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Balu Mahi, The film proves Pakistan can’t stomach love without marriage

In Balu Mahi, we see the blooming of an accidental love. Balu (Osman Khalid Butt) crashes the wrong wedding and professes his undying love to the wrong bride, that is, Mahi (Ainy Jaffri Rahman, while she’s hidden under a ghoonghat). Mahi isn’t too keen on her husband-to-be (or marriage at all, for that matter), but she runs away with him anyway. So starts the adventure of Balu Mahi — a long-winded, two-part journey that takes the duo through old Lahore and beyond with Mahi’s family of quasi-goons in hot pursuit.

The adventure stretches over two and a half hours, during which we see some song and dance sequences, a fair number of LOL moments and lots of pretty shots of Pakistan. All the while, the film’s message about women’s rights is intermittently hammered into the script. The film, thus, tries to balance Balu and Mahi’s role as its didactic mouthpieces with the more fun parts of the narrative, making it fairly solid commercial fare. But it drops the ball at a few places — and quite noticeably so, which mars our overall enjoyment of the film.

It has to be said that Balu Mahi owes its success to good casting. Both Osman and Ainy did justice to their main roles. They look good; they dance well and portray their respective roles with honesty. And they made us happy that the filmmakers took a chance on this firsttime couple. But at times, Osman and Ainy are beleaguered by unnatural dialogue, for which their performance suffers. A lot of eyes were on Sadaf Kanwal, who makes a confident debut as the seductive Sharmeen. Her performance is mostly consistent and she thankfully saves us from cringing through the racier parts of the film.

Balu Mahi is a rom-com with some dark, dramatic moments, but perhaps it could be better described and digested as a fantasy film. I say this because within the context of the fantasy genre, a lot of the director Haissam Hussain and writer Saad Azhar’s liberties with the real world would be acceptable. Otherwise, some events are too implausible, even for our state of suspended disbelief. While we can stomach the script’s many departures from reality like a bride charging out of her wedding venue on a horse or her impromptu casting in a dance sequence, for example; it’s too much to expect the audience to disregard facts as glaringly obvious as the human anatomy.

This occasional laxness in the script is likely to exasperate the viewer. No one expects realism from a rom-com, but the script shouldn’t assume the viewer is well, stupid. We get it. Audiences love a happy ending and those don’t happen without a spouse in the bag in the Pakistani imagination. So, in a crowd-pleasing move, Balu Mahi ends quite predictably — with a declaration of love and shaadi plans. No points for guessing who’s the happy couple. We can’t fault the filmmakers for wanting to meet audience expectations, but we have to ask: Can Pakistan not deal with love without marriage? Why does (almost) every love story culminate in a wedding? Is it really too early to expect a writer to flip conventions? Can we have a rom-com where two people don’t end up in love… or fall out of love… or love each other, but don’t marry? Is it too soon to take that risk?

Courtesy: Mehreen Hassan

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