Anthology encompasses a horror comedy, a cringy romance and a masterful train-ride on infidelity
Carl Jung once said, “The good and the bad, love and hate, pleasure and pain, victory and defeat, all are interwoven in the fabric of our lives. To deny one is to deny the other.” Life is a complex tapestry of contradictions, where opposing forces coexist in a delicate balance. The dichotomy of life reveals itself in myriad ways, and each choice has its consequence.
The phrase ‘life is all about choices’ is clichéd for a reason. Perhaps, establishing the paradox of those choices is Teri Meri Kahaaniyan‘s triumph. The three sagas in Pakistan’s first anthology film – although completely different genres – delve into the simple contradictions of life. Nabeel Qureshi’s Jin Mahal takes a comedic route on social strata, Marina Khan’s Pasoori envelopes societies’ priorities for women in a dreamy romance, and Nadeem Baig’s poetic tale, Ek Sau Taeeswaan, explores loyalty in a world that offers you multiple chances – 123 in this case – to violate it.
There’s social commentary in all three stories. While they’re all unrelated to each other, the characters seamlessly depict flawed humanness. All of them have a well-developed conflict and a joyous ending. The films stray far away from glorifying poverty or romanticising infidelity – a rare quality for Pakistani content.
Spoiler alert! Jin Mahal, the longest segment of all three, sees a homeless family secretly living in a train station, finding empty berths to call home during the pandemic. Shehenshah (Mani) has no job and lies to his blind mother Razia Sultana (Gul-e-Rana) about living in a railway neighbourhood. After being booted by the law onto the streets, the family ultimately finds refuge in Jin Mahal – a huge abandoned mansion – in the middle of a bustling lower-middle-class neighbourhood.
While the hard-lucked Shehenshah and Mumtaz (Hira Mani) step out to find jobs, the children at home struggle to satiate their hunger. Eating paan straight out of their Dadi’s box, they unknowingly scare the neighbourhood by becoming the jins at Jin Mahal. After that, they have a reason to stay and food to eat – albeit as ghosts.
The film was a unanimous favourite at the premiere for its earnest comedy with a tinge of brief, but effective bits of social commentary. While Mani in a serious role is convincing, it is the children, Hira, and Gul-e-Rana who steal the show. The cinematography and art direction deserve loud applause. Perhaps, Qureshi should do more horror comedies.
After the intermission, the screen opens with a dance number by Shuja Haider and Jawad Hyder for Khan’s directorial debut, Pasoori, centring Salman (Sheheryar Munawar) and Romaisa’s (Ramsha Khan) love story.
Despite a great message, the short is underwhelming compared to the other two. It begins with Salman, an ideal life partner in all ways, slipping into the bride’s room in a burqa hours before their wedding. However, he isn’t there out of unbridled love. Rather, his summoning is to solve a dilemma: Romaisa has received a last-minute invite to a talent competition, and she wants to go on her nikkah day. When nothing works, she uses the, “I am a girl, that’s why I am repressed, and can’t go!” argument, alongside the “I have ambitions too” line of reasoning.
Crying with tears while rallying for her childhood dream of pursuing singing, Romaisa manages to convince Salman, who grew up with a military upbringing. He tells her to live her life while he stalls. The plan fails, but the marriage doesn’t. She gets to sing in her shaadi jora, and her in-laws clap for her. While, Munawar and Khan share great chemistry, the creative advertising choices could have been less in-your-face.
Then came Baig’s poetic brilliance, penned by Khalilur Rehman Qamar, starring cinema mainstay Mehwish Hayat and the nation’s heartthrob Wahaj Ali in his silver screen debut. Ek Sau Taeswaan takes its sweet time to reveal what the title means – a slow burn that has one leaving the cinema with an afterthought on the sanctity of marriage.
Somewhere between Dera Nawab and Gotki, Sadaf (Hayat) gets a phone call from her husband Afaq (Zahid Ahmed) inquiring about her return to Karachi. He comes off as the over-protective husband concerned about his wife’s safety when, in fact, he’s just making sure she doesn’t come home in time to catch him with his mistress (Amna Ilyas). However, Sadaf knows and acts unbothered. “He only shows concern and sends ‘I love you’ messages when he’s with someone,” she says.
Sadaf, written with great detail, is sensual and flirtatious but never oversteps her boundaries. For her, loyalty is key, even when her husband is disloyal. While she allows companionship, she does it carefully when Asad (Ali) a handsome banker, finds a seat in front of her. If he was just a banker, circumstances would have been different. But he is also a lonely artist, recovering from a failed marriage. The two share a train ride, chai and a cigarette, but that’s all they share – and perhaps, all they had to. It’s a display of strange power dynamics in strained relationships, and although toxic in many ways, they seem to keep the love alive.
All the actors do a commendable job of owning their characters. Adnan Samad Khan’s silence echoes the discomfort of an illegitimate budding romance. Hayat embodies the character so well that it feels natural to her body language. Ali took a role closest to his television persona, and in that, he shone. The short doesn’t teach you to retreat to bad marriages. Rather, it shows why people choose to love those who hurt them, depicting the wisdom required to understand themselves, their partner, and their capacity to stay until they can’t. Without being preachy, the short dominates Teri Meri Kahaaniyan for the heart and responsibility that visibly went into it.
The world, as observed by Horace Walpole, can be either a tragedy or a comedy, depending on one’s perspective. Teri Meri Kahaaniyan paints the same world and keeps it open to interpretation. While the transition between the shorts could have been more seamless, the film is a major win for Pakistani cinema, given that it’s the first of its kind. There’s substance, humour, love and thought – essential elements for good cinema.
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