Darling and Bench Short Films

Short Films Review: Saim Sadiq’s ‘Darling’ and Usman Mukhtar’s ‘Bench’

Darling (2019)

Saim Sadiq’s ‘Darling’ generated quite a positive buzz on the international festival circuit and went on to win an award for the best short at the prestigious Venice Film Festival. Sitting through the 16-minutes long short, it is easy to see why. The film is a frenetic kaleidoscope of exoticism — be that it’s setting (in Pakistan), its main character (a transgender), or the erotic-dancing subculture of Lahore it explores. Starring Alina Khan in the titular character of Alina Darling, the film explores the journey and relationships of a transgender who aspires to be the showgirl in a Lahore erotic-dance theater.

We find that her boyfriend Shani (Abdullah Malik) is somewhat naively in love with her, and seems to be much conflicted at the turn of events once Alina decides to go in for an audition. Thrown in for the ride are local superstitions about missing goats and a kinetic number belted out by none other than Naseebo Lal. Mo Azmi’s artful cinematography quite successfully created an immersive universe for the film’s characters, and Sadiq captures all the surrealism of the erotic dancing subculture. When it comes to its basic structure and storytelling devices, the film has fingerprints of Pakistani cinema all over it: Be that in its relationship-centric storyline or the song and dance routine it effortlessly incorporates.

‘Darling’ has been acquired by Focus Features and reports suggest that Sadiq is working on a full-length feature film based on this short.

Bench (2021)

Usma Mukhtar’s ‘Bench’ offers a contemplative look at broken relationships, the heartbreak they create, and the avenues they open. Mukhtar, who also stars in the film, shares the screen space with the talented Rubya Chaudhry. Chaudhry has the meaty character of an agonizing wife who has possibly been abused. The actor is able to convey her conflicts and apprehensions quite well with her facial expressions and tense body language, and as the film progresses we learn that despite all the heartbreak and unease, she is hopeful as well about being liberated from what would surely have been an unpleasant situation.

The film is bittersweet and far cry from the shouting matches that have become synonymous with broken relationships in mainstream cinema and television. The two characters here show that while there’s still some love left behind, it is important to move on.

The film is shot in the verdant greenscapes of Islamabad that stand in complete contrast to the emotional turmoil its characters are experiencing.

Written by Faisal Ali H

I work as an economist and maintain an active interest in Pakistani cinema.


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