Umro Ayyar (Movie Review): An Ambitious Fantasy Epic Weighed Down By Inadequate Screenplay

I grew up reading the “Hamza Naama” and “Tilism e Hoshruba” series well before I was introduced to “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings”. I remember the magical realms, the sorcerers, the incredible warriors and the epic battles. “Umro Ayyar: A New Beginning” is an attempt to introduce the wonder of that world to the Pakistani audience. And for the most part, it succeeds.

The Story of Umro Ayyar Is Good Vs Evil, Pure and Simple

Usman Mukhtar plays a University physics professor conducting research on parallel dimensions. His character emphasizes facts and evidence while dismissing Jinns and fairies as superstition. His world is turned upside down when he encounters dark forces.

This leads him to the ‘Ayyars’, a secret organization which has been battling evil for centuries. Against them is Laqqa, the evil sorcerer who plans to harness the power of Jinns to establish total dominion over the Earth.

It’s a standard good vs evil plot that we’ve seen many times before, and it does its job. However, there could’ve been so much more there that the screenplay mentions but doesn’t expand on.

“Umro Ayyar: A New Beginning” tries to walk a tightrope. It wants to introduce the audience to a world of fantasy, science, and mysticism all at once. However, it doesn’t want to overwhelm the audience. Pakistani audiences aren’t as mature as those abroad after all. Hence, it skims through concepts like Bell’s Equation of Quantum Entanglement, the Multiverse Theory, Ifreets and Jinns.

The result is that it doesn’t give either the science or the fantasy its full due. Too much is left unexplained by the end.

Finally, too little is explained about Amar’s father, played by Adnan Siddiqui in the film, and Seemi Raheel, playing Amar’s aunt, is just used to move the plot forward.

Still, the story is interesting enough to hold your attention all the way through. And enough of the show-don’t-tell technique is employed to give the film narrative cohesion.

‘Umro Ayyar’ Looks Like a Million Bucks

Umro Ayyar: A New Beginning” is said to be the most expensive film ever made in Pakistan. With a reported budget higher than “The Legend of Maula Jatt”, the visuals are truly magnificent.

There are sprawling shots of the Ayyar’s castle and beautiful vistas of the northern lights against a huge desert, and a lake looking out towards another dimension. The action set pieces in the second half and some dreamlike sequences also emphasize the efforts of the set designers and visual effects artists.

However, one of the chief issues with the film is that the money is not always on the screen.

There are a lot of shots with dim lighting where you can’t make out who is fighting who. And some of the green screen work is very noticeable. Director Azfar Jafri has made the odd decision to film the action in frame, but too close up.

A zoomed in perspective with little movement doesn’t do justice to the action. It also gives the impression of a smaller world. Wide shots with multiple perspectives and lots of movement not only hold the audience’s attention, but also makes the action more interesting.

Umro Ayyar’s Strength Is With Its Characters

Ali Kazmi and Sanam Saeed as the principal Ayyars play their roles with as much conviction and physical commitment as possible. Manzar Sehbai easily slips into the role of the seasoned mentor Ayyar and Faran Tahir is adequately menacing as Laqqa the sorcerer.

Hamza Ali Abbasi’s cameo got the most notable cheer from the audience, and he essayed his role with the charisma and charm he’s known for. When he was on screen, the film experience was elevated and the audience was intently listening and hanging on to every word.

However, Usman Mukhtar’s performance leaves a bit to be desired. It’s not entirely his fault. He’s playing Joseph Campbell’s quintessential hero, but the dialogue and screenplay doesn’t always do him justice. His character is hailed as a genius multiple times. Yet we hardly ever get to see that genius.

Finally, Sana’s role as Cheen-o-Bai the witch is reduced to looking moody, bewitching unwitting victims and walking in and out of frame. If she wasn’t Sana, I wouldn’t have paid attention to her character at all.

Umro Ayyar has lofty ambitions and it takes hard swings at every turn. At this point it doesn’t matter if it’s a hit and miss. At this point it matters that the project has been made and that the effort shows. Usman Mukhtar and Azfar Jafri deserve praise for bringing this world to life.

Depending on Umro Ayyar’s box office, a franchise can be built on top of this film. Here’s hoping that the film is a hit and we get to see their vision of a series of films realized.

Written by Yousuf Mehmood


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