Monday, 11 March 2013

Seedlings (Lamha) 2012

I am generally sceptical of creative output from Pakistan. I have no doubt about the talent in the country, but due to lack of finances and facilities there (and hence, international-level experience), I find myself dumbing down my expectations, which makes it difficult to assess the quality of work, impartially.

So, it was with apprehension that I watched Meher Jaffri and Summer Nicks's Lamha (literal translation is 'Moment', but it is strangely titled Seedlings for the non-Urdu-speaking audience) at the 15th London Asian Film Festival, presented by 'Tongues on Fire'. Imagine my surprise, when I realised I had no need to 'dumb down' my appraisal.

The story revolves around three main characters: married couple Raza (Mohib Mirza) and Maliha (Aamina Sheikh), and a rickshaw driver, Anil (Gohar Rasheed). All three seem to be in a state of melancholy, grieving over some deep sorrow, when we meet them. As the film progresses, it is clear that Raza and Maliha have been driven apart by an unbearable personal tragedy - and that Anil played a very important role in that. Will any one of them be able to forgive the other, or more importantly, themselves? Is there any redemption for a mistake, a 'moment', that destroys lives? Is there any way to move forward when your core being has been ripped to shreds? How can you hope, when there is no hope to speak of?

The best thing about Seedlings is that it does not preach, for even a moment. There is no lengthy dialogue to explain the situation to the lowest common denominator in the audience. It is not an overly complex film, but the emotions it deals with, common as they are, can be difficult to understand. And the film does not spend extra energy on making it simple for any one. It is a journey of self-discovery for the characters, and the deepest insights come from short conversations with secondary characters. It is also a journey for the audience, to try and understand how they feel about the situation.

There are many lengthy silences, aided by a very appropriate background score (by Usman Riaz). Long scenes, where nothing happens, but you can feel an over-arching loneliness. Unlike many Pakistani dramas, where shouting is considered a must to express emotions, even that is used very sparingly. Less is definitely more, in this film.

The acting is very mature. Aamina Sheikh has already won accolades for her portrayal of a woman in constant emotional pain, but Mohib Mirza and Gohar Rasheed are excellent too. They never once overact or cross the lines of believability.

What the film confidently achieves in scripting (Summer Nicks), direction (Mansoor Mujahid), and acting, it loses in production values. The budget is quite apparently limited, but unfortunately, that is also obvious in some technical aspects like cinematography and sound recording, and at some points in the editing too. There is a slight amateurish quality to it all, which makes it less palatable to an audience used to slicker products. I am also curious about why this was shot on a 4:3 aspect ratio, more suitable to television than cinema - but honestly, these are all minor issues.

The lack of sophistication is more than made up by a strong script and detail-oriented direction, and some very involved performances. If a case can be made for independent cinema in Pakistan, then this is Exhibit A.

3 comments:

  1. Hey somaya,

    Wanted to publish your blog on The Express Tribune. Can i please have your email? Or send me a message on atika.rehman@tribune.com.pk

    Thanks!

    Best,
    Atika Rehman
    Editor, Life&Style pages

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  2. Somaya,

    Nice to see your review here of Seedlings. Glad you liked it in general. I shot the film, and I would love to discuss more on the cinematography aspect, it's always good to know your mistakes. The film however, is not shot on 4:3, I would rather kill myself than shoot it on 4:3 in this age. It's anamorphic, it's 16:9 all the way. There must have been some wrong conversion, or I don't know, but it is really surprising to know that it was screened on 4:3.
    Anyway, it was nice reading your article.

    All best,
    Faraz Iqbal.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Faraz! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I was very surprised to see the screen curtains set up for 4:3 and thought this would change once the film started...it did not. It is bizarre that it was shot on 16:9 (thank God) but screened otherwise. My apologies for saying it was tv format...but that's what I saw.

      There are some great scenes in the film...the framing in certain places is fab. So no, I was not counting mistakes. My general comment was about the an amateurish quality, which may simply be because of equipment, rather than talent.

      In any case...I am a humble blogger, in an age where everyone finds it necessary to express an opinion...so please don't take my one small voice as a verdict.

      This was a thoroughly commendable effort by all...and for that, as a Pakistani, I am grateful!

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