April issue 2015

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 5 years ago

Spoiler alert: everyone dies.

Violence, bloodshed, a lot of guns — which, surprisingly, everyone is an expert at using — humanising crime and criminals. Have we seen this before? Yes, it’s called Na Maloom Afraad (NMA).

Start watching Jalaibee, and it will remind you forcefully of NMA — in particular the opening scene, in which Billu (Danish Taimoor) is in the bathroom when Dara’s henchman breaks into their quarter to beat up Bugga (Ali Safina). The quarter is also strikingly similar to the one in NMA.

In an interview with Newsline a few months ago, the director of NMA, Nabeel Qureshi mentioned various upcoming projects that were similar to his film. He said that in Pakistan, once a product had proved popular with the public, everyone jumped onto the bandwagon to produce the same thing over and over and over again, until it just couldn’t be reproduced any longer. The premise in Jalaibee is almost exactly the same as in NMA: two small-time criminals cross paths with the city’s biggest don, Dara (Adnan Jaffar, who is admittedly fun to watch). Having failed to steal the five crores he asked them to, they must now obtain the huge sum at any cost, or face the wrath of Dara and his men.

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Just like NMA, in Jalaibee too, the ‘good guys’ we are supposed to be rooting for are actually criminals. Billu and Bugga spent their childhood together in an orphanage, but left it for a life of small-time crime, stealing food and small amounts of money, when they needed. They soon moved on to bigger and better things. The audience is clearly supposed to sympathise with or, at the very least, relate to the criminals. Humanising crime and believing in the ultimate good of mankind is a refreshingly long-term approach to solving the issue. But in a city where people are mugged, killed and dealt much worse every day, where the level of crime means that you cannot help but constantly look over your shoulder, it is seriously worth considering wher this trend (also seen in NMA) is wise. What about social responsibility in filmmaking?

Where Jalaibee (thankfully) diverges from NMA, and also what helps elucidate the meaning of the film’s title, is the addition of another party to the main plot: Ali (played by London-based Wiqar Ali Khan) and his “bro” Jimmy (Uzair Jaswal, brother of director Yasir Jaswal). The brothers’ life ambition is to unmask their parents’ cold-blooded murderers. Like the knotted, gnarled jalaibee, life is also full of unpredictable twists and turns. Thus, unbeknown to them, Billu and Bugga’s fate is directly intertwined with Ali and Jimmy’s, and Bunno (Zhalay Sarhadi) is the connecting link.

Contrary to what I expected, the film gets better. As in NMA, so too in Jalaibee there is an ‘item number’ (performed by Sarhadi). But at least in Jalaibee its inclusion in the film makes sense as it is connected to the main plot.

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Moreover, while Jalaibee has several unrealistic, trying-too-hard-to-be-Hollywood scenes, and a cliché-heavy script, the acting is quite convincing, not forced or unnatural. And most importantly, there is no denying that the film looks good — from the wardrobe and styling, to the quality of production. Furthermore, although at one point near the end it looked like Jalaibee was going to repeat NMA’s rather questionable conclusion, which saw the ‘good guy’ criminals walk home with all the stolen cash, the resolution takes a rather unexpected twist.

While the locations the film was shot at add to Jalaibee’s charm, there seems to be an overarching desire by the director and producers to make the film as ‘western’ looking as possible. Jalaibee was filmed in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, but it does not look like Pakistan at all. The domestic helps’ clothes, the accents of certain characters, the yellow 1973 Ford Mustang — it’s all a bit too alien. And this is a little ironic, considering this film is part of the revival of Pakistani cinema.

Two final words: Billu, Bugga, Bunno — can we please have real names next time? Also, don’t take pot-shots at, arguably, one of the most reliable and respectable captains the Pakistan cricket team has ever had.

This review was originally published in Newsline’s April 2015 issue under the headline, “The Imitation Game.”

Hiba Mahamadi was an Editorial Assistant at Newsline