While Pakistani cinema in recent years has seen many mainstream films that attempt socio-cultural commentary, it is still quite refreshing to see an independent, art-house styled film among the fray that attempts the same in a subtle, not very in-your-face manner.
In Pinky Memsaab, debutante Shazia Khan explores the often rickety journey of self-discovery of a gullible small town girl from Punjab who migrates to Dubai to work as a domestic help. Starring Hajra Yamin in titular role of the migrant helper and Kiran Malik as Meher, her memsaab employer along with Adnan Jaffar and Sunny Ahuja in important roles, the film’s coming of age narrative delves beyond the stereotypical binary portrayal of lives of expatriate workers. While Memsaab does not depict a rags to riches transformation, it also smartly avoids playing on the familiar exploitation trope. Khan instead chooses to focus more on the attendant complexities of relationships, family and class related conflicts that at times define the bonds the story’s two leading female protagonists share.
The film opens with contrasting vignettes of pastoral Pakistani life and that of Dubai’s elite upper-class women. We see Yamin’s Pinky tending to cattle and her everyday domestic duties, later to find her abandoning her idyllic rural lifestyle to seek work for an upper class Dubai-settled Pakistani family. As can be surmised from the film’s title, the two characters i.e, Yamin’s Pinky and Malik’s Meher occupy majority of the narrative, and the screenplay by and large dwells upon the changing dynamic of their relationship and its resulting consequences. The catalyst for all subsequent developments in the film is Pinky’s Pygmalion-esque transformation, and the remainder of the movie focuses on how that leads to insecurities, conflict and ultimately cloture for all characters. While the plot is appealing, the screenplay’s pace is often times unsteady, but certain situations are engaging, such as Meher’s outburst at the cocktail gala, which elevate the movie’s intensity up a notch. The film also features a diverse set of supporting characters, from the Filipino maid to the Indian chauffeur, all of whom lend much needed charm and authenticity to its screenplay.
Hajra Yamin impresses with a solid performance as the naïve but always hopeful Pinky. She is adequately supported by first-timer Kiran Malik as the troubled Meher. Yamin and Malik were both one-film old when they signed onto this project (Malik had shot earlier for the yet unreleased Zarrar), however that is never a drawback, especially for Yamin, who gives her character the right kind of body language and linguistic touches without going overboard. Her act, complemented by the right rural accent, by and large stands out. The always reliable Adnan Jaffar also features prominently and does well as Meher’s investment banker husband. Among other noteworthy performances are that of Sunny Hinduja and Hajrah Khan, who also perform solidly in their respective roles of the expat family’s chauffeur and the exotic dancer, respectively.
The movie’s writer and director Shazia Khan deserves credit for offering a new perspective on the oft depicted lives of expatriate workers. Indeed, contrary to popular expectations, Memsaab’s overarching ambition is not to be of an exposé of expat lives; it rather focuses more broadly on the universal themes of dealing with loss and finding closure. The narrative has been developed such that it follows each of its principal characters’ trajectory towards inner healing and coming to terms with grief. Khan delivers middling results in her endeavor to transform this to a cinematic experience, but to her credit, the plot’s loose ends are largely resolved by the time the end credits roll. While its plot and overall theme deserve plaudits, what lets the movie down is its writing, which in many sequences comes across as sophomoric and rushed. The direction also required more work, especially when Khan was working with the less seasoned artistes.
Technically speaking, the film’s cinematography and sound mixing are alright overall, although the camerawork required improvement in certain frames. The soundtrack is easy on the ears and accentuates the film’s mood well. However, as is the case with most debut projects, the film would have benefitted immensely from sharper editing – the reels could easily be snipped by fifteen or twenty minutes to make the narrative more taught.
In short, Pinky Memsaab is a fine weekend watch if you want to enjoy some decent performances coupled with good music and a plot that dwells beyond the usual frivolities of commercial cinema. To its credit, the film’s tone refreshingly is not voyeuristic but rather that of empathy and acceptance, and will leave you with some food for thought, in a pleasant way.
Rating: *** (3/5)