Warning: Spoilers ahead
“The loss of East Pakistan has been just reduced to a paragraph in our history books,” laments Sajal Aly in a pivotal scene in ‘Khel Khel Mein,’ as she makes an impassioned plea to her university’s senior board members seeking permission to stage a play that narrates Pakistan’s side of events that transpired in 1971.
Ironically, that unfortunate part of our history gets about as much attention in ‘Khel Khel Mein’ as the movie largely avoids setting the record correct, something that could have been intelligently done by detailing with nuance what the Pakistani perspective of events around 1971 actually is. While some allusions to it are made during the brief flashback sequences narrated by a few of the film’s characters, the specifics of history remain nebulous as KKM decides to firmly reinforce generalities and ambiguities without dwelling into details.
That being said, the film still remains quite watchable — that is if you are expecting a regular, commercial entertainer and not a more cerebral slice of reality-inspired cinema that its trailer billed it to be. Its watchability is at least partly due to the combination of decent acting and clever use of character-driven plot devices, the film employs to keep the viewer engaged to the proceedings. Sajal Aly plays Zara, the daughter of an army officer and a freshman in college who also maintains a keen interest in dramatics. So much so, that she decides to write her own ‘play’ around the events of 1971 for a drama competition in Dhaka. Here, her paths cross with our local Van Wilder, Saad Sikandar (Bilal Abbas), the scion of a Forbes-listed tycoon (Javed Sheikh). Together, Zara and Saad forge the troupe they need for the play, and the group eventually lands in Dhaka.
While that is just a summary of the plot, a lot more actually happens on screen — the film’s narrative spans everything from the Baluchistan angle to Sajal’s long lost grandfather (Manzar Sehbai, in a cameo, magically appears) to Bilal Abbas’s career-related conflicts with his father and everything in between. There’s barely any breathing space for what the film actually promised to deliver on, if the trailer was anything to go by: providing some cloture on 1971. The ‘play’ which remains the centerpiece of the film’s plot for a good two hours is reduced to a brief song-and-dance sequence before the climax. Although it is quite tastefully conceived and choreographed, the said ‘play’ was a critical piece of the film’s plot and to have it done away with a short abstract performance dampens the film’s impact considerably.
What makes up for that, partly, is the hard work put in by the cast and the film’s technical crew. A lot of the film’s heavy lifting is done by Sajal Aly who shines in her role of a headstrong young woman on a mission to set the record of history straight. This is not exactly alien terrain for Aly — she passed with flying colors in a similar role in ‘Dhoop Ki Deewar.’ Sajal Aly’s efforts on screen are quite ably complemented by Bilal Abbas, who comfortably melds into the rich, popular kid on campus persona of his character. And no review of the film would be complete without a mention of its supporting cast, which pitches in stellar performances — Mojiz Hassan and Marina Khan, in particular, do quite well, as do most of the actors who are shown to be a part of the drama troupe.
Also in KKM’s favor is the fact that it is quite slickly mounted, with the photography (by Filmwala regular Rana Kamran) being topnotch and the well-chosen locales blending perfectly into the script. Recreating Dhaka in Karachi would have been no easy task, and the film somewhat convincingly manages to do so. Music is an integral part of the plot, and the songs here are purely situational that work to take the film’s plot forward. The background music too captures the mood and locales of the film.
To sum up, ‘Khel Khel Mein’ might have quite a few loose ends but it remains quite watchable as it delivers on performances, production value, and the entertainment quotient. Keep your expectations in check and you might just end up enjoying this film.