Amna Ilyas has an irresistible charm in the movie and delivers her role with gusto
Showcasing the best of South Asian independent films, the London Indian Film Festival 2017 hosted the European premiere of the Pakistani thriller film, Gardaab (Whirlpool).
Described as a cross between The Godfather and Romeo and Juliet, the film is set in Karachi, Pakistan.
A young man, who finds himself caught up in the dangerous underworld, falls in love with the daughter of a rival Don. Their forbidden relationship intensifies as they struggle to keep it a secret amidst the continual turf wars between enemy gangs.
When it comes to Romeo and Juliet adaptations, movies like Ram-Leela have impressed mainstream audiences. As for gangster flicks, films like Parinda have been trendsetters. Initially, when one reads the plot, it seems like a story which has been repeated several times.
However, director Harune Massey adds a unique twist to his tale. Depicting the story in Pakistan is quite interesting, as it showcases the recruitment of child soldiers. The film is not just a romantic thriller, but a narrative that resonates with modern society.
For his directorial debut, Massey does a satisfactory job. Talking about his inspiration for Gardaab, the filmmaker tells DESIblitz:
“I had done a series of short films with children and for Gardaab, we wanted to do something around child soldiers. Slowly with the producer, we brainstormed and it became a loose Romeo and Juliet adaptation, in the first act. It’s a fast-paced thriller.”
What is impressive about the film, is the fact that it has been made on a modest budget and shot within 17 days. The shooting takes place in several external and internal locations. The camera lenses capture the true essence of Karachi, which gives the audience a visceral feel of the vibrant city.
Despite the financial and time challenges, Massey exhibits several wonderful shots. One, in particular, is a scene where blood flows with the waves of the sea, demonstrating how the blood of young men will continue to flow if they are involved in crime and gang culture.
Gang culture is overly sensationalised in South Asian cinema. In comparison, Massey competently encapsulates the gritty and harsh reality of gang crimes within Pakistan – a side that has not been covered by many films.
What also works, to a major extent, are the performances.
Fawad Khan steps in as the enigmatic Shahbaz, who works as a mechanic and is governed by Fridaus (Khalid Ahmed). The character is well-developed and from the very first scene, the audience realises that something is amiss with Shahbaz. There are many layers to this character, who slowly unravels as the film unfolds.
Khan delivers a natural and convincing performance, whilst a bit more energy would have enhanced his performance.
Portraying the leading lady, is Amna Ilyas, our very own Juliet – known as Parveen.
Parveen is the daughter of Firdaus’ rival, Abdullah Jaan (Arif Hassan), who (like the traditional character of Juliet) is daring and unconventional.
Ilyas is impressive as Parveen. She has an irresistible charm in the movie and delivers her role with gusto. Both Khan and Ilyas’ chemistry engages the audience.
As well as the two leading actors, a special mention goes to Mohammed Javed, who essays the role of Akmal. Despite not being a professional, Javed’s performance is one you cannot take your eyes off. Watch out for him in this film, as his character is pivotal for the narrative.
In addition to the performances, the ending with shock and surprise you, particularly for a film that is a loose adaptation of a well-known Shakespearean play.
On the other hand, there are a couple of flaws. A major let down is its snail-moving pace. Considering that Gardaab promises to be a nail-biting thriller, the audience certainly expects the narrative to keep them on the edge of their seats. Sadly, this does not happen. The script and screenplay could have been much tighter.
Also, the lighting, camerawork and colour could have been better. There are many instances where the camera shakes on zoomed-in shots. However, considering that the film was made on a small budget and in a short duration, the film is a decent attempt.
Overall, Gardaab is a decent endeavour of adapting Romeo and Juliet amidst the gang culture in Karachi. Not only is the film eye-opening, but also proves that money is not everything in filmmaking. Massey proves that an interesting narrative can instigate a ‘whirlpool’ of emotions.
Find out what else is in store at LIFF and the Birmingham Indian Film Festival here.