Friday, July 12, 2013

Alif is for Inspiration - Josh

I had looked forward to watching Josh for years.

Why yes….that wasn’t a typo…

…I did say YEARS! For some reason, in Pakistan there is a long and fatuous gap between a film’s initial media-hype and the day it actually makes it to the theaters. During that gap, the film manages to

a) Loose a lot of interested parties,

b) Dilute its novelty when several other low-budget films on similar topics crop up


c) Become irrelevant because a completely new topic becomes the bandwagon buzz that takes over the film industry and thus leads to massive examples of Point A and then Point B (above)!

Luckily, that long gap didn’t deter die-hard movie buffs like myself from still purchasing tickets to the NYC screening of the film at the AMC theaters in Times Square. I had invited BD Rex to be my date to the movie screening because he always makes for great company. A quick update on BD Rex for my faithful readers who often ask about him: Yes, he still lives in Manhattan but claims to have retired from the sex industry. When we met up at the corner of 39th and 8th to grab a quick cup of tea before the film, I almost didn’t recognize my former neighbor. He was easily 50 pounds heavier, with a beard so unkempt that even a Brooklyn hipster would be afraid to sport it and dressed less for an NYC premiere of a foreign film and more for a surreptitious stroll to a back-alley in pursuit of a joint or a bagel. However, he swore that this change in appearance had NOTHING to do with his sabbatical from his life-long career as a male escort. If anything, he was making more money than ever. And I have no reason to doubt him. After all, this is New York where fetishes often replace normalcy.

So, after a much-needed heart-to-heart over a cup of Earl Grey, we arrived at the theater with our tickets in hand. The NYC desi crowd that loves to be seen at such events had already spilled in while air-kisses emitted by these Mrs. Doctors saturated the venue. We quietly tried our best to blend in with this typical South Asian crowd but as always, I managed to stand out more than my American, male prostitute date!

At one point, I looked over and recognized the director Iram Parveen Bilal frantically running around the theater making sure that everything was done just right. I pointed her out to Rex who whispered.

‘She sure seems to be running a million miles per hour!’

I agreed! It was obvious that besides being the Director, Writer and Producer of the film….home-girl had plenty of other additional titles under her belt and was wearing more hats along the way. Hats like the films PR manager, social media expert and at times even theater usher! Initially, I wasn’t too sure how I felt about that! However, I knew that for someone THAT invested in their film to appear so compulsive ….the movie could end up being pretty darn good. On the other hand, it could also completely backfire and go south for exactly that same reason. I guess I just had to find my seat, sit back and find out!

‘Josh’ is a film that revolves around Fatima (Aamina Sheikh), a privileged yet compassionate girl living the glamorous life that only a wealthy Karchiite can lead in Pakistan. But it is all juxtaposed with another world, when one day she is forced to enter the seedier side of Pakistan when her nanny Nusrat Bhi goes missing. It is then when the audience from the theater step away from a world familiar to their own (country clubs, cafes, parties and drawing rooms) to a world only talked about of but rarely stepped into – feudalism, poverty, classism and misogyny.

Sheikh’s performance as Fatima is brilliant and lives up to its expectations. But one soon realizes that Sheikh’s delivery is not the exception in this film but in fact, the norm. Every actor delivers an outstanding performance, including the extra who whizzes by the screen for a mere minute. The credit for that undoubtedly goes to the film-maker - and possibly her tendency to anxiously micro-manage which was evident even at the screening. The beauty of this film lies in the fact that one quickly forgets that they are watching a film. Not a single character appears expressionless and reciting memorized lines on-screen.

I must admit, I had my reservations in the beginning. The first few opening scenes seemed excruciatingly slow and carried more of an artsy feel than that of a commercial flick. The awkward silence! The long pauses! A film geared more towards the indy film aficionada than someone who would walk into Capri or Nishat (RIP) for entertainment. However…fifteen minutes into the film, my date and I were engrossed! Pushed to the edges of our chairs…completely oblivious that we were in a theater and not in the midst of inner-city and rural Karachi, following Fatima’s shadows as she searched for clues and answers to Nusrat Bi’s disappearance.

A minor flaw in the film was the slight confusion around Nusrat Bi’s profession. For some reason, it took about 10 minutes for the audience to realize that she was a Nanny (for the non-Pakistanis in the audience…it took an additional 10 minutes). BD Rex had to ask if she was Fatima’s mother and so I proceeded to explain the concept of maids to him quickly and quietly in the theater. The costume designer could have made more of an effort to make her character stand out from the other wealthy inhabitants of Fatima’s home.

An actor that deserves a special mention is Adnan Shah Tipu. His resume of performances in independent feature films keeps growing while his craft gets more polished with each release. I was a fan even when I first noticed him in ‘Khamosh Pani ‘ but in ‘Josh’, one easily realizes that not only has he come a long way…but for him, it will go even further up from here.
I would urge everyone to watch ‘Josh’! Every scene in the film has been carefully crafted out to not appear rushed and every actor from the leading stars to the extras appear to provide the same level of skill and professionalism. Exactly the traits that make a good film even better. I guess that means that the verdict on the director is in. As meticulous and pedantic as she appears, those were probably the traits which helped her make sure that her first feature film rose above to set a very high precedent for all future commercial films from Pakistan.

‘Josh’ is a film that will not leave you with false hopes, sugar-coated optimism or momentary closure. It will however, let you walk out with a renewed sense of inspiration. Inspiration from a simple message: if we truly want to make a difference in society, we have to brave a world outside of our comfort zones. Norms can never be changed overnight! However, we can all take that first step to move against the grain. And as we do, inspiration from films like ‘Josh’ will provide the fuel that ensures that we do not give up! Or lose our Josh!

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