Thursday, 16 March 2017
The BFI launches a major UK/India season, and the Pakistani film industry - whose labours so rarely reach our screens - immediately responds. Rahm falls in the line of Vishal Bhardwaj, the noted Hindi writer-director-composer who's transplanted the Bard to Bollywood in a run of films that has so far yielded 2003's Maqbool (Macbeth, by any other name), 2006's Omkara (Othello) and 2014's Haider (Hamlet). Director Ahmed Jamal here ventures a Sufi interpretation of Measure for Measure, relocating the play to a near-future Lahore - played, all too clearly, by latter-day Lahore - where a sudden and unexpected change of leadership has led to a crackdown on licentiousness. The Stratford connection is presumably the reason for its UK release: recognisable elements include the innocent sentenced to death, the sister dispatched to the Governor's house to plead his case, and the wily veteran who starts to play a system rigged in favour of the powerful ("My lies will overcome your truth") and eventually ensures justice of a kind is served.
What quickly becomes clear is that Rahm shares several of the limitations of that Pakistani cinema we have seen in the West. Variable supporting turns range from soap opera-competent to amdram-hesitant, and there's a tendency to rush through key plot points before the evidently modest budget runs out. We're told about, rather than shown, the trouble that breaks out during a kite-flying festival, and then via a headline visibly Pritt-Sticked onto the front of a newspaper somebody had lying around the production office. That it remains marginally more watchable than the majority of films whose reach exceeds their grasp can be attributed to several factors. Jamal makes pretty strong use of Lahore, still an underseen location, setting his camera to roam the labyrinthine backstreets, ornate mosques and old forts (whose colonial heft filters nicely into this plot); and - more crucially - he displays a keen eye for those types who might be found in these parts.
As the heartless Governor, Sunil Shankar displays the shady handsomeness we've come to associate with Saif Ali Khan, while Sanam Saeed gives an assured performance as Sameena, this telling's Isabella equivalent: caught in veiled close-up, the British-born actress bears a narratively helpful resemblance to Western supermodel du jour Emily Ratajkowski, which is to say a beauty enough to make even the most iron-fisted of leaders drop his prayer beads. What unfolds around them is certainly erratic, but faced with the weekly welter of slickly anonymous, blandly polished product now emerging from Hollywood and Bollywood alike, there remains a certain novelty and interest in observing the work of a cinema still in the course of finding its feet: after a few awkward stumbles and wobbly spots, those stretches that do play here - beholden as they might be to the Bard's achievements in providing enduring dramatic crutches - really do come to seem like giant strides forward.
Rahm opens in selected cinemas from tomorrow.