Sunday 2 August 2015

"Bin Roye" (Guardian 26/07/15)

Bin Roye **

Dirs: Momina Duraid, Shahzad Kashmiri. With: Humayun Saeed, Mahira Khan, Armeena Rana Khan. 116 mins. Cert: 12A

Last week’s Hindi-language Eid release Bajrangi Bhaijaan posited that India and Pakistan have more that unites than separates them. Its Urdu equivalent Bin Roye, touted as Pakistan’s most ambitious feature yet, suggests that Bollywood and Lollywood – the industry based in Lahore – remain some distance apart. The former film had star power, expansive scope and an undeniable melodramatic potency; the latter unfolds on overlit soap sets on which thirtysomething performers make like goo-goo-eyed kids. Perhaps it’s telling the source is a widely-read romance; still, on this evidence of this terminally sappy drama, the book must have made Nick Sparks read like James Ellroy.

Despite – or perhaps because of – the film’s limitations, directors Momina Duraid and Shahzad Kashmiri succeed in creating their own world, light years from Planet Reality, where everybody spends their time either swooning or sulking. We glean heroine Saba (Mahira Khan) is romantically inclined from her fondness for pointing at the moon, like a 13th century village idiot. She’s pining for Irtiza (Humayun Saeed), a bearded swain with just-so hair, but alas Irtiza only has eyes for Saba’s estranged sister Saman (Armeena Rana Khan), returned to this circle after her foster parents’ demise. Cue a love triangle that has had all its points childproofed.

There are, granted, flickers of craft and talent that might be better harnessed somewhere down the line. The songs give the thin plot and listless characters welcome jolts of energy: despite its baseless dig at Punjabi girls for wearing cheap shoes, Asian chart-topper “Balle Balle” is as winning in Dolby as it has sounded on the radio. Feeha Jamshed’s costume design, with its unfailingly pretty candy colours, similarly enhances whatever drama the film can muster. Saba’s pre-intermission breakdown – casting off the hundred bangles her beloved has given her – makes for a big scene, even if its human focal point by then appears faintly deranged.

If Bin Roye only ever evokes a surfacey appeal, it’s because our understanding of these characters is never allowed to deepen. What these cyphers do to afford their palatial residences remains a mystery; in this world, listening to your heart all day apparently pays way over the odds. Irtiza and Saman’s baby proves as much of an accessory as those bangles, vanishing within minutes, lest it complicate matters. And Mahira Khan, a major Pakistani star, can’t make sense of her incessantly needy child-woman: when Irtiza points out Saba’s book is upside-down, a notionally sweet gesture only reads as further proof of an extremely arrested development.

If the Pakistani industry could learn one thing from its Indian neighbours, it might be pacing: the garbled incident of Bin Roye’s second half – two traffic accidents, a marriage of convenience, multiple family revelations and a cursory drift into madness – really should have been spaced out to allow us to better feel the loss of the disappeared, the pain of the lives circumscribed. When Irtiza asks of Saba “Who do you think you are, some tragic heroine?” it’s meant as self-reflexivity, but instead betrays what’s wrong with the film: that it’s a rushed regurgitation of a thousand similar stories, copied homework pasted to the screen.

If this is ambition, then it’s a funny sort of ambition, enough to set one to wondering what came before. Where truly confident filmmakers might have brought a worldlier eye to this material, Bin Roye – all too clearly the product of an industry emerging from adolescence – struggles to know what to do with it, beyond filming people stuck behind windows lashed with raindrops that rhyme with the tears adorning these characters’ cheeks. The cinema has long provided sanctuary for the broken-hearted – in the cheap seats, as on screen – but such monotonously indifferent moping might prompt even the most lovelorn to start pondering what’s for tea instead.

Bin Roye is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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