First Screening of “Mudhouse & The Golden Doll”

I just had the pleasure of being part of an exclusive screening of a new motion picture by an upcoming Pakistani director, screenwriter and more importantly a very capable stage and film actor, Hamza Ali Abbasi. The motion picture is called “The Mudhouse & The Golden Doll“. It was screened in the auditorium of the Pakistan National Arts Council in Islamabad. But before I even get close to commenting about the film, let me mention a thing or two about the Arts Council.

Now while the PNCA is a rather pleasant setting for any exhibition related to art, those of you who have actually had the distress of watching a motion picture there before would know that it is usually a disastrous experience. The simplest reason for that is that they use a multimedia projector instead of a movie projector and that is more or less a nightmare if you are screening your film, because let’s consider the fact that even if it is a short film of 15 minutes, it takes an enormous amount of effort to make it.

However, things were not as bad because the film was apparently burned well into a digital video file and it went well despite the projector. But I do hope that the PNCA take care of that some day, so that watching films there become a more pleasant experience  but I would think twice before screening my film there.

Anyway, the motion picture was preceded by a rather irritating and unnecessary introduction by the organizers, which apparently had nothing do with the film production team, referring briefly to the moral lessons that the audience was about to witness in the story. Apart from the fact that such an introduction creates a bias in the minds of the viewers, it is in bad taste because it sort of takes away the element of surprise in whatever information it reveals to the audience. So that is yet another thing that I would not want to have right before the screening.

However, moving on, the introduction from the director was charming, because he focused on the importance of the revival of the Pakistani cinema through independent ventures like this one. He emphasized how you don’t need a lot of money to make a motion picture and that actually you could shoot with your cellphone if you wanted to. Yeah right, but that depends on the script, doesn’t it?

On to the motion picture itself, now. What I was most impressed with was the photography of the picture. That really went to show that the filmmakers are capable of much greater things. The sound mixing was not up to the mark, which is another euphemism for pathetic, and created just the wrong impression every time but the rest of it was masterfully done, which is actually more brilliant than what you would find a lot of professional Pakistani directors to be doing. So maybe Abbasi is something far more impressive in the making, but it is too early to say anything, but the intent and direction are right.

My favorite part of the film were the opening credits. Sounds funny/dumb/offensive, right? But actually, that is the case. The opening credits montage was so terrific that it overshadowed the picture for me. The effect it created was fantastic and I would really like to congratulate the director for that. The music of the film was original, apparently, and impressive but very forgettable. However, it did create the right effect, so it was used brilliantly well. Here’s the official trailer, which won’t disappoint you too much if you like spoilers.

I did have some issues with sound editing because in terms of technical production, the film was just about perfect otherwise. Maybe it was the PNCA’s fault too, but nah. I wouldn’t be surprised if the movie gets noticed in the Film Festivals where it makes an appearance. Can’t say if it would be successful but it certainly will not go unnoticed. However, the story of the film is pretty straightforward and a touch too melodramatic. It said that it was based on a true story. Though I find it pretty hard to believe, but hey, fact is stranger than fiction, isn’t it? I just hope it’s not the sort of true story that was portrayed in the Coens’ Fargo (1996). A not-so-true story.

I’d keep spoilers to a minimum over here. The only actor that managed to impress me apart from Abassi himself, was Fauzia Mahmood, who plays the mother of the little girl Sonia who is the protagonist of the story. At least her accent seemed to suit her character unlike the actor playing her husband in the play, who ironically happened to be the Assistant Director. Perhaps he looked right, but sounded pretty wrong. The rest of the acting was pretty much out of the place, except for the protagonist, the little girl Sonia played by Tajwar Raza and her juvenile schoolmate lover. Other subtle detail was neglected as well but I’d rather not mention.

The rest of it was just alright at times and unacceptable at others. Apart from that, the locations, the execution and the photography was absolutely breath-taking. Credit due to DOP Shayan Latif here. I am amazed how technically superior this rather amateurish production is to some of the so-called professional motion pictures that are released by the dying Lollywood industry every year. I think this is the moral of this story for every aspiring Pakistani director, or any aspiring director for that matter.

The story was good but it was not intense enough to really captivate your attention, but the great thing about it is that it is capable of engaging audiences of any age. So maybe if you are looking for something too intellectually complex, you may not get it, but it is the simplicity which is the greatest strength of the film. The simple things in life which are the most precious and the most commonplace things which are the most intellectual at the end of the day. For that I commend the director by all means.

I didn’t like the way the children delivered their lines, especially the little Sonia. Her acting seemed at its best when she remained silent. Had a strong face, often blank, at times exaggerated, her eyes told an untold story and was photographed very well, but I can’t say if she is an actor already, or maybe not an actor yet. Who knows. Yes, children can be very good actors. I know quite a few of them. The little boy who played her lover did a great job though who seemed too crazy and sexually-obsessed for his age. But actually, I found that quite charming.

I will not discuss the moral lessons of the story because quite frankly I am not bothered by that aspect of the motion picture. I was concerned with the story and a good motion picture and that was what I went to see and not to see what was wrong with the world and the society. Motion pictures can portray the ugly truths of the human society but cannot just claim to be responsible to mend them. So we can leave the job to activists and politicians.

All in all, it was a great effort and I hope Hamza Abbasi continues to make more films.

I have a feeling he will improve significantly.

Maybe we have a new brilliant director in the making.

 P.S. I was not paid to write this.

Freedom of Speech and the Illusion of Secular & Liberal Political Parties

Source: Pakistan Today

The May 20 twitter ban from the Pakistani government and the recent announcement of the PTA to seek vendors in order to block “objectionable” material from the internet have been revelations for those who are under the impression that the current Pakistani government has anything to do with promoting freedom of expression and values consistent with their democratic claims. They may be pretty tolerant of the local television channels and the crude satire and criticism that is the part of the most of their content, but they have really shown signs of weaknesses where it really matters.

Nothing highlights a government’s intolerance of freedom of speech more than its restrictions on the internet, the most immediate medium of publication for the common man. Some of the most undemocratic and authoritarian regimes have been noticed of their intolerance of the internet. Blocking websites, internet censorship and limited user access are common in regimes such as China and North Korea. However, in the recent years countries such as Pakistan and, surprisingly or maybe not so surprisignly, India are joining the list.

The funny thing is that the government does not realize that its most immediately noticeable act of suppressing the freedom of expression on an international level is banning websites and putting controls on the internet. As a matter of fact, the Pakistani government and its overzealous telecommunications watchdog, the PTA, have been highlighting online events perceived to be blasphemous themselves by going out of their way and banning them. And ones that hardly anyone in Pakistan even knows about, let alone bother about them. Responding to anything that can be perceived remotely blasphemous has actually become a political stunt to gain cheap public sympathy in Pakistan. It is even worse to see these tactics employed by political parties which claim to uphold democratic, liberal and secular values.

The funniest thing about these bans are that they only last a while. Why is that so? Not sure what changes about the internet afterwards. One of the greatest examples of that is the Wikipedia page about Prophet Muhammad which contains his illustrated images. The problem about that page is that to date it has still not changed a bit since the ban on it was imposed and lifted, so I am not quite sure what do you achieve by a ban, other than have a false sense of self-importance that you are in charge, just because you can block access to certain webpages. Also, the banning of certain social media websites as a response to any blasphemous event taking place would not take away all the blasphemous content from the internet.

The blasphemous content can actually turn up in an instant with a simple Google search. But hey, I guess the only ones searching for such content seems to be the PTA. Because frankly, I can hardly imagine that an average intenet user in Pakistan is even bothered by that. And even if they are, why would they disarm themsevles in response of an action supposedly carried out to offend them? Why should they not keep themselves empowered to respond to that? Why cannot they use the same medium to protest against any blasphemy, which is used to carry it out?

You really can count on the Pakistani government to make fools of themselves in whatever manner they can find possible. I don’t even want to start with foreign policy examples, but the mere mention of the twitter ban episode is enough to prove that point.

I want the PTA and the Government of Pakistan to read this.

Because I want them to know that their way of protesting against something is absolutely nonsensical.

Grow up please.