Throughout “Laal Kabootar”, the reds, the oranges, and the yellows of Karachi are amplified. There is no room for softness here, not even on screen. Mo Azmi’s cinematography puts Karachi into a perspective like you’ve never seen before. The fact that Karachi is an unforgiving city is established from the first scene and it only gets more merciless from there.
Starring Mansha Pasha, Ahmed Ali Akbar, Saleem Mairaj, Ali Kazmi, and Rashid Farooqui in key roles, “Laal Kabootar” pulls the rug from under your feet several times. Whether that’s because you are not used to this sort of finesse and tight scripting in Pakistani films or because the film is that good, I’ll let you decide.
Mansha Pasha plays Aaliyah Malik, a woman who has lost a loved one to the scourge of target killing in Karachi. Ahmed Ali Akbar plays Adeel Nawaz, a taxi driver with big dreams of going to Dubai and earning a living for himself and his alcoholic father. Their paths intertwine by necessity as he needs money for a visa and ticket, and she wants revenge.
The film makes sure that they’ve exhausted all other options before these two characters settle for each other’s help. Aaliyah has been humiliated and frustrated by the police multiple times and Adeel has had enough of trying to scrape together “chillar” to fly to Dubai. The hopelessness of both their situations has sunk in by the time they decide to go all in on a vigilante mission to find the titular “Laal Kabootar”.
And therein lies the strength of the film; authenticity. This Karachi is real, its streets are dirty and broken, the corrupt police officers aren’t comical exaggerations but flawed humans beat down into submission by the system, and its citizens are compromises between right and wrong.
Rashid Farooqui, who plays Inspector Ibrahim, a corrupt police officer, steals every scene he’s in. Writer Abbas Ali Naqvi probably had a blast writing this character. Inspector Ibrahim is shown beating down criminals during interrogations, asking for bribes from powerful men, and then we get to see him being covered in make up by his young daughter.
In a scene with Mansha Pasha, he philosophizes, “Aap ki qismat ameeron waali hai, andhi goli bhi bach ke ghareeb ko hi lagti hai” (You are fortunate to be rich, even a rogue bullet swerves and hits a poor man). His character is the most fleshed out in the film by far and lends further authenticity to the Karachi portrayed on screen.
All the characters are flawed and complex here. Someone you would begin to hate in one scene, you would feel sympathy for in the next. However, the film makes it a point to highlight a character’s good qualities whenever it gets the chance, choosing to show that some small redemption is possible, even in Karachi.
The two departments that deserve the most praise are writing and editing. Through tight scripting and fast paced editing, the team of “Laal Kabootar” has made sure nothing drags in the 90 minutes film. And if you’ve seen any of the previous Pakistani films from the “new wave”, you know that’s a rare feat.
Kamal Khan’s direction allows you to see the vast expanse of Karachi. He zooms in to raging traffic and then pans out many times as if to say, no matter how fast you run, Karachi is too big.
This image of a dangerous metropolitan city is further intensified through Taha Malik’s music. The soundtrack is a mix of techno, rap, and dubstep, with one or two traditional numbers thrown in. It does its job well switching between the hi-octane city and the somber lives many lead behind the closed doors, living with the consequences of their actions.
“Laal Kabootar” is a mystery thriller, the likes of which Pakistan has needed for a long time. Our elders grew up watching the Alauddin and Ejaz starrer, “Raaz”, which won the coveted Nigar Award for Best Film in 1959 and was a commercial success. It’s high time that Pakistan had another mystery film that lives up to the ideals of that genre.
Shaan Shahid once said in an interview that films like “Secret Superstar” should be made every day in Pakistan. Well “Laal Kabootar” is a film that should be made every week.