Clocking in at just 100 minutes, Iram Parveen Bilal’s “Wakhri” is nearly half the length of most Pakistani theatrical releases. However, during the last 20 minutes, arguably the film’s most pivotal moments, I kept passively glancing at my watch counting the seconds until it ended. And that’s where the film unfortunately fails. It commits the cardinal sin of being boring.
‘Wakhri’ is inspired by the life of Qandeel Baloch, a social media star known for her risqué videos and controversial statements. She was murdered by her own brother in 2016 in the name of honour.
What is ‘Wakhri’ About?
‘Wakhri’ stars Faryal Mehmood as Noor Malik, a mathematics and science teacher for the girl’s section at a local school. The school is in danger of shutting down and she’s trying to fundraise to build a new one. She’s also a widowed mother of a young boy, Sulay, over whom she’s fighting a custody battle with her in laws. She also frequents a nightclub with her friend Gucchi, an ad maker who is struggling with his own identity.
One day when the pressure becomes too much, she breaks down in tears, and a new persona emerges: Wakhri. Donning a purple wig, a face veil and a red dress, she storms the nightclub stage and speaks her mind. Soon, she goes viral and Wakhri becomes a sensation.
‘Wakhri’ Looks and Sounds Amazing
Cinematographer Ludovica Isidori has done an excellent job lighting and shooting the film. There is a clear contrast between Noor Malik and her celebrity persona when the two are worlds apart. The purples, oranges and blues in the nightclub and the somber, muted outside world are both shot to perfection. Art Director Mohsin Tariq, Production Designer Kanwal Khoosat and Costume Designer Zoya Hassan, all deserve praise for making the sets and costumes look great.
Faiz Zaidi and David F. Van Slyke have made the film sound as clear and crisp as possible. No dialogue is lost in the noise and all the music sounds as loud and sonorous as possible.
Faryal Mehmood’s effortless performance is what makes ‘Wakhri’ work. She’s a born star and someone who I can see becoming an A List star in Pakistan. However, she can’t save this film from a disjointed screenplay and amateurish direction.
‘Wakhri’ Suffers from Amateur Writing and Direction
Whether you loved, hated, or were indifferent to Qandeel Baloch, ‘Wakhri’ attempts to show why society creates people like her, and how society inevitably reacts to them. What the film lacks, however, is impact. Throughout the film there are many moments which could have created sympathy, empathy and fervour. Disappointingly, none of them do.
Scenes are edited in a manner that they’re over too quickly and the audience never has a chance to be fully immersed. The quality of the dialogue leaves a lot to be desired as well. It’s all surface level exposition about the state of women’s rights and feminism in Pakistan, i.e. stuff we’ve heard before.
The film bounces from one scene to the next without letting things sink in. This makes it seem like a bunch of scenes hurriedly glued together. The screenplay also suffers from a lack of detail which prevents the characters in the film from being fully fleshed out. It also prevents the audience from connecting with them entirely.
For instance, there are several scenes in which Faryal Mehmood’s character Noor Malik weeps over the grave of her deceased husband (named Haaroon Jeelani in the film). He is described as the only person who could bear her or understand her. Yet we never get any details or flashbacks about him, or about the accident that took his life.
Noor is a science and mathematics teacher, yet there are no scenes in which she teaches a single principle of either subject to her class. Just scrawling “GRAVITY” in bold letters across a chalkboard isn’t enough detail to flesh out that side of her character. However, in one scene, she does invoke Iqbal to her class (Khudi ko kar buland itna…). Disappointingly, that invocation also goes nowhere. It’s just an offhand mention which never morphs into the proverbial “Shaheen”.
Even the song “Baaghi” by Eva B, the best song in the soundtrack, is robbed of its intensity in the film. It comes at a point where Noor decides to fully embrace the Wakhri character and fight the system. As Faryal Mehmood performs on stage, at the peak of her Wakhri powers, the sequence is intercut with news reels, conferences, and a callback to “aunty gormint”. Ultimately, “Baaghi” ends up fizzling out and never reaches the crescendo it could have.
Gucchi, Noor’s friend, played by Gulshan Majeed, is perhaps the most nuanced character in the film. He’s also given the most natural dialogue and he turns in a restrained, sensitive performance. He’s a man struggling with adopting his inner femininity and shedding the “boy look” that society expects of him. He’s regularly harassed by a local goon and his “beelay”. Noor and Gucchi eventually fight back against them, using brain over brawn. This is a detail probably added by Mehrub Moiz Awan, who wrote the Urdu dialogues for the film. However, even that subplot is neatly folded and pushed aside too quickly in what could’ve been a much more riveting sequence.
There is also a mention of the Aurat March in the film, but there is never a full sequence dedicated to it. Of all the speeches that Wakhri gives in the film, a single one at the Aurat March would have hit hardest. But we never get that.
Finally, the custody battle between Noor and her in laws for her son, Sulay, is never fully explored. Why is she no longer living with them? Why do they hate her to the point of snatching away her son? If not for a fleeting moment, we don’t even see the father and mother in law throughout the film!
At this point, let me turn my criticism inwards. I realize that I’m a man writing this review who has no doubt missed a lot of nuances and cues which are obvious to any woman who watched or would watch the movie. That being said, for me, ‘Wakhri’ was a lackluster experience.
‘Wakhri’ is in theaters now.