REVIEW: Madaari - The Drums Beat But Who Is Dancing?

REVIEW: Madaari - The Drums Beat But Who Is Dancing?
Most people believe that we are slaves to our actions. The fact is that it is a facade. What we are truly slaves of are the consequences of those actions - whether they affect us directly or all of those around us, sometimes creating an infinite loop of cause and effect.

This encompasses not only the crux of the story of the upcoming locally produced movie 'Madaari' but also perhaps how it may be received in the cinemas.

'Madaari' can best be described as a passion project. Here, there is the need for a segway on what it takes to not only produce movies but to get it to the cinemas.

Seraj Us Salikin, who produced, wrote, directed and edited the film found that a bulk of his struggle was to get it into theatres across the country. He did find support in that effort in the form of Nabeel Ur Rehman Lutfi and his Vantage Productions.

Salikin also had support from Ammar Alee Danish -- Naked Eye Films, and actor and co-writer of the movie Syed Ali Rizvi -- Contentino Films.

Budgetary issues, coalescing the writing, and then getting it passed by the censors before submitting himself at the mercy of the theatre owners, Salikin has been stripped to the bone.

The reason that the entire process has been tougher on Salikin is that he did not have a major producer or a wealthy investor backing him, luxuries that recent mega successes like 'The Legend of Maula Jatt' and the not-so-successful 'Money Back Guarantee' had.

The consequence of that has been that Salikin decided to rope in a group of on-screen performers who thought they had proved their acting chops until they stepped into the world of television dramas and films where acting chops alone do not score you big.

The cast, comprising young Ibad Alam Sher (who plays the main lead of Haris), Paras Masroor (Who plays Haris' uncle) and Hammad Siddiq (who plays the colourful Asif Baloch), share a common thread: they are all graduates of the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA), the premier academy to train actors in the art of theatre.

While Paras Masroor has had his time on screen, appearing recently in a remade/renamed Javed Iqbal (Renamed as Kukri) and Carma before that, Siddiq has largely graced the smallest screen, a known face on YouTube.

But the true debut is that of the lead, Ibad Alam Sher.

The plot

The movie revolves around the life of young Haris (Ibad), who lives with his paternal uncle, his aunt and his eight-year-old cousin in some of the less fancy neighbourhoods of Karachi.

As we learn later in the movie, his father was killed when he was still a young boy. That incident had a profound impact on his life. For Haris growing up, it does not matter what his father had done to deserve such a fate; what he really desires is vengeance upon the trigger-man.

But this is not a recreation of The Batman.

We see grown-up Haris' uncle trying to deal with the orphan nephew the best way he can, advising and coaxing him to not mix with the wrong kind of people and to get a job despite his lack of interest in obtaining an education.

Madaari, movie, Ibad Alam Sher, Paras Masroor, Hammad Siddiq

Early in the movie, we see Haris as a young, reckless man who takes to the rampant street crime. His uncle finds out and stops Haris from pursuing a trajectory where he would become just another statistic.

But a young, rebellious Haris wants to break away from overbearing relatives controlling every aspect of his life and lacking any genuine empathy towards him.

His pursuit of a job leads him to confront his father's killer. The rest of the movie is about Haris' struggle with living a life on a trajectory different from his father and his burning desire for revenge.

But life once again bring him face to face with his object of hate. This time though, he waits for the right moment and tools to exact revenge only to find himself pulled into the same vicious cycle where the puppet master gets away.

What makes a movie?

There are many elements that go into making a good movie.

If we stay to the Pakistani standards, it is finding a good story, good writing, a great cast, associated crew, distributors, marketers and those who can lobby and get the film passed from the dreaded censors without so many cuts that the film just bleeds all over the cinema screen.

Salikin and company manage to reasonably address the first two.

For the third, what we have seen locally and internationally, is that plugging in a celebrity star cast adds to the overall attraction of the product and, in certain instances, even elevates what would otherwise be a mundane movie into an enjoyable and, at times, entertaining journey.

With camera and recording technology along with writing finding equal opportunities across screen sizes, it is more important now than ever to understand what separates a movie from a drama or a telefilm.

Madaari, movie, Ibad Alam Sher, Paras Masroor, Hammad Siddiq

The smaller screen sizes sell a story, usually with a loosely communicated character arc. Films, on the other hand, are there to sell an experience and want to follow the main character's evolution and journey.

How does Madaari fare?

'Madaari' has a solid base of acting. The transition that NAPA's repertory theatre products have made from stage to cinema appears fairly effortless. In some cases, it is even accomplished.

But the route adopted for that has been one of an adapted telefilm.

The story and acting are gripping enough that one does not want a female lead or even much of a female cast.

But where it is found lacking is in the absence of a strong score and theme track, apart from desperately calling for better cinematography.

The writing and the overall editing could have been tighter. The movie had a penchant for lingering on side details too much, which ultimately had little impact on the story line. It seems these bits started off as an idea to add more nuance to their main character but ended up just being fillers, and in those moments, one has to wonder whether it would have been better to flesh out the side characters to add greater depth to the overall story.

Moreover, the dialogues lack that bit of punch and sharpness that its characters would have benefitted from. Perhaps relying more on physical performance to deliver the emotions.

But where the writing does shine is in creating the world within which these people live and some of the intersectionality and adding layers of depth to the overall story.

The actors have done a fairly reasonable job.

Ibad Alam Sher, for his diminutive real-world size, carries the film with aplomb. In a world where films rely on established talent like Humayun Saeed and Fawad Khan, Sher's debut is powerful.

He is ably supported by the likes of Paras Masroor and the iconic role of Asif Baloch, played by Hammad Siddiq, who really seems to have worked on getting his styling and delivery of a Lyari-esque resident, complete with a baritone.

Madaari, film, movie, Paras Masroor, Ibad Alem Sher, Seraj us Salikin, Hammad Siddiq
The cast of Madaari at the premier of the movie in Karachi.

The surprise was not to find Ali Rizvi, another accomplished actor and a NAPA graduate himself, sit this one out, content to explore himself as a writer.

This is Salikin's first outing as a director. Perhaps the toll of juggling too many roles seems to have impacted the film. As an editor, he has managed to keep a decent pace to the film that just about keeps everyone engaged till the end.

'Madaari' tries to stay true to the character arc. There are moments, especially after Haris' first attempts to kill his nemesis fails. But then it falls away a little in the third act before completing it towards the end of the movie.

Who will this attract?

One question a lot of people gloss over is that not every movie is made for everyone.

'Madaari' is a showcase of the visceral back alleys of Karachi and provides a view of those living at the very bottom looking up at the ivory towers. Per its writers, this is the story of the common man caught in the rat race, hence it has the potential to connect most with a crowd familiar with these elements.

Its political undertones would really resonate with them as well, with these areas serving as political and criminal battlegrounds and their intersections in the past.

This is a movie meant for the discerning viewer. This is probably why it may not do as well in cinemas especially during a busy period where it competes with Indiana Jones and Mission Impossible, but it can find a fast following on OTT platforms.

The writers, directors and actors in this movie have shown that, unlike some industry veterans who made the transition to the big screen in naked cash grabs, they can create movies that have a lasting impression on the minds of the public.

This was their first product, and it was certainly flawed. But with the right support and introspection, their next product could deliver what they hoped for.

This movie is also a testament to NAPA to produce actors that are equally home on any size of stage or screen.

But while they may lack the kind of star power that someone like Saba Qamar or Humayun Saeed brings, they are fully capable of delivering an engrossing story.

'Madaari' is a film that deserves at least one watch. I would only urge you to do so in the cinemas to encourage this young lot to make more, better movies.