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Verna Review

verna-mahira-khan-759

Starring : Mahira Khan , Haroon Shahid , Zarrar Khan 

Directed and written by Shoaib Manzoor  

Verna has been getting mixed reviews and I had no particularly high hopes of this movie despite the fact that was directed and written by the legendary Shoaib Manzoor, maker of the unforgettable Khuda kay leeye and the hard-hitting Bol.  My perseverance paid off , I would say that this was one of those rare movies that not only delivers  at every expected level but forces the viewer to think out of the comfortable box of expectations and norms that we use to anesthetize ourselves from some of the horrors of  life .

Rape shouldn’t be a part of everyday life but even a cursory glance at the news headlines will show any thinking person that these unpleasant realities of sexual assault are there, just at the periphery of our vision . Sexual assault as a weapon of war is used to humiliate  and subjugate entire populations , while  sexual harassment is used  to control and dominate women in supposedly more  civilized  settings. Critics maybe  shocked to see a rape victim shaking with anger , determined to seek justice no matter the cost but that is the story of  Verna .download (2)

Bathed in cool blue light , Shoaib Manzoor gives us an unrelenting thriller , arming his heroine with all the purpose and righteous anger usually reserved for a male protagonist . A woman abducted on a flimsy excuse , tortured and raped for three days before she is returned to her helpless family like a used piece of furniture . Mahira Khan is nothing short of magnificent as Sara , her pain , her distress are the fire which forges the steel in her soul . She not only wants her life back , she wants her honour and reputation back . A woman who refuses to immediately forgive her rapist for the sake of her family , a woman who refuses to weep herself to death or for  one moment allow herself to be guilty for anything , no wonder  some people are confused . These trappings of independent thought and sheer stubborn will are not usually allowed to women . They must plead , they must tremble , they must suffer and if they don’t they are cast as unnatural , “ victim as warrior “and the list goes on because dignity and honour are luxury reserved for men. Mahira Khan has delivered a mesmerizing performance, carrying  the entire movie on her very able shoulders and from the initial box office reports it seems as if the public agrees .verna 1

This film has some fantastic performances and the best surprise is Haroon Shahid whose debut performance is a simple but highly effective portrayal of a man lost at sea . He truly is an everyman : a little weak , a little flawed but ultimately better than he supposes .He is racked by doubt and inadequacy so he  fills  the gaps in his own understanding of the situation  with anger and frustration . However , as with any good man he steps up and rises to the occasion pushing aside his deepest fears to support his wife . Zarar Khan essays  a well practised, very convincing performance as a chilling villain ; the  childishly, cruel feudal son , convinced of his own singular importance and  the right to dominate lesser mortals .His studied cool and lack of concern is the true heart of darkness in this movie.

The systematic collusion of government, police and courts that is shown  is nothing audiences are unfamiliar with . Yet it’s not the court system which defeats Sara’s attempts at to get justice but her own family’s desperate attempt to mitigate the disgrace . The feudals and politicians are not weighed down with notions of propriety and virtue , they don’t waste time in introspective self-flagellation , like the so-called Shareefs. No Mullah questions their son’s mode of dress or behaviour. There are a several memorable dialogues in this well written , highly efficient script  that hit right to the heart of the matter .

“We have all  heard of the rights given to women by Islam , but when will Muslims actually  give those rights to women ?”Asks Sara , outraged at having her character publicly evaluated by the lack of a headscarf on live Tv .

“My importance as a woman is in one area of my body” is another line that caught the essence of Sara’s predicament.

Shoaib Manzoor’s script  makes its mark without the use of the kind of flowery Urdu and lambey dialogues about Mohabbat and emotions that we are used to. Its spare , sharp conversations get the point across with ease,setting the tone for a movie which sets a relentless pace . That’s not to say the movie is flawless . A lot of the songs could have been trimmed and with some crisper editing the film could have been much faster paced and shorter by about  twenty  minutes.

Another downside is the way Verna  continues the Pakistani drama tradition of rape  victims with distant fathers and cold , emotionally unavailable mothers who share no rapport with their children. Instead of comforting or protecting their daughter the parents are more worried about their public image , no girl with Sara’s high self-esteem and courage could possibly be raised by such insects. Perhaps the most  difficult point for me to swallow was that Sara would allow the villain access to her one more time in her quest for justice , but women can be just as ruthless and self destructively angry as men when pushed far enough.

There are a few plot holes and some convenient leaps of faith that the storyline makes but overall it is a thrilling  movie with a strong message that is not to be missed .  Shoaib Manzoor has made a fascinating movie , a genuine Pakistani film noir with a shocking but satisfying end . Sometimes a girl has just got to get up and do it herself .

Sadaf Haider

14 Comments »

  1. And so Shoaib goes Mahira again after Khuda ke liye… no need saying that mahira tried her best go give life to a character which is rather shallow and full of histrionics… I had very high hopes with Verna but I get a bit disappointed as it fell slightly short of my expectations…. I believe Khuda ke liye was a perfect 10 score , Bol was 9.5 but i give Verna no more than 5.5 points…. but still Verna is recommended as Shoaib Mansoor’s 5.5 is a more than 15 compare to the other paki stereotype directors… like Syed Noor, Ajab gul, mehreen jabbar, Bilal lashari, Yasir nawaz, Faisal bukhari, Asim Raza etc … the most significant problem with Verna is that I find it so hard relating to Sara (the rape victim) during the entire length of the movie…. instead of brave, courageous, rational and fathomable… she comes across as a wildly stubborn, madly self indulgent, privileged lady with continuous tantrums… Sara signifies herself as a woman without substance who is totally indifferent about the impact of her decisions will have on everyone around her… However the last part of this movie looks much like a theme of Psycho Sharukhian movies with thrills and chills galore… which is something I doubt ever happen in real life anywhere … Basically a strong message, poorly conveyed !!

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    • I can see where you are coming from Mansoor . We expect women and especially our heroines to understand, to maintain the family . In a normal movie she would have attempted suicide saying “ meri vajja say Mere Abu marr Gaaey “ and “ meri vajja sey Hum sab barbad Hogaey “ and then her husband would slam a door till some pir or doctor or relative enlightened him and he comforted her by saying “ Main Khudgarz tha But I love you” However the character Sara refused to be ashamed or be introspective or be guilty about anything. Since Shoaib Manzoor is a man I feel he gave Sara a rather angry young male attitude. Sara felt humiliated and angry but unlike most women she felt no need to hide away or attach any blame to herself. This is why you find her willful , and indifferent. Women in every culture are meant to sacrifice , to give up everything even the right to justice for their family’s piece of mind and public honor. Even in today’s supposedly enlightened age that is unforgivable. As I write in my review Sara is given the rage and determination usually reserved for a man . Perhaps one day we will learn that women too deserve justice and dignity.

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  2. Very well written review Sadaf.
    Mr. Shoaib Mansoor is a revolutionary man; a torch bearer to the society that’s mindlessly heading towards darkness.

    I believe, Verna is Mr. Mansoor’s indestructible n most powerful gift to all women across the world, who have been dying of self pity and shame in every living moment. Being cursed, accused and punished for someone else’s crime.

    I hope, somehow, Verna becomes a successful social revolution and the war victims, women being exploited in refugee tents, ethnic cleansing of Rohinjas or on day-to-day basis in all parts of the world, gather up the courage to damn those who damn them.

    Hats off to Mr. Mansoor’s courageous and much needed effort.

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  3. Sorry to see that Sadaf Haider is not being honest with her viewers! Understanding what it takes to make a film allows critics to craft opinions into informative reviews. You are a public service provider and moviegoers will invest money and time based on your critic. This movie has been criticized as a ‘disaster’ by almost all the critics! The direction, acting, story and everything else have either failed or is mediocre at best! Looks like free movies and all-you-can-eat popcorn sounds appealing to the critic in you! Tch., tch.

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    • Everyone is entitled to their views and film reviewers are no exception. Subak Majeed, if you and some “critics” did not like the movie its perfectly ok. I, who loved the story, would question your judgement but not motives. By blaming the reviewer for being dishonest just because she likes something that you did not, is a kind of orthodoxy we should try to avoid. Lets say you did not like this movie for x,y,z but please don’t become personal.

      Let me tell you I loved the story. In the age of Gandasaas and ISPR sponsored movies, Verna is serious effort to call a spade a spade. How many producers in Pakistan can even think of making a movie on such an issue? People are critising Shoaib for showing a rape victim not locking herself in the room or committing a suicide for becoming “bay abroo”. This girl instead has dared to settle the score hersflef. I salute her and the man behind this idea. And yes, I loved every sentence of this movie.

      I hope you would not take me to court for daring to disagree with you or referring me to PEMRA for writing a paid comment.

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      • Thanks Meeru I too found it a breath of fresh air . I was sick of weeping women and their I am guilty ‘ Main tere qabil nahi hoon “ dialogues. It was fabulous seeing a totally unapologetic woman taking the route a man would . I found some plot points too far fetched but life is often stranger than fiction! I am so glad we didn’t have to listen to long drawn out conversations about meri izzat Teri izzat etc .. this woman was unapologetically angry , she lost nothing.. in her eyes . That is how we need to see this but hundreds may thousands of years of conditioning aren’t going to leave us in the space of one movie . Keep reading Meeru good to hear your opinion

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    • Well thanks for taking time to read . Let me first assure you I live in Texas and have yet to receive a free movie ticket or anything else for free from Pakistan or a Pakistani. My opinion is just that an opinion . I know a lot of critics panned this movie but I enjoyed it throughly . Yes it’s. Not flawless but still much better in my opinion than Bol which I could barely watch . There is no rule that says that I have to agree with the other critics and no rule that says I have to agree with you . Plenty of people have argued against this movie and I have listened but I cannot go against my gut feelings because that is the consensus for some .

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  4. Sadaf dear…. Faaaaaantastic writing!!
    I for one have been waiting to see this movie! Not sure if they screen any Pakistani movies here in my city! But I haaaave to see this!!! How do I?? I loooooved the trailer! Hope my kuda is kind enough to make it happen for me…. Verna… Hmmmm….

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