“Shehr e Tabassum” is an animated short film by Arafat Mazhar. It’s about a Dystopian Pakistan in the year 2071. In this Pakistan there are flying Rickshaws, blinding neon signs, a huge, sprawling metropolis, but there is also a rule that everyone must abide by. The rule: You have to smile.
Everyone is bound by law to wear collars that monitor their facial expressions every second. Robots fly around monitoring citizens on the streets and recommending that they upgrade their collars. It’s dystopia at its finest.
This is a Pakistan that has been through a second civil war, one that happened in 2038. What that war was about, and what the result was, is never mentioned. We just know that the obligation to smile was written into law because of it.
There are so many interpretations to the images on display that it would be a waste for me to try to spell them all out. Just know that whenever you’ve felt speech, ideas, voices, being stomped out, you must’ve felt like the characters in “Shehr e Tabassum”.
The 9-minute short film speaks volumes within its limited runtime and looks like the beginning of something spectacular. If Arafat Mazhar manages to make a deal with a major studio or with a streaming service like Netflix, he may very well bring a different voice to cinema.
The style of the animation is also very different. It looks like a living watercolor painting. The voice acting is also very expressive and convincing. At no point do you suspect that these are the same few people giving voice to each character. Finally, the tension established from the first shot doesn’t let up until the climactic finale. That’s one thing that very few films can achieve, and Arafat Mazhar has clearly done a splendid job.
The lead animator and editor Haseeb Rehman, and the co-producer Rasti Farooq are also worthy of applause for bringing this gem to life.
“Shehr e Tabassum” has been released on YouTube for all to see. At just 9 minutes it’s well worth your time. It’s a glimpse into what sci-fi could be within Pakistan; a genre that’s hardly ever been explored except for maybe Shaani back in the 1980s.
Curl up on the sofa or lie back on a chair and put on “Shehr e Tabassum”…and remember to keep smiling.