Red Light Hotel (2009)


Red Light Hotel (2009)
Cast: Sonu Laal, Hanan, Anjuman Shehzadi, Dilbar Munir, Naila Raza, Hanan
Director: Saeed Ali Khan
Nutshell:  An excuse of a feature film made more as a showcase for “fresh talent” on the meat market than anything remotely cinematic.


Years ago at the turn of the century when the Lollywood industry was spiraling rapidly towards collapse numerous directors and producers called it a day as profits dwindled away to a pittance.  Competition in the internet age was a hurdle nobody had anticipated and now young Pakistani men could find their sleaze on their computers, no longer having to venture out in public.  The Red Light Area suffered as the mobile phone took over as the way people “hook up” the world over.

Meanwhile here in Lollywood, producers reacted to the crunch by taking a couple of digits off their film budgets and reduced their scope to shooting entire feature length films using cheap video cameras and locations that were restricted to one particular building.  Directors such as Rasheed Dogar helped create a sub-genre of films where songs were shot in the bedroom and the action scenes take place in the living room.

The accent is heavily on cleavage and heavy petting and plenty of grisly voyeuristic camera shots trained to focus on the bulging body parts of the characters on screen.

The cast is mostly garnered from the Punjabi Theatre scene with most of the names utterly unfamiliar to anyone other than those who partake in the delicious vulgarity and raunchy masala of the local theatre scene, similarly focused almost entirely upon sex, cleavage, more heavy petting and filthy double entendre.

The theatre scene is fed mainly by women struggling to make ends meet and with a connection to the sex trade.  These women aspire to somehow make it to the cover of some local trashy publication so that they can use that to raise their own commercial value.  If they succeed in snagging an ad on cable TV or maybe a tacky music video, their market value swells accordingly.

Pakistan doesn’t have any papers or online sites where women (or men) can ply their trade looking for customers as “escorts or “deep tissue and Swedish massage” experts”.  If a performer can manage to climb the ladder and end up thrusting and jiving to an item number in one of the numerous stage productions, then her value soars ever more and finally, if she can snag a role in a feature film or TV drama, she could snag the biggest fish in the land.  This may seem all horribly cynical and negative but was explained to me by seasoned veterans of Lollywood with a lifetime connection with Pakistani cinema, Royal Park and publications where aspiring young “starlets” could be given a break if they complied by the “game” and played according to the rules of the old casting couch.

This particular film, Saeed Ali Khan’s “Red Light Hotel” is pretty much such a dire cinematic experience that eventually the thought has to arise as to the purpose of its being made.  Its box office chances stand firmly on the lewdness of the poster and the set of songs by sisters Naseebo and Farah Lal.  The only recognizable name in the cast is of Anjuman Shehzadi who is a well known stage item number dancer and commands a fair price for her famed “mujras” publicly or privately.  The film is nothing more than an excuse to showcase these “aspiring young stars” and hopefully to dupe a few idiots into paying for a ticket on the pretense that there will be much raunchy sex on screen or whatever amounts to it and if they are excited by bodacious, peroxide blonde Lahori tarts cavorting and twitching around a garden or a bed, then they will not be disappointed.

The film is supposedly a murder mystery and in the opening scenes the audience very briefly catches a glimpse of some woman pushing a man off a roof top to his death.  The cops are called in and nobody is allowed to leave the Red Light Hotel until the mystery is solved.  The hotel has about 30 men and women booked into the rooms and an amorous Pathan chowkidar who likes men and is told that he isn’t using a condom the way it was meant to be used (by one of the two young stud cops).  There is also one very “fast” and sexy girl who is not the kind you take home to mother but there is more to it than meets the eye.  Love blossoms amidst the investigation but sadly there are a few more mysterious deaths to account for.  Eventually, after several bedroom and garden dances featuring some of the finest outfits that could ever have been created in the Islamic Republic have been admired, the film draws to its twist laden conclusion and shock ending.

Question is, will the murderer be apprehended before the body count heads towards double digits and will we discover who is behind the wave of terror at the notorious Red Light Hotel or will the horrors continue on and on?  All is revealed in a shattering climax and a stunning revelation that will leave the viewers joyously uplifted.

The film is about as uncinematic an experience as this viewer has ever had with no semblance of coherence or even basic construction of a shot in evidence.  To claim that the film even has a plot would be way too generous and the acting defies belief.  The only effort and expense has been made on the numerous songs which are then padded by bafflingly awful scenes in order to complete the requisite running time of an hour and 45 minutes.

Red Light Area is an incoherent jumble of scenes featuring people who are clueless in front of a camera.  These scenes are botched together in a totally incoherent manner in order to showcase the 8 or so songs that are featured at various intervals.  The most memorable aspect of this dreary awfulness was the outfit worn by one of the floozies in a dance number where she is dressed in a unique new kind of Salwar Kameez where the kameez is cut for maximum cleavage spillage and the occasional accidental “wardrobe malfunction” but the Salwar itself is abbreviated quite stunningly as sort of “salwar hot pants”.  A magnificent creation and soon to be trend setting outfit the world over.  Who says Pakistani film makers (and dress designers) don’t have talent?

N.B: It is learned with great sadness that Anjuman Shehzadi passed away (June 2011) having apparently suffered a heart attack after overdosing on a cocktail of drugs.  A sad loss for the film and stage world.