Mixing the spirit of Mr Smith Goes to Washington and Nayak — admittedly quite unintentionally, according to its makers — VIP, running in cinemas since Eidul Azha, is the only bona fide high-concept motion picture in our summer cinematic lineup.
The comedy with a touch of social message stars Haris Kamal (Zach), a good-hearted, goofy lower-middle class man who is picked up by three villains — a cigar-chomping land baron (Ehtashamuddin), a crafty lawyer with perpetual red eyes (Saleem Mairaj, excellent), and a hoodlum boss who always wears black shades (Akhtar Hasnain) — to be the next mayor of Karachi. There is a catch though — the juvenile, giddy and gullible idiot has to go to school first.
As silly as any South Indian film with its unorthodox plot — and shot with the same eye as far as visual attitude and atmosphere go — VIP is long-time cinematographer Rana Kamran’s directorial debut.
Rana has lensed Na Maloom Afraad, its sequel, Actor in Law, Load Wedding, Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad, Khel Khel Mein, Ishrat Made in China, Heer Maan Jaa, Mah-e-Mir, and hundreds of commercials, so the man knows his work quite well. His palette is clean, the colours (by colourist Jazib Junaid) are conventional and vibrant, the staging and blocking of the talent populate the frame quite well (which, by the way falls under his directorial duties), and the lack of complicated, unnecessary cinematographic shenanigans suit the tone and setting of the premise.
Donning multiple hats — he also produces and co-writes the screenplay with Saqib Zafar, who also gets a co-director credit (the story is by the leading man, Zach) — Rana forces quite a few creative decisions on editor Asif Mumtaz, like the abrupt sharp-cuts as a scene ends that leave little audio or video transitory breathing spaces between scenes. In fact, some scenes are so tightly stacked together that they leave little room for the viewer to attune their emotions from one scenario to the next.
One can see the reasoning for these decisions though — snipping heads and tails of scenes chomps off running time, which VIP is a tad indulgent on. The film runs to two hours and 17 minutes, but it could have easily been two hours, because despite the cuts, the story has an overlong sequence on Haris’ high school life.
Enrolled in school to qualify for the mayor’s position, Haris falls for the smart, young, beauty Rukhsana (Nimra), his teacher who comes from a humble, righteous family — her father, actor Akbar Islam, is a teacher as well. Sparks fly, chirpy songs are danced to, and the story grinds to a halt.
When the story gears up again, you know exactly how it is going to turn out — or wish, that in some events, how it could have turned out. For example, the villains could have just given Haris a fake degree.
Things are too easy for Haris, and there is never really much of a conflict that he has to overcome. Despite the buffoonery, this makes Haris a dud of a protagonist. Coupled with Zach’s amateurish performance, the hero himself puts a dent in what could have been a neat little package.
To counter the shortfalls, VIP puts the bulk of the weight on Ehtashamuddin, Mairaj, Hasnain and Irfan Motiwala in his most effective and well-acted role in years — he plays Haris’ personal assistant assigned by the baddies.
The casualness of the narrative, the fitting production quality, and the okay-ish soundtrack by Shani Arshad, do offset the lacks, though by how much depends on the individual viewer’s taste and preference.
Released by Hum Films and executive produced by S Syma, produced by Xpose Films, VIP is running in cinemas Pakistan-wide.