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Striking a ‘bold’ balance

Striking a ‘bold’ balance
Bol makes a bold attempt to highlight a wide variety of ills plaguing our society with reasonable cinematic finesse. The repression and violence inflicted upon female and transgender members of Pakistani society, and the hegemonic control of religious demagogues over the masses — amongst other crucial issues faced by Pakistani society — form the basis for the plot. In contrast to Lollywood productions, the film is a huge leap forward cinematically with an evident effort invested in devising a plot, compelling dialogues and visual appeal. However, an objective critical analysis of Bol without juxtaposition to our local cinema leaves a lot to be desired.

Undoubtedly, the plot suffers from an excess of themes and subplots, far too wide in scope to tackle in 165 minutes of running time. It appears as though the director felt it his responsibility to compensate for the lack of moralistic film releases in Pakistan and fit all themes of social importance into one cinematic venture. As a result, the film falls short of adequately addressing all the issues to which it aims to draw attention. Moreover, the over-abundance of plots leads to significant discordance in the narrative harmony: the resulting story of a family deluged with avalanches of adversities leaves room for the realism within the plot to fall short.

The screenplay’s greatest strengths are in its ability to accurately portray cultural nuances at various moments and draw attention to paradoxes that we complacently live with. One such moment is when the character of the father in the film hurls a shoe at his eldest daughter, Zainab; the daughter catches the shoe mid-air in defiance, yet places it on the floor gently, straightening it before she retreats. Her subtle act of propriety even as within a moment of defiance, draws upon the culture of strict household training that follows women within our society. The screenplay writer has several instances of such well-crafted tesserae of realistic moments that unfortunately fail to make a mosaic of a coherent narrative owing to the glut of jumbled themes and sub-plots.

In an attempt to make a moralistic film, the Bol characters are extremely polarised as either good or bad and they remain stagnant in their dispositions. The character of the father in the film remains throughout the film a male patriarch and draconian father, with no character evolution. The only phases of transition that he goes through are those of senile dementia. A character without any positive attributes becomes so out of this world that as an audience, we cannot accept him as someone amidst us. Furthermore, the lack of coherent character-arc of already one-dimensional characters results in actions lacking apt motivation that makes them come across as incoherent, flat and plastic. A character with flaws going through a transition over the course of the plot is what we yearn to see. With Bol, what we have on screen are caricatures of stereotypes from our society. Lack of ‘truth’ in art leads to lack of depth.

Acting has its moments of pulling us into the dramatic action of the film. One can definitely see the stark difference in terms of how truthful the acting is compared to other indigenous productions. Acting is one of the most underappreciated components in our production that requires years of training to be able to live the moment and deliver a truthful performance.

It is an expectation for professional actors worldwide to have years of acting training that enables them to act the truth. Stanlislavski’s ‘system’ or its American adaptation of ‘the method’ form the basis of curriculum at the majority of acting schools. Since we hardly have any institutes to impart such education, it almost becomes an extraneous discussion to judge how well actors were able to truthfully live through characters emotions. The effort of the cast, however, is still worthy of appreciation. Actors that stood out the most were Shafqat Cheema as the Kanjar and the protagonist Humaima Malick doing an excellent job in their own silo domains.

Cinematography exceeds expectations and truly stands out on its own merit. On location shoots are one of the most difficult ones to light and the situation gets trickier if the locations happen to be in tiny rooms of Lahore’s walled city. The lighting design resonated harmoniously with the emotional overtones in the scenes. With very few exceptions, most of the scenes were beautifully painted with light and complemented the director’s artistic vision by providing a solid visual narrative.

The songs are appropriately placed and fulfill that expectation that we all have from films from this region that manage to retain audience interest. Shoaib Mansoor astutely bridges the gap between audience expectations and the filmmaker’s obligation to deliver his vision with artistic unity.

One thing we tend to ignore in our critical assessment is analysis of the production dynamics that are subject to artistic demands and audience expectation and the intricate interplay between them. At the end of the day, the camera needs money to roll and audiences have to be drawn in to the film for it to be profitable. Our audiences’ taste buds, overexposed to the masala based films from our region, are robbed of the capacity to accept a film that deviates from routine formula. The production choices become more like walking a taut rope to make something that the audience will watch and is aesthetically pleasing as well. Bol’s director does well as the acrobat here. Audience training in performing arts industries in nascent stages, such as ours, is a long laborious process whose burden of responsibility unfortunately lies with the upcoming filmmakers and thespians. Small yet steady baby steps are what we need to ensure a healthy growth of our audience viewership sensibilities. Films like Bol targetted at mass audiences are pushing audiences to enjoy intellectually stimulating films.

Bol, despite being a film for the masses, defies alignment with mainstream cinema that broadly falls under the genre of melodramatic musical films. It is a film that should not be missed not because of the fact that we have very limited venues of entertainment but rather based on the film’s overall merit that does make it worth watching. The overall narrative and visual story telling has a huge margin for improvement but perfection is a huge expectation from a film industry that is more or less dead. It is a film that we can hope will draw more and more audiences into our diminishing number of cinemas with a domino effect externality of affecting upcoming filmmakers positively.

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