Sheheryar, Ramsha, Saleem Sheikh, Laila Wasti, Ayesha Gul, Raza Talish, Adi Khan and Musadiq Malik, with standout bits by Hurriya Mansoor and Babar Ali.

Babar Ali’s filmy, pitch-perfect performance is a testament to the difference between television acting and acting for film — the very perfection that’s taken to the Nth degree by Mehwish Hayat in Aik Sau Taeeswaan.

Mehwish, who plays Sadaf, the young woman in the train, in Khalilur Rehman and Nadeem Baig’s short, commandeers the screen, if not Teri Meri Kahaniyaan itself. The Sadaf written in the screenplay might be a creation of the writer and the director, however the person — not the persona — we see on the screen is all Mehwish.

The woman on the screen is perceptive of the world around her and shrewd in her actions. She is sensuous and flirty, but doesn’t overstep her self-set boundaries, even when a good-looking young man — a banker named Asad (Wahaj Ali) who only likes to draw women — sits on the opposite berth and flirts with her.

Sadaf, we realise, is at the top of her game — even, if it is a game she’s losing.

Her husband, Afaq (Zahid Ahmed), is having a sexual-fling at that very moment with a sensual young woman (Amna Illyas) who is the exact opposite of his wife.

Rehman’s screenplay, fine-tuned to 35 crisp minutes by editor Rizwan AQ, starts somewhat slow as it gradually unveils the conflicts eating away his characters. Most of what we see and hear are expositions that are deftly handled by Nadeem and his cast. Speaking of whom, Khalid Anam, Arjumand Rahim, Adnan Samad Khan and even a late surprise entry by Mashal Khan pull off their parts with utter in-character meticulousness.

While Amna Illyas delivers an engaging character in her meagre screen time and Wahaj plays Asad with a blend of artless dolefulness (he is recoiling from a bad marriage and seeks companionship), it is Zahid’s dynamic, desperate portrayal of a bad husband whose ego is scrunched by far stronger women that stands a notch above the rest.

Aik Sau Taeeswaan, one realises, is not concerned with dispensing lectures about high-brow themes of subjugation, nor does it take jubilation in the meagre victories of its characters. Teri Meri Kahaniyaan, in contrast, is literally a story of triumph. A cinematic triumph, that is.

Although I would have preferred a more seamless integration of the stories à la Love Actually and feel that the titles and credits that do pop-up at the beginning of each segment slightly disconnect the feeling of a feature film, producers Seemeen Naveed and Naveed Arshad — two longtime ad-film producers who also run SeePrime, a preeminent short-film channel on YouTube — have made a bright, polished, motion picture with the right balance of intelligence, emotion and commercial viability. It is rare seeing these traits in one film, let alone three.

Released by Distribution Club in Pakistan and Hum Films Internationally, Teri Meri Kahaniyaan is rated U and is playing in cinemas right now.