PAK­ISTAN’S CAKE

India Today - - LEISURE - —Huma Yusuf

Grow­ing up in Karachi, we would joke that Asim Ab­basi will be Pak­istan’s Karan Jo­har. But he’s done one bet­ter. He’s cho­sen to cre­ate rather than im­i­tate. His de­but film, Cake, which re­leased in Pak­istan on March 30, presents a new mould for con­tem­po­rary Pak­istani cin­ema, which sits com­fort­ably between big-bud­get Bol­ly­wood wannabes and quirky art pro­duc­tions.

The story of em­bat­tled sib­lings forced to con­front their par­ents’ age­ing breaks new ground for Pak­istani film in terms of sto­ry­telling, char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment and cin­e­matog­ra­phy, and has al­ready won Ab­basi the award for Best Di­rec­tor at the UK Asian Film Fes­ti­val.

I’ve known Ab­basi since we were pre-teens. He was al­ways the big­gest Bol­ly­wood fan in the room, mark­ing ma­jor life events with re­peat view­ings of re­cent Sridevi or Mad­huri re­leases. Fan­dom trans­formed into an ob­ses­sion for him in his late teens, and by the time he was a Lon­don­based in­vest­ment banker, he would re­turn from 18-hour days to spend sev­eral more hours writ­ing Bol­ly­wood­esque scripts re­plete with hip-shak­ing hero­ines and heart­throb heroes.

But when Ab­basi left bank­ing to pur­sue his dream to make films, he re­solved to find his own voice as a writer and di­rec­tor. As such, Cake has been a long time in the mak­ing. It was pre­ceded by sev­eral short films of in­creas­ing so­phis­ti­ca­tion and two scripts that scared off pro­duc­ers be­cause they were “too po­lit­i­cal” or “not com­mer­cial enough”. But Asim did not give in to in­dus­try ex­pec­ta­tions, nor did he give up.

He then con­nected with Sayed Zul­fiqar Bukhari, a Lon­don-based busi­ness­man who said the magic words Ab­basi was wait­ing to hear: “Make the film you want to make.” The re­sult is a work of art that sets new stan­dards not only for Pak­istani but also re­gional films, a story that touches the univer­sal themes of fam­ily, love and death, but does so without re­sort­ing to clichés, and by de­vel­op­ing com­pelling char­ac­ters. As Sanam Saeed, who plays one of the sib­lings, put it, “Cake will re­mind Pak­istani di­rec­tors and pro­duc­ers of the power of sto­ry­telling. Our au­di­ences are ca­pa­ble of more than be­ing mind­lessly en­ter­tained.”

Cake has cre­ated much buzz for be­ing dom­i­nated by strong fe­male leads. The men are vul­ner­a­ble, sen­si­tive, flawed. They do not drive the story, but they hold it aloft

Cake has cre­ated much buzz for be­ing dom­i­nated by strong fe­male leads: Aam­ina Sheikh and Saeed play­ing squab­bling sis­ters and Beo Za­far as their ec­cen­tric mother steal the show. But Ab­basi’s por­trayal of male char­ac­ters is novel and also worth high­light­ing in an era of #MeToo. He dis­penses with the usual tropes of dom­i­neer­ing pa­tri­archs and ag­gres­sive lover boys; the men in Cake are vul­ner­a­ble, sen­si­tive, flawed. They do not drive the story, but they hold it aloft. “These are men strong enough to love strong women,” says Sheikh, “and this is some­thing Pak­istani men and their moth­ers need to see.”

And ev­ery­one else too. The no­tion of a Pak­istani film re­nais­sance has brewed in re­cent years, thanks to the grow­ing num­ber of film re­leases. But quan­tity without qual­ity does not make that hap­pen. Ab­basi’s film will help change that, and Pak­istani view­ers will be able to have their cake and eat it too.

The Cake star cast. The film has won Asim Ab­basi the Best Di­rec­tor award at the UK Asian Film Fes­ti­val

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