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‘Rehbra’ (Movie Review): Ahsan Khan and Ayesha Omar Battle A Banal Storyline

 

Romantic sagas and Pakistani cinema seem to be intrinsically tied in an almost eternal, unbreakable bond. Indeed, fairy-tale like escapades with men and women of all shapes, forms, and sizes prancing around trees (in some cases, more) professing their feelings for one another, only to find themselves at odds with that quintessential baddie have been the mainstay of the local film industry right since its inception. The question is, how do you add novelty and appeal to the story which has, in its basic structure, already been put to celluloid at least over 5,000 times by the film industry?

The makers of ‘Rehbra’ would likely say “You don’t.” Or at least that is the impression this writer was left with after sitting through the nearly two hour long film. The movie, with its curiously spelled title, is a love story centered on its two protagonists Danish and Bubbly, played by Ahsan Khan and Ayesha Omar respectively. Danish is shown as a relatively staid and suave Karachi-based property developer, while Bubbly is that textbook Punjabi heroine of contemporary cinema, with all the attendant clichés:  an impulsive and somewhat naïve firecracker with a devil-may-care attitude. After a chance meeting at a train station, Danish seems to be smitten by Bubbly. Odd that is, one thinks, as he already has a steady romantic interest (Sehrish Khan) by his side. Stranger still that Ahsan’s character seems to have little to no inner conflict about his newfound feelings, which seems rather out of character for a person shown to be rather introspective. On the other hand, the matters of the heart create much tumult and chaos at Bubbly’s end. Facing the prospect of being tied in a matrimonial bond with her cousin, she takes an important decision — only for those darned thugs from the Ganju gang to butt into the film and into the lives of our two protagonists.

Ganju gang? you curiously ask. Hoping there might be a socio-political allegory of some sort layered within a parallel narrative with cryptic symbolism and magical realism (think ‘Kamli’), this writer was disappointed to learn that the gang featured was indeed a real one (in the film’s universe) referring to thugs that have an active footprint in the arid southern fringes of Punjab.

And that pretty much sums up ‘Rehbra.’ The only surprise the film offers is how decent a job its cast members do despite a cliché-ridden storyline that is as old as the hills. The film rests significantly on Ayesha Omar’s petite shoulders, and she puts in an earnest effort in pulling off the Lahori lass with much sass. That being said, there are moments in the film where her routine gets overbearing, an issue that has more to do with direction than the actor per se. Ahsan Khan, on the other hand, strikes the right balance and his performance comes off as natural and dignified. The supporting cast members – Saba Faisal and Ghulam Mohiuddin, playing Bubbly’s parents — do as well as anyone would expect these entertainment industry veterans to. Broadly speaking, the acting ensemble is a rather pleasant one, with the leads sharing good chemistry, and is one of the reasons why audiences might want to stay with the film right till the end.

The cast’s efforts are complemented quite nicely by the film’s production design and cinematography. While there are a few scenes where the footage quality is glaringly grainy and sub-par, the film generally features photography that is a cut above that the norm. Locations in Lahore and the arid reaches of Punjab only add to the eye candy. ‘Rehbra’ also features quite a few action scenes, extrinsic as they might be to the film’s story, and they have been executed with much finesse. The music department, handled by Seemab Sen and Imran Ali, does not disappoint although the film does not feature that requisite chartbuster for a commercial rom-com.

Director Amin Iqbal is a well-respected name on television, however ‘Rehbra’ is a hit-and-miss for the ‘Ishq-e-Laa’ director. There are quite a few scenes in the film with rather apparent technical and logical flaws, that could have been handled better, and the narrative structure too seems to struggle in establishing a direction for the film’s plot. Also, while the makers have smartly chosen to keep the length under the two hour mark, this also results in the film featuring quite a few noticeable editing jumps.

The bottomline

‘Rehbra’ is at best a good showreel for Ayesha Omar and Ahsan Khan’s talents. The film unfortunately ends up being another one of those could-have-been-worth-watching projects, although to get there would have required more attention to plot development and a screenplay/script rewrite. Barring an oddly placed belly dancing sequence, the film is generally family-friendly, with minimal language issues. If you are never tired of rom-coms, ‘Rehbra’ might pass for a one time watch.

Written by Faisal Ali H

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

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