Mah-e-Mir is Sarmad Sehbai and Anjum Shahzad’s masterpiece which lived up to what it promised. When the trailers were out, we were thrilled by the performances and the aura of the film and it was a sigh of relief to see the film delivering exactly what was expected of the film. Mah-e-Mir truly stands out among the plethora of ordinary Pakistani films by making the audiences participate in the very mystery it tries to resolve.
At the start of the film, a discussion on a TV show takes place where ghazal giant Mir Taqi Mir’s obsession with the moon is criticized by a number of people during a TV show. This doesn’t go well with Jamal (Fahad Mustafa), who is an upcoming poet. He makes a live call on the show asking, “Why does Mir not see Neil Armstrong on the moon instead of fairy-like woman?”.
Dr Kaleem (Manzar Sehbai), who leads that TV discussion, is the torchbearer of classics and a great admirer of Mir. He is the polar opposite of Jamal and, much like Jung and Freud, they too find some sort of salvation in one another, whether they accept it or not.
The genius of Sarmad really comes out when a very literary debate turns into a discussion about the deconstruction of the present-day human condition and how it gets influenced by the surroundings.
The real wow factor of the film, however, lies in the fact that, running for a little over two hours, the film stretches but does not snap. All the visual references in the film, such as that of the halqa (circle), the coffee house, the old bookshop and even minor things such as the Rilke book, were justified within the context of the narrative. In terms of cinematography, it does rely too much on close-ups and at places the viewer is left wanting some breathing space, but even that works within the dramatic context of the film: it runs down emotions; hence, the focus on the faces.
Mah-e-Mir no doubt has set a precedent for other film-makers: how to use flashbacks sparingly yet effectively. They didn’t seem repetitive and yet, always added some nuance to the narrative without compromising on its pace. Anjum and his actors deserve equal credit for anchoring the film firmly. Manzar meant every word he said and felt every move he made only because it was clear that he genuinely knew what he was talking about. Top that with a gruff vocal texture and you’ll have the best example of method acting in front of you. Paras Masroor as Jamal’s friend, Ally Khan as the ruler of the time and Huma Nawab as Kaleem’s ex-wife appear for a short period but make every frame ooze with their dilemmas. Mah-e-Mir is one film of recent times that has the right actors for the right roles, save for Sanam Saeed’s half-baked portrayal of Naina Kanwal.
The problems with the film are both blatant and well concealed with the moon in the sky. Yes, the central issue with the film is the computer-generated moon, an aesthetic choice that eclipses all the curiosity built around its very existence. With its visual implausibility, the moon never becomes for the audience what it became for Mir.
Fahad Mustafa has proved his acting skills in various dramas, however it felt that at places his recitation of verses and lengthy Urdu monologues seem a little amateur for a film that demanded total control and finesse.
Considering a lot was up to the mark, yet there were major issues of sound design in the film. The attention-to-detail given to art direction was exactly what lacked with the sound design. And since the film seamlessly switches between two very different eras, a wide range of musical instruments and a variety of sounds could have been incorporated to make it more dynamic. And lastly, do not follow the subtitles. They are misleading and incomplete. This adds to another point: those who find it difficult to follow Urdu in its purest form might need some help from elders.
Yet again Iman Ali has proved that she is an absolute stunner. Her on-screen persona coupled with the lilted dialogue delivery is bound to inspire. Even when her dance moves weren’t as smooth as that of her fellow dancer, Iman’s role as a courtesan has a lot more depth to it; her eyes speak of the dilemma of the woman who stands at the a crossroad of what she wants and what is expected of her. Between playing a woman who is so powerful that she can make or break a poet to playing a girl who has no will of her own, Iman has proved that, at the moment, she is the only complete package in Pakistani cinema.
Sadly Music is one area where most new Pakistani films have lacked. On the other hand, with Mah-e-Mir, both Shahi Hasan and Ahmad Jahanzaib have delivered one of the finest music albums of late. The songs not only stay true to the story but also add character to the film. Rajab Ali Khan of Azal fame gives a fresh take on Mir’s Yeh Dhoan Sa and his husky voice and acoustic arrangement make for a treat. On the other hand, Piya Dekhan Ko by Shafqat Amamant Ali is a personal favourite for it brings back the Shafqat of the Fuzon days; a Shafqat who could sing as well with the harmonium as he could with a rock band. Shahi has come out of the closet in style and the grandeur of Piya Dekhan Ko will surely silence most of his critics.
Verdict: It is a must watch film. It is surely worth your money and time!