I must begin this review with a disclaimer. Having sat through a few local horror projects, I have experienced the whole spectrum of chills, disgust, and shock – not due to the content per se of the films being screened, but rather due to their various quality attributes, such as, for example, the absence of any semblance of logic, minimal screenplay structure, bad make-up, etc.
This has several implications for this review of Pakistani cinema’s latest horror offering ‘Peechay Tou Dekho,’ (PTD). For one, when I sat down to watch the movie my expectations were naturally not sky-high. Also, my reaction to the content being screened and the opinion I formed subsequently were influenced, to some extent, by these prior experiences. As much as I’d like to be wholly objective, a film like PTD cannot be viewed entirely separately from the larger universe of nascent Pakistani horror cinema.
This brings us to the crux of the matter: That the film is an improvement upon the few horror titles that have hit the screen over the past decade. However, treat that statement with caution, for the devil, quite literally, lies in the details.
To begin with, consider the film’s basic idea: A horror comedy with a transgender twist and a somewhat different flavor of Pakistani comedy (that is likely influenced by the local commercial theater circuit) is quite novel. PTD’s two central characters, the street-smart, loitering duo played by Yasir Hussain and Adeal Amjad stick to the horror movie playbook by getting into trouble right from the get-go. The two are on the run from a murderous gang leader, played by Amir Qureishi, and eventually, end up trapped in a forlorn-looking haveli. Here, they encounter the mysterious, gender-ambiguous caretaker of the house, Rani (Waqar Hussain), and eventually, two enchanting nymph-like women. While the gang, with all its eccentric, unhinged characters is still on the duo’s heels, our protagonists decide to camp at the mysterious mansion to deal with the aftermath of their previous fracas, waiting allow things to cool down. As you would expect, this is not exactly a wise call to make, for the mansion and the entities which inhabit it have their own dark secrets to reveal.
While all of this makes an interesting premise, its development is patchy leaves much to be desired. Some situations, such as the one where our heroes encounter the film’s gang leader for the first time are genuinely well-conceived, while others are a total blah. The screenplay’s pace slows down quite a bit once the action shifts to the haveli, with the inconsistent pacing lasting till the rushed climax. The quality of screenwriting follows a similar trajectory. While the dialogues are genuinely funny in a few places and manage to draw a chuckle or two, at other points, they merely seem to be limp fillers before the next major plot development, one of which is the film’s flashback sequence. The backstory is an important element of the plot, and it needed more work in terms of story and character development, styling and wardrobe of its actors and importantly, more suitable casting.
Despite these hitches – and these are not minor ones, mind you – the film does manage to retain more than a modicum of charm. As with many Pakistani films, it is the actors who save the day. Waqar Hussain in his gender-bending avatar of Rani does manage to tickle the funny bone in quite a few instances. Yasir Hussain and Adeal Amjad do well too, in parts. However, it is Amir Qureishi’s turn as the film’s villain which brings a larger-than-life quality to the movie. The actor exudes the right menacing persona with some Sindhi touches added for the character’s authenticity.
As is apparent from the outset, PTD is a low-budget fare and despite this it does manage to hit the right note in quite a few areas where previous local horror films have faltered. That still does not absolve the filmmakers from the responsibility of creating the requisite uncanny atmosphere, a bare necessity for any horror film and a glaring oversight by PTD’s production team. While a few scenes, such as the one where the trio of ghouls chases the Adeal and Yasir’s characters are suitably eerie with decently done CGI, others appear like flood-lit shots from a regular drama serial, which jarringly contrast with the scene’s tone and mood as well as the genre of the film. The centerpiece haveli’s interiors could also have used more attention from the film’s production design departments.
In terms of direction, PTD is an improvement over Syed Atif Ali’s debut horror project ‘Pari,’ thematically and stylistically speaking. However, that might not be nearly good enough for the film to merit a must-watch status. While Ali Iis able to bring to screen an interesting idea with passable execution, PTD’s plot, screenplay, and production design, along with some of the acting (especially from the newer cast members) would have benefitted from more attention.
“Peechay Tou Dekho” attempts to offer a unique horror-comedy experience with strictly middling results. The film may hold commercial appeal for a segment of the audience, fitting the bill for a weekend night’s entertainment.