Sunday 1 April 2018

"Cake" (Guardian 30/03/18)

Cake ****
Dir: Asim Abbasi. With: Sanam Saeed, Aamina Sheikh, Adnan Malik, Beo Zafar. 125 mins. Cert: 12A

Pakistani cinema has long struggled to match its Indian cousin’s commercial reach, but this very impressive debut from Asim Abbasi feels like a sound bet, and even quietly revolutionary in places. Abbasi here revitalises a trope beloved of mawkish Bollywood melodrama – two thirtysomething sisters, reunited around an ailing father’s sickbed – by addressing the fallout with the deft, novelistic realism of a New Bollywood item like 2015’s Piku. Uncommonly alert to small, telling details, while more expansive in its attitudes, the result proves far richer and worldlier than anything previously observed coming down the Khyber Pass.

The fresh approach becomes apparent the minute younger sis Zara (Sanam Saeed), who fled to London when the going was easier, is overheard calculating her annual paid leave allowance. The scenario she returns to – that terrible wait for the prognosis to improve, or not – grants Abbasi time to excavate the tensions between Zara and elder Zareen (Aamina Sheikh), who’s had to forsake her patisserie ambitions to empty catheters, but also between worldviews shaped by time spent in disparate hemispheres. VHS tapes, Archie comics: the past stalks these characters hard, so it feels natural, not forced, when it gets close enough to bite them in the rear.

An eventful anniversary party threatens to topple backwards into the domain of movie activity rather than real life, but Abbasi casts wisely: economically conveying a shared history of joy and pain, the excellent Sheikh and Saeed (spotted in last year’s Shakespearian Rahm) rank first among equals in an assured ensemble. He’s shaping up as an accomplished imagemaker, too: Mo Azmi’s attentive cinematography helps outline not just a series of relationships to be tried, but a vivid, rarely communicated sense of Karachi as a place where people live their lives, make choices, muddle through – and still the lights go out sometimes. 

Cake is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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