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. The 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.
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.
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.
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