When it came out in the latter half of 2017, ‘Punjab Nahi Jaungi’ (PNJ) received its fair share of flak for what certain quarters saw as undercurrents of anti-feminist themes in the narrative. It was even labeled as a film “for men, made by men. (https://www.geo.tv/latest/158592-mai-punjab-nahi-jaungi-is-a-disservice-to-women)” While the paying audience clearly didn’t pay much heed – the film was a box-office goldmine for producers ARY Films & Six Sigma Plus – the sentiment seems to have been registered by the production team if the film’s so-called spiritual successor ‘London Nahi Jaunga’ (LNJ) is anything to go by. While LNJ shares much with its prequel, it is a markedly different and possibly more interesting film.
Not quite ‘Punjab Nahi Jaungi’?
To begin with, the film’s plot does not quite rest entirely on the boy-from-countryside-meets-the-urban-girl love story, or at least not in the conventional sense. The expansive wild-mustard fields of Punjab here are not the picture-perfect setting for a romantic song-and-dance number with the lovers expressing ‘tere naal naal rehna.’ In fact, quite the opposite – the yellow swathes amongst the verdant greens are tainted with much red. Without spoiling much, the plot involves a social issue central to the film’s storyline – not that you would suspect anything along those lines from the film’s opening reels, where the film’s protagonist Chaudhry Jameel (played by Humayun Saeed) from the Tiwana clan is set to get engaged to his cousin, Arzoo, essayed on-screen by Kubra Khan. There’s the obligatory pomp, pageantry, and festivities as the well-choreographed ‘Mahiya ve Mahiya’ plays with Arzoo shaking a leg as friends and family are regaled.
However, something is clearly amiss and ominous signs soon begin to surface. Zara Mansoor, an enigmatic visitor from the United Kingdom, makes her entry into the Tiwana household, and charms and seduces her way into Jameel’s heart, the same Jameel who has earlier on vowed to not marry a Pakistani woman. With her rather unsettling musings and repartees as she is given a tour of the grand haveli by Jameel, Zara makes little effort to conceal that she knows more than she ought to. Following an important revelation, stars align in conflicting positions for the two. Zara wants nothing to do with Jameel, who on the other hand has his heart stuck on the London-raised lass. The conflict between the two occupies much of the rather engaging second half, as more secrets are laid bare and age-old trauma is brought to the fore amidst much heartbreak and family drama.
Production hits and misses
Thematically speaking, there’s a shade of Shoaib Mansoor’s socially-themed cinema here, although the treatment is diametrically different. The screenplay does not skirt around the film’s core story by digressing with needless comedy and other distractions inserted for the sake of entertainment. Nadeem Baig’s direction is competent for the most part, as he creates a film that is largely coherent in terms of its mood, production, and sound design. However, there are parts where one feels better handling was needed, such as Mehwish’s Hayat’s entry scene where she reveals that she is ‘Zara from London’ (her words, not mine.) The film has a rich, multi-layered storyline that could also have benefitted from less staid camerawork. Notably, a key moment in the film where Zara reveals her motives to Jameel and makes her big move on him, could have been lit and shot more effectively with rudimentary camera trucking and tilts that would have added the element of magic and spellwork so apparent in that well-written scene.
As one would expect for a film by Baig, the performances by the entire acting ensemble are largely on point. The film by and large revolves around Mehwish Hayat’s character, and the ‘Load Wedding’ star makes the most of it, channeling much of the script’s pathos and heartbreak through her character. There are also many dialogues and references to memorable moments from PNJ scattered throughout, some of them said in jest, which enliven the movie considerably. And talking about the script, Khaleel-ur-Rehman Qamar’s writing is the film’s biggest asset as the Urdu dialogues filled with emotive imagery find their way into your heart. Some of the most effective lines are spoken on-screen by Saba Hameed’s character, and the actress is outstanding in her supporting performance. The film is not without its notable shortfalls, though. Since some of the characters are shown to be natives of London, one would expect their diction to portray the same, however, disappointingly the English accents throughout the film are inconsistent and this is an area where much more attention was required.
In terms of production, the focus in LNJ is less on opulent havelis and more on the emotional turmoil of its characters, therefore the film on screen is a whole together different experience from PNJ. However, in a break from PNJ, the film’s soundtrack is surprisingly bland, with no track in particular staying with you after watching the movie.
The bottom line
‘London Nahi Jaunga’ boasts of a rich, engaging storyline and is generally a well-made film with reasonably competent performances by its cast. The real star of the film is its script, with a few memorable lines and situations that just may become a Pakistani pop-culture phenomenon. Watch LNJ not only for its entertainment value but to also appreciate its very important and applaud-worthy message.