Director: Sarmad Khoosat
Writer: Nirmal Bano
Duration: 45 min
Streaming on: Youtube
Sarmad Khoosat’s latest directorial venture ‘Roshan Raahein’, first aired on PTV, Pakistan’s state-controlled channel, before landing on streaming. Those who don’t get the irony would need to (re)visit the headlines when two of Khoosat Films productions, ‘Zindagi Tamasha’ – which he directed – and ‘Joyland’, had ‘tried’ releasing in cinemas across Pakistan. His reputation as a ‘banned’ filmmaker precedes him. So what has changed now?
‘Roshan Raahein’ is a tale of two halves; One is filled with what I call Bano-Khoosatisms, where texture of the story is more compelling than the story; where world-building exudes accumulation of time; where emotions have density; where characters collapse inwards to Schumaila Rehmat Hussain’s folksy anthems; where a single incident triggers a closer look at the entire culture; where the metaphors exist for those allegorically inclined (a dead bird in this case) and where the ending is never necessary.
The other half (or the last one-third really) of ‘Roshan Raahein’ can come across as a well-executed PSA message, where the resolution becomes inorganic, the ending necessary and the story milked into morals. This is the case on first viewing. On the second watch however, I discovered, with relief, that makers have turned the resolution into a storytelling tool. But exactly how?
‘Roshan Raahein’ follows Maryam Mehmood (a riveting Rasti Farooq) who is forced to walk an unlit dirt road every night on the way home from work. The film sees her trench through bureaucratic dugouts, patriarchal realities and literal darkness in an effort to get street lights installed on the treacherous pathway. Eventually, it is the force of her entire community coming together that gets the job done. But the resolution is merely a tool Nirmal Bano employs to tell the actual story. That of the first spark that sets the blaze.
Compelling Lead Performance
Maryam is no woke millennial critiquing the casual misogyny around her on a daily basis. In the opening scene, she is watching a (Pak vs Ind?) cricket match only to find her husband somewhere in the stands of Sharjah Stadium. It almost feels like she indulges her husband, taking part in his excitement, embracing her role as caregiver in their long distance marriage. She is so conditioned in the art of selflessness that when the local councilor or the manager asks her to adjust, she silently walks away. Both interactions reveal how offhandedly society can dismiss a lone woman’s (non) problem. Issues of the entire community (water pipes) and familial obligations of Maryam’s colleagues are considered pressing. A woman’s primal fear, not so much.
Rasti Farooq as Maryam has echoes of Mumtaz from ‘Joyland’ (a cake features here as well). Both characters sway between vulnerability and courage. Both appear fidgety, trying to break free out of the stifling institution of womanhood but half-heartedly. The battle between conditioning and reason is always evolving. Maryam doesn’t look at her dismissers, she stares into their souls, mocking their charade with a tired steeliness. Maryam (or Rasti) hastens to finish her sentences, perhaps to bring them at par with the speed of her thoughts.
The Slow-Burn Rage
A lesser film would have voyeuristically chased these women as they struggle to cross the stretch of darkness, laying bare what lurks in the darkness, but not ‘Roshan Raahein’. The frames remain fixated on the personal, political and social dimensions of what an unlit street can do to women. Maryam erupts towards the end, physicalizing a long-form nature of rage that was teased out throughout the film. The daily walk of eeriness triggered the several infected threads existing outside the frame. She was more alert and perceptive than the young college student Hannah (Aleeza Fatima) to the dangers of spaces bereft of light, a cultivated intuition kicking in. As someone working in the in-house pharmacy of a government hospital, she witnesses gruesome bodies daily, brought in dead or alive but now she sees herself on that gurney. The domesticated conversations of her female passengers on the bus have now turned overbearing. She has grown into the mannerisms of a working woman but now, her independence is endangered and no one cares.
‘Roshan Raahein’ reveals the necessity of women to survive together. A woman can rescue herself by rescuing other women. There are no plans, no answers, no posturing, only a modest desire: to survive on this earth with dignity.