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Nayab (Movie Review): Yumna Zaidi’s Debut Delivers More Yorkers than No Balls

There are only a handful of sports films in the history of Pakistani cinema, and all of them have been made in the new wave. ‘Doda’, ‘Main Hoon Shahid Afridi’, and ‘Shah’ are the only three that come to mind. While they all have their merits, none have been particularly commercially successful.

‘Nayab’, the latest entry into the sports genre, is the story of a young girl who wants to play for the national women’s team. It has all the ingredients of a successful family entertainer and underdog story. Does it deliver?

What is ‘Nayab’ About?

‘Nayab’ is about a girl played by Yumna Zaidi who dreams of playing for Pakistan’s national women’s team. She battles the patriarchy, poverty, and the system to achieve her dreams. Her brother, Akbar “Akka” Shahid trains her and supports her throughout, while her father and mother urge her to marry and go abroad.

That’s about the gist of it, and that’s all that ‘Nayab’ needed to be about.

What ‘Nayab’ Gets Right

Yumna Zaidi has clearly trained hard to get into the skin of a cricketer and has adopted the mannerisms well. A portion of the film is dedicated to life in the cricketing academy, its ups and downs, rivalries, training, etc. There is also a fair bit of time dedicated to the camaraderie and budding friendships between Nayab and her fellow players. All this lends authenticity to the film and Nayab’s journey from gully cricket to the national level. Yumna Zaidi, though unpolished, has breathed life into the relatable Nayab who lives and breathes cricket and thinks of nothing else 24/7.

Also, the backstory of her older brother “Akka” played by Mohammad Fawad Khan is what gives the movie its soul. A former cricketing protégé, his dreams of playing for the national team are dashed when a personal tragedy forces the burden of providing for his family on his shoulders. Mohammad Fawad Khan delivers perhaps the best performance in the film and lends a great deal of realism to his character. He’ll definitely be in the running for Supporting Actor awards for 2024.

Jawed Sheikh as the stern father who wants his son to go to Canada, and his daughter to marry and live a happy life is also great. In the few scenes that his character is center stage, he truly gets to shine. And as Director Umair Nasir Ali pointed out in his interview, Jawed Sheikh sahab is never reduced to caricature.

Ehteshamuddin in his role as a corrupt sports board official is a treat to watch. He brings life to his role as a bureaucrat. While his screen time is approximately 10 minutes, his character leaves an indelible mark on the story.

Adnan Siddiqui as Sikander the Malik, the chief selector of the women’s team also provides some strength to the narrative. Whenever he came on screen, the film suddenly picked up pace or became more dramatic. He provided a lot of excitement to the narrative.

What ‘Nayab’ Gets Wrong

It pains me to say this, but ‘Nayab’ gets a lot wrong as well. The most noticeable, and unfortunately, unforgivable mistake, is that for a lot of the film’s runtime, the cricket takes a backseat. In a film about a girl trying to become a professional cricketer, that should not happen.

A lot of Nayab’s story is consumed by family drama. Her brother is the only breadwinner and there is friction between his wife and the rest of the family. There are also a few sequences dedicated to Nayab’s boyfriend played by Usama Khan and his startup called “Mr. Water” which hardly goes anywhere.

Other subplots include a Canadian immigration angle, a relative visiting from Dubai, as well as a sequence dedicated to Independence Day celebrations. All these sequences create gaps between what could’ve been deep dives into cricket training, and most importantly, cricket matches themselves.

There are training montages in the film, but they’re fleeting and not memorable. There is also only one match sequence in the film which flies by really fast. A few strokes, a few balls, and scores flashing on the screen. There is hardly any tension or excitement in those scenes which could invest the audience. Also, the song that plays during the training montages is unforgivably bland.

The quick cuts between certain scenes which shift the tonality from serious to comedic are quite jarring as well. And while the film doesn’t drag, the unnecessary subplots could’ve been trimmed or deleted altogether to reduce the runtime from 2.5 to 2 hours in a tight edit.

The Final Verdict

Yumna Zaidi, Mohammad Fawad Khan, and Jawed Sheikh give it their all to a script that unfortunately lets them down more than it lifts them up. ‘Nayab’ tries to do too much, and thus pushes its main plot, the cricket itself, to the back far too often.

That being said, there is a lot of family entertainment value to it. The message that women in Pakistan can do all they put their mind to is well delivered. Whether the Pakistani audience will remember ‘Nayab’ as the film’s slogan tells them to (“Naam Yaad Rakhna”), is a question only time can answer.

‘Nayab’ is now playing in theaters across Pakistan.

Written by Yousuf Mehmood


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