Sakina Samo’s ‘Intezaar’ is a film that was originally scheduled to release just as the Covid-19 pandemic was gaining momentum, in March 2020. After a nearly two and a half year long delay, the film finally has made it to the theaters, presenting to the audience the veteran actor & director’s musing on aging, caregiving, and mindfulness.
However, before any discussion about the film, it should be noted that art-house cinema is a relatively new concept in Pakistan, with a few titles having made it to the big screen since 2015. Such films are often promoted with the misnomer of ‘indie cinema,’ a term which itself is an oxymoron as for all practical purposes no production is completely self-reliant. ‘Intezaar’ has been made on a shoestring budget, and staying true to its art-house feel, it presents an offbeat theme that steers clear of the baggage of commercial cinema.
The story is rather simple: A divorced and troubled middle-aged mother, Ruby (played by Kaif Ghaznavi) has to take care of her aging parents, both of whom are afflicted with different ailments. Khalid Ahmad essays the role of her father, Qurban Ali, a loud and somewhat tempestuous septuagenarian who also occasionally offers words of wisdom for his family, especially his wife, enacted by Samina Ahmad. Mrs. Qurban Ali is shown to be suffering from cancer and Alzheimer’s disease and has no memories of her family except her son Sameer (Adnan Jaffar, in a brief appearance), who resides in the United States and hasn’t been around his family for 15 years. All of this is, of course, cause of much consternation for the disturbed and quite temperamental Ruby. She hires a nurse (Raza Ali Abid) to assist her in the caregiving duties for her parents.
At first glance, the plot seems to be limited to exploring the challenges around caring for the elderly who are in their final days. That, however, is just the film’s broader canvas for probing into the notion of how yearning for a future something or someone disconnects people from the present, and in short, makes everyone (especially the two female characters in the film) quite miserable. While this is indeed an interesting idea, it needs to be said that its treatment and development leave much to be desired. Watching the film, one gets a deja-vu of the long plays that were broadcast by PTV in its better days, some very well-made productions that Samo herself has performed in. The film also struggles with pacing and plot development. In all fairness, there was enough material here for an engaging short, however, stretching the runtime to 93 minutes is tantamount to testing the viewer’s patience.
That being said, the film excels in quite a few areas where art-house films in the country often falter. Numero uno of course would be the excellent performances Samo has managed to extract from Khalid Ahmed and Samina Ahmed, seen here in quite different avatars compared to the norm. The two perfectly capture the pain, anguish, and lack of restraint that aging often brings, and their on-screen interaction is the film’s USP. Ghaznavi and Abid do quite well too within the limited scope the film offers their characters. Their characters remain undeveloped: Ghaznavi is shown to be trapped in her whirlpool of misery and yearning for her now-estranged son, while Abid has little to do besides occasionally serving the contrarian to Ruby’s perpetual ranting. As an aside, her repetitive breakdowns do little in helping the film’s narrative arc.
The background score (credited to Dervesh) is minimal but effective, whereas the photography is strictly okay. The film also suffers from sound issues, with intermittent white noise occasionally surfacing between dialogues and serving as an unwelcome distraction.
‘Intezaar’ serves an interesting idea that is backed by decent direction and its cast’s competent performances, however, this is a subtle film where much is left for the audience to ruminate over. A more engaging screenplay with well-developed supporting characters would have aided in making the film a more compelling watch. In its present form, it comes across as a middling attempt at putting across the worthy message of living in the moment. The movie is, however, a step in the right direction for local non-mainstream films and may be worth your time if you enjoy cinema that offers some food for thought, provided you can overlook its shortfalls.