Full-on entertainer

Daniyal Zahid highly recommends Punjab Nahin Jaungi

Full-on entertainer
It is hard to think of any recent Pakistani movie that comes close to Punjab Nahi  Jaungi on the entertainment coefficient. Karachi Se Lahore was decent, Na Maloom Afraad – whose sequel’s release coincided with PNJ – would also put forward its case, and Jawani Phir Nahi  Ani(also directed by Nadeem Baig) perhaps comes closest, but none matches the hilarity or the masala that PNJ brims over with.

Fawad (Humayun Saeed) the chashmochiragh of Faisalabad’s Khagga family returns to town after completing his masters in political science from Lahore – a quest that took him 10 years. This called for a massive celebration, since the Khagga family throws parties and mujras – as masterfully explained in the first scene by Mehtab Khagga (Sohail Ahmed), Fawad’s grandfather – for ‘events’ as diverse as passing school exams and divorces.

Then Fawad’s cousin Durdana (Urwa Hocane), head over heels in love with him, formally asks him out. But Fawad Khagga is looking for his Heer elsewhere. And just when he visits Heer’s tomb to pray that he finds true love, Amal (Mehwish Hayat) – Khaggas’ relative – lands in Karachi from London, where the rest of the family is visiting.

The biggest strength of the script is its portrayal of characters as regular folks - with their many shades

After Fawad’s mother (Saba Hameed) sends him a picture of Amal, he realises that she is his Heer, resulting in a formal proposal sent to the family – which Amal turns down. What follows is Fawad’s struggle to win Amal over for the rest of the film.

The storyline is unusual – if not unique – for a Pakistani romcom, but the writer and director play it out to the dot. There is no attempt to squeeze in multiple layers or drive home a social service message, at least loudly – PNJ stays true to its story, despite the many flaws that it has.

The biggest strength of the script is its portrayal of characters as regular folks – with their many shades. There are no angels or devils, traditionally inalienable to South Asian cinema, in the film, just an array of people.

They make mistakes – Amal, an independent woman with an economics major from London, seems to be lured by a relationship bait through property, while a major error on Fawad’s part forms the foundation of the film’s second half – and are very human in their positives as well.

Urwa Hocane

The script also fluctuates between progressive and regressive – both terms here defined vis-à-vis realities in Pakistan – and simultaneously depicts arranged (and cousin) marriages and a daughter-in-law that tops three generation of men in a regressive, patriarchy-infested village to be the chairperson of the family business.

Similarly, while Fawad hitting Amal is frowned upon by everyone else in the film – and even Fawad himself – the script takes it too lightly in many parts, for an issue of such gravity in the country.

Even so, as mentioned earlier, the film’s intention isn’t to drive home any narrative while depicting the negative, or positive, shades of its characters – or indeed its writers. What it does unapologetically intend to do is make you laugh out loud – often when you might least expect it – and give nonstop entertainment to the viewer.

And that it achieves without fail.

That, of course, wouldn’t have been possible without stellar acting performances throughout the cast. Sohail Ahmed, with one of the best comic timings in the country, delivers each punch with trademark effortlessness. Ahmed Ali Butt as Shafiq, Fawad’s friend, is at his hilarious best as well, and could have perhaps done with more screen time.

Real-life couple Waseem Abbas and Saba Hameed masterfully depict the stereotypical husband-wife relationship, while Behroz Sabzwari, as Amal’s father, has a limited role, which he acts out with expected ease. Azfar Rehman, as Vassay, plays the ‘other man’ well, with the character itself given multiple-facets like the rest.

The three outstanding performances are delivered by the two leads and Urwa Hocane. As the cousin who is after her man, Urwa exhibits the character to the tee. Her dialogue delivery is impeccable and so is her character adaptation – the same can’t be said of her dancing skills though.

Humayun Saeed as the flawed Punjabi man struggling to unlearn the norms while at the same time trying to win over a London girl is expectedly brilliant. He doesn’t put a foot, or a dialogue, out of place and makes the audience love him and hate him whenever the script requires either.

It is easily Mehwish Hayat’s biggest performance in what was by far the strongest role given to her. Similar to the rest, Mehwish plays the script perfectly and her yo-yoing character demonstrates the various stages of the confused mind. Many can question the variations in Amal’s character – but not Mehwish Hayat’s depiction of her.

As any other commercial movie, the music was going to be pivotal. PNJ has a solid soundtrack spearheaded by 24/7 Lakk Hilna and Ranjha.

The script oozes with Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar, and Nadeem Baig further establishes his transition from TV to film with another bumper hit after JPNA.

For those who still haven’t seen PNJ weeks after its release, do yourself a favour and grab a ticket this weekend. Punjab Nahi Jaungi is, and will likely remain, the biggest hit of the year.