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BaluMahi Review

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I think a lot of us are getting a little fed up with the phrase “support Pakistani Cinema “ , well we can all stop doing that now , BaluMahi is one Pakistani  film that stands on its own . This is a great, joy filled, big-hearted movie that will keep you entertained from start to finish.

Balu or Bilal Malik (Osman Khalid Butt) is all set to be the big hero, snatching his college sweetheart from her wedding, but fate sends him to the wrong hall, at the wrong time and he ends up opening his heart and life to a complete stranger. Mahi Jahangir (Ainy Jaffri) is the  bride who jumps at the chance to escape, dragging a reluctant Bilal on a midnight tour of Lahore with her angry family in hot pursuit.

Osman Khalid Butt excels as  Balu , giving us a fresh ,contemporary take on the typical romantic hero, caught in the kind of dilemma that only happens in romantic comedies ( more on that later ) . Fluid , elegant and completely at home on the big screen , OKB shows us he can dance , sing and more importantly bring all the emotional depth required of a character without the melodrama. He is well matched with the beautiful and talented Ainy Jaffri who can jump from a wedding stage to a waiting horse and then on to a polo field with effortless poise and believability. BM 5.jpgThe surprise package in all of this is Sadaf Kanwal as Mahi’s naughty friend Sharmeen, who gives Balu and Mahi’s romance just the kick-start it needs in the second half. I am not normally a fan of models taking up acting but Sadaf Kanwal is a natural, and manages to look adorable in an acid green facemask and curlers, which is no mean feat! Rounding out the cast Mustafa Ali Khan has a fabulous screen debut, providing a lot of the cute quotient as Balu’s friend, a man with the most embarrassing parents ever.balu-mahi-osman-khalid-butt-and-ainy-jaffri-1

For any movie to work, but especially a romantic comedy, the viewer has to make a certain leap of faith, and connect to the story unfolding before them. This is where director Haissem Hussain works his magic, capturing our attention with a fast paced plot that won’t let go for a second. Hussain is a master at keeping audiences glued, his productions are always an emotional rollercoaster ride: making us laugh  in one scene, emotional in another and then shocking us with a plot twist in the third .However that isn’t his greatest strength, what really takes BaluMahi a cut above most of the Pakistani movies that have been released is a strong story, that doesn’t rely on lengthy dialogues ,and the depth given to each character. Pakistani movies are sometimes accused have a slightly drama like feel but Balu Mahi is among the handful  that  give us the full cinematic experience.  There is some fantastic cinematography from Saleem Daad, and the kind of detailed attention to lighting and especially sound editing that is so often missing from Pakistani productions.

Script writers Saad Azhar and Haissem Hussain have given us a fun story and their collaboration with first time producers Sadia Jabbar and Ch Mohammad Arshad has quality written all over it. There are also some great songs from Sahir Ali Bagga, all beautifully picturized. My favourite has to be Bechainiyaan, but I must also mention the title track, which has a fantastic dance sequence. Meanwhile the third song by Rahat Fatah Ali Khan is cleverly used to bring about the gut wrenching pre interval climax , moving the story forward and leaving the audience hanging on to the edge of their seats   for  what happens next . Pre interval climaxes are a forgotten art, not just a break in the action, and Hussain once again proves his understanding of the art of the feature film by providing us with a scene just as memorable as the one he shot for Bin Roye.

This movie plays off a lot of the traditional romantic comedy clichés and familiar Bollywood tropes , whether it’s the Runaway Bride , or DDLJ or  Jab We Met  but manages to pick its way through the quick sands of mediocrity by giving us  authentic characters and  a modern update on this  time-worn  genre. There is an element of self-awareness in the way Bilal declares he wants nothing to do with Mahi’s “runaway bride situation “ in the first half; but what really takes this story up a level is that Mahi isn’t looking for someone to fix her life  . Instead Balu acts as the support system she always needed, he isn’t there to save her, but he is there to help her save herself. Balu’s caring , self doubt and need to the right thing  gives the audience a direct contrast to her raging bull of a brother ;who is the traditional, macho male obsessed with family “honour” but unconcerned with his own sister’s happiness. BM 4.jpg

Osman Khalid Butt and Ainy Jaffri have some serious chemistry which makes for some memorable scenes; the best of which has to be a cross dressing Mahi threatening a desperate Balu completely tied to a chair. No it’s not Fifty shades of grey ( you will have to watch to find out why ) , but this and the hilarious cameo from Javed Shaikh combined with of Sadaf Kanwal scenes save this story from the blandness of a PG romance. Ainy Jaffri has all the innocence of a sheltered young girl suddenly free to choose her own path but she isn’t the stereotypical bholi larki that roams our dramas, this character has courage and strength of character in abundance. She won’t forgive Balu till he actually deserves it and knows how to be friend and where to draw the line when she wants to. The writers take a lot of subtle digs at conventional gender roles, allowing Mahi to win the day instead of Balu, who is forced to get his message across to her in an extra-long Burqa. Then there is the fabulous Durdana Butt as Balu’s formidable grandmother who faces off against the equally fabulous and formidable Shafqat Cheema playing Mahi’s grandfather, neither of whom yields an inch to the other.sadaf-kanwal-balu-mahi

On a more critical note, my wish list for this movie would include more focus on Mahi’s background story and why she couldn’t visit her mother’s grave. I would also like to know how Balu and Mahi slipped into such a perfectly choreographed “school house rock” dance number so quickly , where does Bilal find the money to do everything when he is constantly losing his wallet and finally those sunglasses….that appear out of nowhere in the second half ? But then I never asked why Rahul jumps out of helicopters to run into an English country manor which is supposed to be in India when I watched Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum. Nor did I ask why the British Museum was presented as part of Kings College, London and the list goes on. I completely accepted that Hrithik has an identical twin living in Australia in Kaho na Pyaar Hai and that spoilt millionaire’s daughters  will inevitably fall in love with a  rural taxi driver like Raja Hindustani .. I guess it’s the nature of the beast.

In short BaluMahi is a great watch, but please don’t leave your brain at home underneath the non-stop entertainment there is some quiet, indirect commentary on the roles we assign to men and women in our society.

4 out of 5 stars

Sadaf Haider

9 Comments »

  1. Hey thanks for reading ! I loved the movie too . I totally agree about the visit to Mahi’s mother’s grave it was beautifully shot . I have watched a some Pakistani films and I personally think BaluMahi and Maalik were my favourites . Maalik and BaluMahi are entirely different genras but they have one thing in common , they are both proper feature films and really well made .
    What did you think f Sadaf Kanwal ? I thought she was kind of cute . Ainy Jaffri and OKB were perfect in their roles and well cast. I guess its cheesy but I loved the disney style blue and yellow scenes in the song beycheniyaan .

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  2. Loved this movie! It had the perfect touch of romance and unforced comedy that made the entire audience break out in laughing fits. I thought it did run a bit longer than necessary in the second half, but there were some breathtaking scenes that made it worth it–Rahat Fateh Ali’s seamless inclusion into a key plot point was brilliantly done and the entire scene when they visit Mahi’s mother’s grave was beautifully shot and brilliantly acted. My heart was aching for Mahi. Would 100% recommend the film to all my friends.

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  3. Balu Mahi is a fun, exciting, good time in the theater kind of a film. Full paisa wasool. Songs, dances, romance, comedy, drama…it has a mix of everything. A must watch for all . I’m so proud our Pakistani film industry, although 4/5 years old has come this far

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  4. Wonderful review, Sadaf, thank you.

    Balu Mahi really is an excellent film. I’ve watched it twice already, once with friends & one time with family & I’m ready to go for a third time, I loved it that much.

    Story was good, I liked the hint of gender role reversal, ‘& how they played off the cliches of rom-coms.
    Direction was magnificent.
    Production values were high. I looked more like a film of Bollywood standard.
    Acting by the entire cast was great. Who knew OKB would look so romantic? Ainy has never acted better. Loved the scenes between Shafqat Cheema & Durdana Butt. The new comers, Jamal, Mustafa & Sadaf Kanwal are good addition to our industry.

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      • So I’m late to the party as usual! I just saw it and boy do I LOVE THIS FILM! Spot on review Sadaf, It is a big-hearted film and complete entertainer!
        Straight from the get go.

        The first scene squashes the notion of love at first sight and then goes on to show you falling in love in reel time. The girl runs away on white horse and yanked the hero with her – how can you not stay hooked? As you mentioned, in a rom-com its all about connection with the characters and this was one true cinematic (not drama parading as film) experience!

        Haissam is pure brilliance! He’s taken every trope in the Bollywood playbook and hilariously subverted it and left us with something to mull over without hammering it in our heads.

        80s Rapist husband? Check!

        Female object of desire? Check!
        Brownie points for the ditzy-illy delightful Sadaf Kanwal who can talk about bodily functions while being seductive! She was really well cast, but then again, I am partial to Sadafs 😉

        Female gaze with an under dressed OKB – check!

        Yash Chopra inspired song? Check!
        The Bechaniyaan song had chiffon, pahadi, rain song cliches and totally hamming it up performance by OKB (SRK extended arms on steroids) plus imaging this feminine version of Mahi which totally comes crashing down on seeing the cross-dressed Mahi.

        Bull headed Older gen? Check!
        Plus where else have we ever seen a Pakistani version of a Mexican standoff ?

        The film had excellent performances all around. Ainy was very effective as the spunky girl with and backed her beliefs with action rather than empty dialogue that we see too much of. The gender role reversals were a real highlight even if done in an ill-fitting wig and facial hair (or most desi women who miss one month at the salon)

        Though I have to admit, Osman really was the star of the show. How many heroes can go from briefs to burka and totally own both?

        I’ve never been a huge fan, he’s great at humor but give him anything else and he looks like he is smirking through his role and can’t really believe he has to say those lines. I don’t know what Haissam did here – but then again he cracks his whip with most actors and really gets them to deliver their best performance – see Mikhail in any of Haissam’s dramas and see him anywhere else – but Osman really owned the character and not only did he grow on me, I ended with thinking that this is how stars are made. Color me impressed.

        And 1000 points for OKB taking all those beatings though I have to say, tied up OKB is poetic justice for OKB’s Wali!

        “Simran Jee le Apni zindagi” or really here it was “Simran ko jeene do apni zindagi” Check!
        Though admittedly it felt a bit heavy handed, it was sort of par for the course

        Trains? Check!
        And also props for someone FINALLY pulling the damn chain!

        Also just seeing a different city, the beauty of Lahore and Hunza was literally a breath of fresh air.
        The only thing that really bothered me (other than pure envy for the very luxurious tents!) was that the dialogue could have been stronger, and ideally more of it in Urdu. I get the London return boy and all that but certain scenes could really have used some good old fashioned dialogue-baazi.

        Other than that, I am itching to watch it again and again in a continuous loop. Someone give Haissam a pedestal – he is a genius !

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