Wednesday, October 15, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW: O21 in the House


Published in Daily Times (Entertainment section) / 15 Oct 2014

O21 takes a shot at cerebral cinema and sets out to explore the only genre left standing - espionage. It goes on to pair American / Afghan, Pakistani CIA assets embroiled in a game of global deception with corporate interests that govern the region. There will be sky high stakes that go so well with super spy tropes. And a ticking clock to send viewers into paroxysms.

The events take place in a span of 21 hours hopping from Washington (shabby looking CIA offices), Afghanistan (dreary cafes) to Pakistan (darkened halls & melancholy train tracks). The darkness is literal and metaphorical. It is conceptually strong, and viscerally claustrophobic. A moving soundtrack (Alfonso Gonzalez Aguilar) echoes in the background. The grandiose vision beckons from a distance.

Despite these intriguing parameters - it is not an edge of the seat drama. The build up is excruciatingly slow. The urgency is MIA. Then again, it is about good old fashioned tradecraft that is monotonous and deadly, set in a hostile part of the world seen in the throes of a silent revolution. As ‘O21’ sallies forth into the unknown, fancy technology (Dolby Atmos) in tow, a micro-chip that should not fall into the wrong hands comes in play almost immediately. The hook is also the McGuffin. A mineral reserve that puts Afghanistan on the corporate radar and the potential blowback on Pakistan becomes the lynchpin.

It should have worked. That NATO truck sequence ripped from headlines – the spy-craft – Shaan. With rogue operatives running to and fro, there are moral quandaries aplenty – a viper’s nest where loyalties are divided, and people flawed. A wonderful curve ball arrives in the finale but fails to make much impact - let down by the pacing, and script. The only resemblance it has with the ‘Syriana’ which it admires, is the amoral universe embedded with those nicely blurred lines. But it will not trigger the debate it probably hoped for. ‘O21’ has a sketch albeit a damning one, that merely skims the surface of the Af-Pak-NATO equation.

Jami & Summer Nicks man the director’s chair, flanked by a team of producers (Zeba Bakhtiar and Azaan Sami Khan). The ensemble cast includes Ayub Khoso who shines as the Afghan warlord. Shaan with his world weary view has been pegged as the lead, but feels like an afterthought. One of the more enigmatic characters – the female Afghan journalist remains on the periphery. And Sun Tzu is unrecognizable after his ‘enemy of my enemy…..my friend’, decree gets a sappy makeover. Hameed Sheikh however, dons the persona of the conflicted Dost with ease while a handful of American actors pop in and out of the frame.


Since its opening it has received mixed reviews. The premier show attendees issued a verdict - ‘dark, brooding, and intense’ and appeared reluctant to add more. IMDB had 4 user reviews in the first week – all glowing - a few from abroad which is odd. Capri and Bambino (Karachi) reportedly removed shows after a rowdy crowd reacted violently; Nueplex added more. The print media cheered (mostly) while the social media took a hatchet. Opinion was divided, but the filmmaker’s should be lauded for their passion - for daring to dream, and for taking that leap of faith. ‘O21’ is poised to be a game changer that challenges the palate and forges its own identity from a fragmented landscape. It’s a start.

PR: Phegency
Refreshments: Espresso



Monday, October 6, 2014

Na Maloom Afraad Press Show


Published in Daily Times / 6 Oct 2014




There are two Pakistani films geared to open on Eid, both with female producers at the helm - one of them recently held a premier show for the media. ‘Na Maloom Afraad’ is a term synonymous with Karachi – a sly reference to the ‘persons unknown’ who terrorize the city already on knife’s edge, and vanish without a trace. It takes skill to conjure comedy from such a bleak premise. ‘Na Maloom Afraad’ finds a way.



The three leads – film veteran Javed Sheikh, Fahad Mustafa, and up and coming stars like Mohsin Abbas Haider, are in perfect sync as the upright small business man, eager beaver / insurance sales agent, and down on his luck Moon making his debut as their rent buddy in Karachi while dreaming of living large in Dubai.

Their transformation takes place in the backdrop of Karachi’s gritty streets, and as their lives unravel, the wreckage provides plenty of merriment, and some surprisingly insightful commentary about the state of the world we inhabit. Shot in old Karachi – the metropolis takes centre-stage; its resilient nature and cold, unforgiving heart get top billing. There are no real heroes – the villains come with inept henchmen in tow, the dialogue is crisp, and the women - perfectly cast.

For the producer, the opening day would be like the ‘T20 of cinema’ and she hoped for a win since the movie will have stiff competition from a Shaan led spy-thriller – ‘O21’, and a couple of Indian flicks opening the same day. A film that pins gallows humour to the city’s distinctive skyline, and takes advantage of the anarchy ridden landscape to craft its punch line is a worthy adversary. It could, however do without the few instances of crudity possibly added to give it ‘street cred’.

Shanaz Ramzi referred to it as purely commercial venture, made for entertainment that is not aiming for the stars. ‘Na Maloom Afraad’ is an irreverent take on life, which scans the chaos and infuses a typical looking screwball comedy with soul. It does so by blending the varying shades of grey that drive men with integrity to the edge of reason.

Fizza Ali Meerza produces, Nabeel Qureshi directs - it is their first production. Rana Kamran was hailed for his photography.





Javed Sheikh sees this as a lethal combo predicting a bright future for the trio. HUM TV partners with Eveready to distribute the film across Pakistan. ‘Na Maloom Afraad’ is in cinemas now.