When Chaudhry Aslam Khan was martyred in 2014, I was still a student. I remember seeing footage of him in a kurta, freely talking to the officers under him, unshaken by the chaos that was Karachi. He was like a lion strolling through the wilderness, unafraid of what lay before him; come what may. Following his death, he has been celebrated as a hero, and even vilified as a man who took the law into his own hands. He’s a personality worthy of a biopic. Unfortunately, “Chaudhry The Martyr” is unworthy of Chaudhry Aslam Khan.
SSP Tariq Islam, the man playing Chaudhry Aslam Khan is unfortunately neither as domineering nor as charismatic on screen as the role requires. This is of course not a comment on his work as a police officer. He is said to have served with Chaudhry Aslam Khan during various missions for over 2 decades. While he has the mannerisms down and at times gives an effective performance, his voice, and his acting chops are very visibly lacking.
It doesn’t help that almost everyone else in the film is hamming it up either. Not one performance can be singled out as the saving grace of the film. The actors playing “Bhoora” and “Kallu”, the two rival gangsters in the film were incredibly irritating. This goes for most actors in the film, especially the two actors playing a young university couple.
Yasir Hussain plays a documentary maker who follows Chaudhry around trying to tell his story, but his investigation is all surface level, and nothing truly revealing ever comes to light. Shamoon Abbasi does fine with the material he is given as Chaudhry’s designated bodyguard, but he’s a minor character in the film who doesn’t get a lot of screen time.
Bad Direction and Worse Writing
From the absolutely pathetic dialogue delivery to genuinely terrible dialogues, to lifeless performances, nothing works in Chaudhry’s favour. After a while I started looking away from the screen because, for lack of a better word, I was cringing too hard.
The disjointed direction from Azeem Sajjad also ruins the experience. The film keeps jumping back and forth between different episodes of Chaudhry Aslam’s life, the rivalry between two gangsters, as well as a completely unnecessary subplot about a romance between the aforementioned young couple.
Also, for a gritty biopic based on the life of a legendary cop, there are far too many stupid jokes clearly inserted into the script to pad out the running time. This makes the film feel uneven throughout the running time. You’re supposed to feel the intense chaos that was gripping Karachi in the 2010s, but when obscenity-laden punchlines are thrown around for laughs by hammy actors in every scene, you feel more irritated than gripped.
In one scene a young Chaudhry arrests a man named Sarwar to get information about the murder of Daniel Pearl. For those unfamiliar with this chapter in Karachi’s history, Google it right now. Anyway, Chaudhry is beating down the man when his superior rushes in to inform him that he was supposed to get information from a computer server. I almost facepalmed.
Lifeless Action Sequences
“Chaudhry The Martyr” is supposed to be an action film. Yet, from the opening scene, the action sequences fail to make an impact. You can see Chaudhry pushing away a bullet proof vest as he storms into a drug dealer’s den to put a bullet in his chest. Yet, the entire scene is over way too quickly and is oddly flat.
At this point, audiences are used to exhilarating action in films from Hollywood, or even from India (‘RRR’ and ‘KGF’ being prime examples). Simply seeing bullets fly or explosions on screen won’t cut it anymore.
However, what does the greatest disservice to the action is the sound design.
Bad Sound Design Dampens the Effect of Chaudhry’s Action
Bad sound design is an unfortunate feature of Pakistani films. And in an action film, bad sound can completely ruin the experience for the audience. That is exactly what Chaudhry suffers from.
Most of the dialogues, if not all, are quite clearly dubbed; and quite poorly I might add. That’s why when characters are shouting through a firefight or following a bomb blast, there is a clear separation between the voices and the noise, which makes the experience seem completely artificial. There’s simply no immersion and that takes the audience out of the cinematic experience.
Even when characters are speaking to each other in relatively quiet places like an auditorium or a café, dubbed dialogue is apparent. Forced consonants and mismatched lip movements make for too many details out of place. They ruin the experience.
Chaudhry Aslam Khan has become a legend for his fearless resolve in the face of terror during a time when Karachi was sinking into lawlessness and anarchy. The film gets it right when it says Karachi’s history will be written before and after Chaudhry. His martyrdom came at the turn of the tide when Karachi began to emerge from the darkness and return to some semblance of normalcy. However, that’s about the only thing “Chaudhry the Martyr” gets right. It could’ve been a landmark film for Pakistani cinema, but it ends up being just another entry in the column of time wasters from Pakistani cinema’s new wave.