Cast: Junaid Akhtar, Azekah Daniel, Khushi Maheen, Saleem Mairaj, Faiz Asim, Rasheed Naz, Qavi.
Director: Syed Atif Ali
Nutshell: The only terrifying thing about this farce is its 150-minute length!
Once again amidst the plethora of “Punjabi in Karachi” style feel good comedies with the obligatory colour-burst-Dalda-ad style songs it comes as a pleasant surprise to see a horror film slip into local cinemas. There has always been a demand for horror movies in the sub-continent and a few brave souls had showed up for the “first day, first show” screening of the latest Pakistani horror film to arrive on the scene after a break of at least a couple of years.
Pari hasn’t had much publicity or fanfare and the trailer released on YouTube hasn’t exactly set the world on fire yet around 40 people packed into the tiny cinema anticipating some fun thrills and chills. The bar for horror films recently had been set fairly low with Maya, Siyah and Hotal not exactly setting the pulses racing, nor the box office counters ringing.
So, Pari arrives with an unheard of cast other than veteran actor Qavi and a regular of the current “revival” ever since his turn in Khuda Ke Liye in Rasheed Naz. Saleem Mairaj has some horror experience to his credit with Zibahkhana and returns as a mysterious wandering, singing minstrel with a crucial backstory that unfolds in the climactic scenes of the 2-and-a-half-hour film.
It is pretty pointless to try to explain the plot of a film that is in essence simply a regurgitation of popular genre favourite over the years. Take a bit of Insidious and a lot of Ring, The Godsend and Mama as well as Bhoot and mix it up with The Conjuring and its kind, throw in a little Paranormal Activity and The Guardian (!) and jiggle it up with some Amityville Horror and infuse some intellectually “deep” waffle about spirituality and belief vs non-belief. Sadly, it just doesn’t work and it just doesn’t wash.
The acting is woeful at best with Azekah Daniel portraying a zombie quite brilliantly. The problem is, she isn’t in a zombie film. The kid who drops in via Insidious and The Grudge is a laughable sight with large black blotches around his eyes to make him look all menacing and ghostly but he ends up resembling a retarded Panda. Pari herself is prone to using her mother’s makeup evidently and soon bonds with an evil crow by way of Bhoot who introduces her to evil satanic tree and the joys of black magic and it demands blood sacrifices which the child provides at the earliest. But first she smears some crow blood on her face just to illustrate to a bored and clueless audience just how devilishly evil she has suddenly become.
The sound design has to be mentioned for being just incredibly ill advised with ominous rumbling bass being introduced over and over again to try to beat it into the heads of the suffering audience that what they are watching is supposed to be very, very scary. Sadly, its actually just very, very bad and the only thing truly scary about this film is the insufferable running time.
To be fair, it works better as a comedy and managed to have those who hadn’t dozed off to sleep had plenty of incidents to giggle about. The acting, the dialogs were embarrassing with the best being the use of the phrase “cheesipan” was inspired. Saleem Mairaj is a capable actor when given the right material and direction, unfortunately this was not his finest moment even though he got a pretty tuneful and melodic song to lip-sync to for his troubles. I noticed one or two people trying to Shazam the song and heard another whisper that it was Abrar Ul Haq singing. Even though songs were wholly inappropriate and jarring and just managed to make the snails pace of the movie even slower. That said, the second song was possibly one of the only praiseworthy aspects of an otherwise disastrously amateurish film.
The “shock” scenes were so poorly constructed that they never deliver the scares, the jolts or the shocks and the paranormal scenes really needed to be edited out as they had people roaring with laughter. In one particularly memorable scene with the ambient bass track going nuts, Mehwish (Azekah Daniel) is supposed to be asleep but then shockingly she raises one leg, a bit like a dog going to take a pee and then moments later she raises another leg and then seconds later she raises an arm and then another! These scenes had the audience giggling in embarrassment in unison; a rare moment of group catharsis.
Later a rocking chair starts to rock by itself (remember The Changeling?) and the best bit is when the thirsty ghost child Panda face sucks up Pari’s milk with his supernatural powers and then wipes away the milk from his lips chillingly a la Damien!
Finally, the highlight which is the interlude involving veteran actor Qavi who we used to poke fun at as kids for his immense over-acting skills in films such as “Aina” where he so famously exclaims in a drunken stupor “bah…. such a gramoruss flat. Sweet smuggled visssky. Biyoootiful Phurneechurr. God nay tumhe boooooooht accha taste gifff kiya hai”. In Pari Qavi either delivers the hammiest performance of a lifetime parodying himself in the most remarkable manner. His doddering old uncle who is menaced by the evil child is pantomime at its best with Qavi quaking and quivering in the most remarkable manner. Qavi either acted this role as a spoof or parody because there can be no other explanation for his frenetic and completely OTT guest performance that steals the show from the particularly unlikeable couple the story revolves around.
The story finally meanders its way to the end having taken so long to do so that by now nobody in the audience gives a damn as they have been pulverized by boredom or just the ineptness of the director’s story telling capabilities. A few cheap CGI shocks are thrown in to the climactic scenes; the type you can buy online from amateur hacks. Some twists and revelations arrive at the fag end of the film but by then its too late and the audience has been rendered brain-dead by boredom to give a toss.
For a film as artistically dull, horribly acted and written as this one you would think you might want to avoid to ending up as a two and half hour endurance test. Who in this day and age makes a horror film that lasts that long unless it is a work of inspired genius not a shoddy mix and match cut and paste of recent horror hits?
Other than one brief song that shouldn’t even have been in the film, there is nothing of any merit on display in Pari. Of the horrors that one does remember are the acting, the screenplay and dialog the tedium, Qavi’s extraordinary performance and the tortuous running time. Also, particularly woeful was the horrendous sound mix. It is time Pakistani directors started to come to the realization that having a drone and a Steadicam does not translate to quality cinema without a coherent script, some natural acting and an ounce or originality also count.
Other than one song and Qavi’s unintentional or intentional comic brilliance, Pari is painfully dull and badly needed to be at least 60 minutes shorter. It was nice to see the film’s producers dedicate their effort to Khawaja Sarfaraz, the director of Zinda Laash. Pity however that Pari was nothing like Sarfaraz’s classy Dracula take from 1967.