Aar Paar review: Sextortion, Covid lockdown, childlessness and Pak-Indo bromance — what a mess!

The film rams several unconnected plots into the narrative to make a mess of it all.
11 Jul, 2023

In Aar Paar, the Eidul Azha release whose last few shows may still be playing in cinemas when you read this, two strangers meet in transit at an airport. One of them, Kamaal (Shamyl Khan), is a Pakistani, the other, Armaan (Moammar Rana), is Indian, and so begins a bromance between two men from countries that are stuck in a limbo of diplomatic tensions.

Writer-producer Mashooq Qadri’s film, directed by cinematographer-turned-director Saleem Daad, scribbles a parallel between Kamaal and Armaan’s seemingly flimsy bond and the Indo-Pak relations, and implies that, if given an empathic, human touch, diplomacy might lead to cross-border peace.

It would have made for a worthwhile message, if the story stuck to that — and only that — idea. Aar Paar, instead, rams several unconnected plots into the narrative.

Set during the Covid pandemic, there is a plot about the lack of business prospects, the agitation of being locked-up at home during the pandemic’s lockdown, and, oddly, sexual blackmail. There is also a wisp of a sub-plot about childlessness, and story elements about seeing dead people and inner-demons. Overall, it’s a mess.

Qadri has wrangled too many notions into a simple story, and not one of them matures, or comes across effectively. Daad, a respectable cinematographer (he lensed Pakistan’s segment of Jawaani Phir Nahi Aani, and the entirety of Chakkar and Wrong No), meanwhile, seems to be lost in the confusion; his creative choices seem to be gutted by a hasty schedule and a lack of budget. Offloading his cinematographic duties to Majid Mumtaz, who does a decent, if forgettable job, Daad’s work as a director does, however, yield some worthwhile performances.

Shamyl Khan is surprisingly good as a man engulfed in bad circumstances for a good chunk of the film; however, by the climax, he — owing to how he is directed, and how the character is written — becomes unbearable. Moammar Rana does a well-enough job in a likeable role as his sane, sensible buddy who consoles him via video calls, while Ukasha Gul Ashraf and Raneya Rana, playing Rana’s wife and daughter (the latter, actually being his daughter), round off the good-acting department.

Ahmed Safdar, Erum Akhtar and Qadri — donning his actor’s hat as a bizarre policeman with a lot of bad jokes — meanwhile, augment the atrociousness. Safdar, often a dependable actor — though not here — plays the principal of a school, and Akhtar, playing Shamyl’s wife, is a school teacher who starts an online education system during Covid and is blackmailed into the illicit world of sex and pornography.

Daad and Qadri’s script thankfully keep Erum’s character away from scenes of sexual subjugation — phew! Now, if only they could keep the actor away from hamming it up.

Since Erum’s screen-time overwhelms everyone else’s, the only refuge one gets from the bad acting is to close their eyes and ears. In a cinema lit by the reflected light of the projector and the loud surround sound from the speakers, these actions are of little help.

Self-released by Kalakar Entertainments, Aar Paar has scenes of violence, debauchery and distress. The film is for adults.