Bin Roye will always remain very special for me. No matter how many other Pakistani films I watch from hereon forward nothing will ever match the particular thrill of watching this one. And these were my feelings before I’d even set foot in the theater. What all went on in the film itself is discussed below, but allow me to begin with a huge round of applause for Hum Films, for making it possible for me to watch my first ever Pakistani movie in a movie theater in my state.
I do not live in New York, Dallas, or any of the other big cities where Pakistani films are routinely screened, and the few movies that I have watched have been either on the academic circuit – Khuda Ke Liye, Ramchand Pakistani, Khamosh Pani – or online – Josh, Waar – hence this was a big first for me. It was a moment of great pride to see a Pakistani film listed alongside offerings from Bollywood and Hollywood.
And this was not just in the US, friends and family from all parts of the world were calling each other sharing their plans to go watch this one. So just for that, Hum Films, their marketing team and their savvy partnerships with international distributors, all deserve a huge gold star. Combine the wide international release with the very classy promotional campaign and Bin Roye not only succeeded in capturing all us Pakistanis’ attentions, but also drew wider attention to a softer, very vibrant and beautiful side of Pakistan – Mahira Khan and Armeena Khan were stunningly gorgeous, their clothes to die for, Humayun Saeed appropriately suave, and Momina Duraid a passionate advocate for this new wave of Pakistani cinema.
I walked in to that theater all pumped up and ready to be swept away by the whole experience. The promos, I will confess, had left me slightly underwhelmed, but then I consoled myself ke those those were just teasers, yahan tau poori film hai, and if there is anybody in Pakistan who knows how to do an emotional story right it is Momina Duraid. After all she is the person responsible for my all time favorite, my ultimate guilty pleasure, Humsafar, right? Right!
I remember there was a time after Humsafar had ended, when we the viewers were often taken to task by the media professionals for being obsessed with the serial, for comparing everything that followed after, against it. Three four years down the road, check out Bin Roye. The Hum Films’ logo was introduced with notes from the Humsafar OST playing in the background. Then Khirad had twirled now it was Saba’s turn. Remember Khirad reading her magazine upside down, well here we saw Saba doing the same with her book. The long never-ending gazes, tight closeups, focus on every facial tic, all went a long way towards ensuring we never forgot that Bin Roye was brought to us by the same people who had earlier delivered the stupendously successful Humsafar.
And it was not just Humsafar, my fellow movie watchers were all pointing to various scenes, instances in the movie which reminded them of other popular Hum dramas. That sense of deja vu lingered throughout.
There is nothing wrong in repeating a successful formula, but to do so without any imagination, without any experience in the matter, sans any consideration for a different, new medium, seems to not be the right way to make a movie. Just because a TV serial script reads like it would make a great film does not mean that it can be hacked up into small pieces, patched up with a few band-aid like scenes, and turned into a film, which is what seems to have happened here with the Bin Roye Aansoo, the serial’s script.
Combine a non existent film script with directors and revolving doors and it is not surprising that Bin Roye is all over the place. I wish they had stopped then and regrouped rather than going ahead with a project without a sense of purpose and direction. This is potential squandered away. I have seen innumerable small budgeted telefilms on Hum TV have way more coherence than this synthetically put together mishmash. As it stands now Bin Roye is looks and feels more like a haphazardly done drama – with the same living room to bedroom style of storytelling – than a big-budgeted film two years in the making. When I read Bin Roye Aansoo, Farhat Ishtiaq’s original novel, I found it difficult to get on board with the frame story of the guy marrying two sisters and declaring his love for both of them, but I did enjoy the complex characters and their nuances. Ostensibly a simple story, there was a lot of texture to the emotions, and of course the non-linear time frame, both Farhat’s specialties, all of which made for a great read. Saba’s, in particular was a character with a lot of depth and Irtiza and Sanam too had distinct personalities and well-defined arcs. There was a rationale for everything that happened and why it happened when.
Fast forward to Bin Roye and what we get here is no where near close to emotionally rich story I had read. Saba was a hollowed out version of her textual self and as for the rest of the characters …. let’s not even go there. Because Saba is the only one allowed any kind of an arc, and because she is the pivot around whom this movie turns it was vitally important that Mahira Khan be able to deliver the goods, to her credit she did so brilliantly.
Bin Roye is Saba and Saba is Mahira. Mahira carries the weight of the entire movie on her shoulders, and does so with oodles of grace and elegance. Not only is she breathtakingly gorgeous but whatever shortcomings there are in the writing of Saba’s character – we have no clue who she is outside of her love for Irtiza – Mahira takes it all in her stride as she imbues a certain gravitas to Saba. We see her as fragile but strong, vulnerable but determined. She goes from being a fun, full of life carefree girl to a heavily burdened, guilt-ridden young woman, haunted by the echoes of her past. Thanks to Mahira we experience and feel every step of Saba’s emotional journey of emotions and she is the heart of Bin Roye, the only reason why the movie works as much as it does.
While Bin Roye has a heart, and a big one, courtesy Mahira/Saba, it lacks a soul. Yes, it is a wholesome family friendly movie with a healthy dose of traditional values. We meet beautiful people, swoon over gorgeous clothes, enjoy kosher dances, hum along with pleasant melodies, and enjoy the lovely locations, gleaming copper pots, exotic fire-eaters, human puppets, fortune-tellers, and qawwali singers. Everybody and everything looks picture perfect thanks to great lighting and cinematography, Farhan Alam is an excellent DoP. Despite all the glitzy bells and whistles, however, at the end of the day it all falls flat – contrived, sterile and hollow. Disney-fied, as a friend aptly put it.
There are other actors but they come and go without making an impression. Humayun Saeed is charming but looks bored and uninterested, not that I blame him one bit. Armeena looks pretty and that’s about it, we are never given a chance to get to know her Saman. Javed Sheikh, Zeba Bakhtiyar, Junaid Khan, all are wasted. Azra Mansoor is grace personified but there is not much for her to do here. The only other actor who actually makes an impression is someone who is not even in the movie!
Adeel Husain’s chemistry with Mahira is crackling enough to ensure that I will be the first in line to go watch Ho Mann Jahan, when and if it releases here.
All in all my big takeaway from this movie was that while Hum Films gets an A for effort for taking Pakistani movies to the next level in terms of release strategies and promotional campaigns, and their efforts in ensuring good post production made the final product look very good, they have to do a lot of work to do, unlearn the language of drama-making and learn the language of film-making, before they start their next movie. This was a novelty for everybody, but I can’t see too many people paying to go watch what was essentially a drama being passed off as a movie the next time around. I know people in the theater with me were all saying the same thing.
I have deliberately focused only on the story-telling part of the movie because this where I had hopes and expectations. Other than that I understand ours is a nascent industry, with a long way to go in terms of the particulars of film making, hence there is nothing to be gained by drawing comparisons and commenting on technical details.
For now I hope Hum Films will be generous enough to share the wealth of new lessons learned, in terms of international releases, marketing strategies etc, with fellow film distributors and filmmakers like Asim Raza, enabling them to also bring their movies to a global audience. For this new wave of cinema to work it has to be a collaborative effort, many coming together to work towards a single goal, to introduce Pakistan in a whole new way to a whole new audience.
Written by SZ~