Warning: Mild spoilers ahead. To skip, read the bottomline.
Given the number of socially relevant films that Pakistani cinema in its new reincarnation has churned out, to say that this sort of cinema is the need of the hour is almost banal now. Yet films remain a powerful tool for catalyzing effective social change. The trickier aspect is to get the tone and messaging right, and of course, doing that while facing the age-old dilemma of getting audiences into the theater. ‘Kahay Dil Jidhar’ faces all these potential pitfalls and attempts to resolve the latter by offering a shiny, glossy package that promises a decent bang for their buck. Does all the gleam and luster blind the important message the film attempts to put across?
The action rolls on familiar terrain with Shehryar (Junaid Khan) and Maria (Mansha Pasha) getting engaged and the two, along with Naina (Roma Michael) celebrating with an elaborate song-and-dance sequence. However, something is amiss. The fourth member Sameer (Kamran Bari) of this close-knit group of friends is missing, and no one is sure about his whereabouts. A mysterious letter is delivered to Maria, which triggers the movie’s flashback sequence showing the four in college, where Sameer is quite visibly taking to drugs. So far, so good. What happens thence onwards is where the film’s narrative begins to head into somewhat testy waters.
An explanation — a rather simplistic one, that — is offered for Sameer’s downwards spiral into the abyss of drug abuse. That rationale, the friends’ attempts to intervene, and Sameer’s showdown with his ANF-cop mother (Atiqa Odho, playing Shahana) came across as somewhat facile. Likely, this is a result of some issues in the screenwriting and direction department. Perhaps, Shahana needed to be shown in a more stern and even negative light, as her character required her to be (in hindsight, the film was supported by the ANF, so that would be off the table). Other than that, the film layers another issue on top of drug abuse and doesn’t quite explain if there is a causal relationship between the two (in real life, there is). Thus things only go south, for Sameer, and the film, as we near the end. Although it should be said that the climax, while a tad idealistic does actually elevate the film’s graph and ends it on a decent note.
What holds the film together are the performances by the leads Junaid Khan and Mansha Pasha. Khan does quite a decent job at making his bad-ass cop character come alive on the screen, and similarly, Pasha too brings much energy to the screen. First-timer Roma Michael shows promise, too. Like with a lot of Pakistani films, here too the supporting cast comprising of veterans like Sajid Hassan is quite good. The villains in KDJ do a tremendous job at being menacing and look quite suave and sophisticated all the same, a welcome relief from the usual ‘paan munching galli ke ghunday’ stereotype.
The film’s cause is also helped by its soundtrack. KDJ is a musical and there are a total of 8 tracks in the film. While these may not be the artsy variety that ends up on Coke Studio, they work very well in the context of a regular, commercial film. Their picturization varies from good to average. Talking about which, it was baffling to see the main characters enjoying booze and narcotics in ‘Mastam’ — a rocking track, by the way. The ‘one last time’ argument made by Shehryar in a preceding scene did not quite add up, either, especially since he is never shown to do drugs. Alarmingly, this is how most end up taking to drugs — and then, never quitting.
To be sure, ‘Kahay Dil Jidhar’ has some issues with its messaging. Better screenwriting and editing (towards the intermission and onwards) could have amplified its commentary on ‘saying no to drugs,’ and on other issues, it touches on. Adding some nuance would have helped, too.
The film is decent in most other departments, and the soundtrack ensures that you will remain entertained. At the box office, it will benefit from the overflow resulting from the zillionth installment of ‘Spiderman.’