The Land Mafia. Benaami Accounts. Powerful criminals who operate with impunity, the law, and the courts firmly in their grip. All of these are elements of contemporary Pakistani socio-political discourse, that now also feature as central plot points in ‘Ghabrana Nahi Hai,’ the Saba Qamar, Zahid Ahmed, and Syed Jibran tour de force that is currently running in theaters across the country. You might be wondering if this entails that the film is another one of those infomercial-like high-on-social-messaging projects that masquerade as feature films. Well, breathe easy. While ‘Ghabrana Nahi Hai’ has a lot on its mind, the film’s focus very much remains on the story arc of its central characters, their aspirations, and their conflicts. This is also one of the reasons why this black comedy works.
To their credit, the filmmakers have cleverly kept the level of social satire at a level where it appears (in some cases) to mirror the unfortunate reality of our daily existence. In certain instances, rather worryingly though, the film’s plot developments don’t even shock or stir audience disbelief, as they should. As the film’s promotions have already revealed, the story centers on Saba Qamar’s struggles to recover her family’s Karachi plot that has been illegally taken over by the land mafia. Qamar, essaying Zubaida a.k.a Zuby, is a popular Tik-Tok star and an aspiring actress with a no-nonsense attitude that has almost become a hallmark of her always on-point performances, and indeed a character trait that she pulls off effortlessly like no other. In Karachi, Zubaida lands at the house of her cousin Vicky (Syed Jibran) and encounters a dirty cop Sikander, who amongst many of his shady “side” activities protects the land-mafia baron Bhai-miyan (Nayyar Ejaz).
Well so far so good.
The film hereon could easily have devolved into a convoluted mess, however, in the hands of scriptwriter Mohsin Ali (‘Wrong No.’ and ‘Parde Mein Rehne Do’) and director Saqib Khan, the deftly constructed narrative is handled with utmost care. As the film progresses towards its midway point, the audience is given just enough to remain engaged with the proceedings. The major fireworks are left for the second half, where the film takes over the persona of a thriller – albeit a very desi one, replete with mushairas and mehfils. Even sanday ka tail (lizard oil, the Pakistani snake oil equivalent) makes an appearance. The originality and inventiveness of the script is refreshing and indeed something we rarely see.
Coming to the performances, Saba Qamar has the meatiest character in ‘Ghabrana Nahi Hai’ and as already stated, she does full justice to it. However, her two male counterparts, Zahid Ahmed and Syed Jibran are no mere sidekicks as they get ample opportunity to display their histrionics in being part of Zubaida’s mad-cap adventures in Karachi. Both the male actors do rather well, with Jibran surprising with his deft comic timing. His routine as Zubaida’s not-so-bright, crazily smitten cousin elicited much laughter from the audience at the screening where this writer watched the film. Ahmed, also the romantic lead opposite Qamar, excels in the dramatic sequences and brings a touch of gravitas to the film’s tragicomic situations.
Amongst the supporting cast, Nayyar Ejaz, essaying the role of Ahmed’s on-screen boss, is quite good. Veteran actress Gul-e-Rana too makes a brief appearance. Hers is a character that is likely to remain ingrained in public memory for some time at least. The film is also the comeback vehicle for Lollywood-era comic powerhouse Afzal ‘Rambo’ Khan, who is seen in a major role after a long time. The ‘Munda Bigra Jaye’ star reminds the audience why he was, and indeed is, worthy of the stardom. Ace comedian and actor Sohail Ahmed though does not get much screentime here and his role is really more along the lines of a guest appearance.
Distractions and disruptions via incidental characters and song-and-dance numbers are thankfully kept at a minimum. While the film features a few songs, they are frankly not the chartbuster variety; however they do meld quite nicely with the flow of the film. This also means that choreographers Nigah Hussain and Zahid Hussain do not get much scope to demonstrate their talents, however where needed they do the job quite adequately.
One of my quibbles with the film is that despite all its strengths, it would have benefitted from a better production design. The shortcomings though, are artfully concealed by DOP Asrad Khan’s (‘Chhalaawa’, ‘Bachaana’) skillful photography, which strikes a fine balance ensuring that the visuals don’t overwhelm the narrative. Also, a shorter run-time, with a few cuts in the first half, would have worked in the film’s favor.
‘Ghabrana Nahi Hai’ is that much-awaited social satire that strikes the right balance between reality and fiction, and indeed seriousness and humor. The movie’s ensemble cast does a commendable job in bringing the well-written script and screenplay to life, with competent direction aiding their cause.
What should be concerning though is how little the movie’s storyline and situations shock. I reckon that writer Mohsin Ali’s actual joke might be really on us, the audience, as the movie is just as much a commentary on how complacent we, the members of the society have become to the widely prevalent criminal activities around us. The film holds a mirror, providing much food for thought.