Siyaah: Pakistani Horror Film, a win for Pakistani cinema
Exorcism is perhaps the most cliché theme in the genre of horror film-making. The stories usually start with a few unfortunate events leading to confusion between scientific and religious interpretations. A pious man then attempts to drive the devil from out the possessed beings. The same theme was followed by the recent Pakistani independent film Siyaah.
Directed by Azfar Jafri and written by Osman Khalid Butt, Siyaah is a potpourri inspired by numerous films that depict exorcisms. It could best be described as a suspense thriller rather than a horror film. The story revolves around journalist Ahad Sultan (Ahmed Ali Akbar), who meets Sara (Hareem Farooq) to investigate a story on supernatural happenings and religious connotations attached to it.
The movie then goes back to past events, and Sara and her husband Bilal (Jabbar Naeem) are seen moving to a new home in a secluded area of Islamabad. Initially, they ignore the sound of footsteps heard in the new house and the frantic barking of the dog. Since Sara and Bilal are both disturbed and hurt by the miscarriage of their daughter Maheen, they decide to adopt a child. The series of events which take place after the adopted 10-year-old Natasha (Mahnoor Usman) comes home to her foster parents is the reason to watch this film.
While scary movie buffs will enjoy the suspense, aesthetically, Siyaah leaves you wanting more. It is a feature film backed by theatre artists, a detail reflected in its theatrical treatment of every aspect of film-making. As a result, the larger-than-life cinematic experience is missing.
With due respect to Butt’s work, the inclusion of creative YouTube antics and comedy makes the screenplay a disappointing aspect of the film. The screenplay and dialogues lack magnetism and failed to engage, but manage to give away unnecessary information in words; this could better be seen through actions. First world jokes and needless pop-culture references take away the little attention to what could have been an eerie, dark story. The darkness of the film, ironically, is reserved for the visuals — they are unnecessarily dim and shadowy. The most visually appealing shot is of a ticking clock, but sadly, it’s shown only twice.
Though, Islamabad is the perfect city for scenes in horror films, the handful of shots that are shown in Siyaah make the colour of the visuals bleed. The sound fails to create the desired impact of a horror film, despite a decent sound design. Perhaps it was not mastered for cinema and hence the sounds come from the whole surround sound system in a theatre.
Having said that, the director deserves a round of applause for making the actors work to their maximum potential. And while the possessed child Mahnoor is extraordinary in the film, it’s Hareem’s clinical performance that wins the trophy. She is beautiful, confident and knows her character well. Hareem operates well within the domain of her character’s dilemma and despite a bland screenplay and poor lighting, still manages to lighten up a few scenes.
Kudos to the director who chose to cast theatre actors in the film. There are technical issues that could have made the film a much better experience, but the story is complete and acting commendable. So do your part for Pakistani indie cinema and go watch Siyaah!