“The world is a jungle and survival is the only instinct.” These are the ominous words that greet the viewer when one sits down to watch “Gumm”, a gritty action drama and the latest offering from independent Pakistani cinema. What follows is an unexpected sequence of events, a cat and mouse chase where every few moments a few truths are revealed about the two principal characters played by Sami Khan and Shamoon Abbasi. Indeed, watching this Ammar Lasani-Kanza Zia helmed project the viewer is never quite sure who actually is the on-screen predator is and who is being preyed upon, since the imperfect people who inhabit its screenplay are primarily driven by their primeval drive to survive — and in some cases, more.
Waking up bruised in the jungle, in the middle of nowhere, Asad (Sami Khan), a former small time crook, finds himself without any memory and at mercy of the elements in harsh surroundings. His only refuge is his get-away car, wrecked and completely battered. To complicate affairs, there’s a dead passenger in the driver’s seat and a bag filled with cash, and our protagonist (or who we think is one) is just as clueless as the viewer. The plot, and Asad’s memory, reveal themselves through a series of dramatic sequences set in the forest, interspersed at regular intervals with hallucinations (or are they?) and flashbacks from Asad’s past, till the film’s two narrative streams intersect and lead to the finale.
While at the outset, the plot may appear simple, its above-par executions is where the film’s strength lies. The editing and screenplay ensure that the complete picture remains concealed from the viewer till the concluding reels. And with its series of twists, the narrative succeeds in staying a step ahead of the viewer – you are never quite where the film is headed. However, while at this, the film-makers take some liberal cinematic liberties, some of which defy logic (more on that later), though by and large the screenplay is well paced and sustains the mystery and intrigue.
Talking about the film’s execution, any discussion would be utterly incomplete without Sami Khan’s believable act as Asad. To say that the actor, who debuted with Shehzad Rafiq’s “Salaakhein“, owns his character would not be an overstatement. A large chunk of the movie is dialogue free, and requires the actors to hold the fort through their body language and ability to emote. It is here that Khan especially shines, convincingly conveying Asad’s vulnerability, anguish and suffering. [*Major Spoilers Ahead*] Especially worth noting is his subtle change of expressions at hearing his daughter suffering from cancer. It almost gives you goosebumps. Shamoon Abbasi, similarly is quite effective as the film’s menacing, dagger wielding villain Haider, and does especially well in the movie’s many action sequences. The emotional core of the film, newcomer Sharmeen Khan (playing Dua, Asad’s love interest/wife), also surprises with her spunk and verve.
The plot is fairly simple – Asad, a small time crook (Sami Khan) falls in love, has a change of heart and decides to change his old ways. To save his cancer afflicted daughter, he has no choice but to return to his gangster past. Trouble naturally ensues. While the screenplay is suitably tight, it does unravel at certain points in the flashback sequences and towards the end. It is here that the film makers have taken tremendous cinematic license, perhaps to ensure that happy ending which distributors insist on — it strikes one as implausible that a person can survive three deep wounds and still manage to fight off the opponent with ease. Also, Dua and Asad’s ‘cutesy’ backstory was straight out of the 90s, with dialogues – and songs — to match. Another hiccup is that some questions also remain unanswered, such as why a bank robbery is needed in the first place when Dua and Asad following their marriage appear rather well-to-do – and so does Dua’s father. The camerawork while decent during the film’s jungle sequence also waivers during the flashbacks. [*End of Spoilers*]
“Gumm” primarily hinges on its cast’s — mainly Sami Khan’s and Shamoon’s – on screen performance to work, and the actors manage to keep your attention rapt throughout. Khan is the film’s surprise package and is spectacular in emoting his character’s myriad conflicts. His performance adds a layer of believability few films manage. Sparks fly when Abbasi and Khan face each other off and the actors prove that multi-crore ventures are not essential towards showcasing their talents. And while “Gumm” could do without the routine filmy song and dance routines, the editing, cinematography and background music are quite effective in building up tension and an eerie atmosphere in the action filled sequences that sustain the film.
In short, “Gumm” makes for an engaging viewing experience and is definitely a good start to this year’s slate of Pakistani releases. To some extent, it restores one’s faith in independent cinema. Watch it with an open mind for some fine performances and well-executed thrills, and you will be rewarded.
Rating: 3 (out of 5)