September Issue 2015

By | Movies | Published 3 years ago

In school I learnt that Pakistan inherited a part of one of the world’s most efficient railway systems from its British colonisers, but failed to develop this infrastructural blessing. However, my Pakistan Studies education left me acutely unaware of the fact that a network of self-interested road transportation and business magnates with political clout were responsible for its systematic, albeit illegal, destruction. Set in Karachi and the Pashtoon belt of Balochistan, Pakistan’s most blatantly neglected province that is believed to be a treasure trove of untapped mineral resources, Moor is the story of a father and his son, and their independent, yet intertwined, struggles in this troubled landscape.

Potentially the most carefully researched Pakistani film to date, Jamshed Mahmood a.k.a. Jami’s Independence Day offering is a spellbinding work of fiction that puts into perspective the real consequences of the creation of our beloved state. It is a reminder of the fact that the land preceded the state — and possibly suffered because of it.

Recently widowed, Wahidullah Khan (Hameed Sheikh) is a troubled station-master at the Khost station on the fractured Bostan-Zhob tracks. The station, his sole source of income, has been reduced to a pitiable ruin due to the prevalence of a mafia which has caused several rifts in the Balochistan railways. Using a combination of incentives and coercion, it acquires the land on which the tracks and stations were situated — and builds commercial and residential developments there. Additionally, it sells the steel, removed from the tracks, for a fortune. Wahid is in a predicament; torn between a verbal agreement to sell the station and tracks under his care to the mafia — including his brother, Zahir (Shabbir Rana), and gang leader, Lalu (Sultan Hussain) — and the last wishes of his deceased wife, Palwasha (Samiya Mumtaz). She vehemently opposed the deal, based on a strong conviction that this land keeps her family rooted — it is their moor (‘mother’ in Pashto).

Meanwhile, Wahid’s son, Ehsaanullah Khan (Shaz Khan), has set out to turn his fortunes in Karachi, Pakistan’s troubled megacity, only with the memory of his mother’s guidance to use time to his advantage. Yet the city, which appeared to be a sweet promise of success from a distance, is more unforgiving than Balochistan’s treacherous landscape; here, time is at no one’s mercy.  Frustrated by his circumstances, Ehsaan chooses the more dishonourable trajectory to success, by getting involved in the corrupt, but highly lucrative, business of counterfeit documentation. He continues in the business even after his mother’s passing, and a scandal that almost exposes him in the film’s opening sequences. He is, nonetheless, persistently haunted by his conscience and his mother’s upright values of honour and loyalty to the land.

The idea of an intense devotion for one’s moor forms a profound undertone, binding the characters and intricately interlaced plots of the film together. It is the memory that unites a silently estranged father-and-son pair, in spite of misunderstandings and circumstances forcing their separation. The film is thus a juxtaposition of Wahid and Ehsaan’s lives, battles, and choices within the vicious cycle of our country’s systematic self-destruction: exploitation breeding frustration, in turn producing corruption, and even greater exploitation.

Moor deserves commendation for the seamless performances of its actors. Although there is little resemblance between the leading men, their father-son relationship is nonetheless convincing due to the compelling performances delivered by Hameed Sheikh and Shaz Khan. Sheikh’s rendition of Wahid’s gradual loss of his bearings is shattering. He emotes Wahid’s frustrations and the chaos in his mind with such unaffected sensitivity that his performance is one that will be remembered for its poignant brilliance.Shaz Khan delivers his dialogues in the Pashto accent and tenor with perfection in spite of his foreign upbringing. Even though he portrays a character with darker shades, Khan draws the audience’s sympathies from the outset, and maintains it even as he builds an aura of mysterious terror and apprehension around Ehsaan’s every move in the film’s second half. Although she plays the titular character of the film, Samiya Mumtaz only has a limited number of scenes and dialogues to affect an impact, and she does so with excellence.

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The mighty Abdul Qadir is effortlessly endearing as Baggoo Baba — Wahid’s friend, confidant and voice of reason. He plays a character that is both intense and cheerful, and thus offers a careful measure of comic relief when tensions soar. Shabbir Rana and Sultan Hussain are effectively vexatious in their capacity of the antagonists, while Ayaz Soomro plays the part of Ehsaan’s recklessly problematic best-friend and business partner convincingly. Nayyar Ejaz, who plays Wahid’s childhood friend and Ehsaan’s only parent-figure in the city, and Soniya Hussain, who dons the part of Ehsaan’s helplessly well-meaning girlfriend, are likable as this troubled family’s sole support-system in the city.

Although we must never judge a book by its cover, I judged the impact of this film from its spectacular opening sequences. Credit for this impact should be given solely to the film’s cinematographer, Farhan Hafeez, and the music directors, Strings. A stunning display of Balochistan’s breathtaking landscape, mixed with the haunting melodies offered by the band, is sure to stir anyone who experiences this film on the big screen.

Our final and most emphatic appreciation must be reserved for Jami, his team of writers, including himself, Nazira Ali, and Eman Syed, and his editor, Rizwan AQ, for attesting that Pakistani filmmakers are capable of delivering ace-quality productions. Due to its unconventional editing, with disjointed flashbacks of broken memories, and shifting settings and plots, Moor’s pre-interval sequences might appear confusing to some. However, once the disjointed recollections and plots start weaving together, one realises what a unique masterpiece the makers of Moor have created.

Moor is anything but a cinematic treat. It is emotionally draining, and disconcerting in its ability to elucidate the reality of Pakistan’s present, and the consequences of good and bad choices. Yet, it offers the possibility of hope amid the mayhem of the world — our world — in which it is set, and does so with an unassuming sincerity. I thus entreat everybody to watch Moor, which is not only the best Pakistani film, but one of the best films I have ever watched.

This review was originally published in Newsline’s September 2015 issue.