Khel Khel Mein: The perfect curtain-raiser for Lollywood

Looking for drama, music, action, humour and sentiments? The film presents a blend of all


By Farheen Abdullah

KARACHI: Truth be told, not many of us have had pleasant experiences with local cinema in the last few years. From watching a limited set of faces on the big screen to listening to the same slapstick comedy, we have seen Lollywood struggle to stay afloat. Minus a few, Pakistani movies were more of a source of torture rather than entertainment. So when cinemas shut down due to the pandemic, local cinema-goers did not miss out on much. Fast forward a full year and a half later, Nabeel Qureshi announced that his movie Khel Khel Mein was going to be the first Lollywood production to hit cinemas since the pandemic. Given the topic at hand, we wondered whether Khel Khel Mein was going to be a risk worth taking. After its release on November 19, the risk seems to have paid off.

 

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To address the elephant in the room, the creators of Khel Khel Mein hit the nail on the head with its casting. Sajal Aly and Bilal Abbas Khan not only have a huge fanbase, the two are also incredible actors. Aly’s features allow her to blend in as a university-student with perfect ease and as audiences, we cannot complain about her playing a younger role yet again. Khan, on the other hand, proves just how versatile he is as an actor and man, can he bust a move or two as well!

But what is so refreshing about the cast is that most of the supporting roles are performed by new actors. Of course, we see a few familiar faces in the form of older characters but the group of students featured in the movie are actually young artists who look and play their parts perfectly. Perhaps the only oversight to have happened with the casting is that Noorie (played by Reham Rafiq) with her streaked hair and rock-and-roll attitude is supposed to be an American Pakistani, yet her accent does not seem foreign at all. Rafiq meets all other expectations, as do the rest of her costars.

 

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Speaking of casting, Ali Zafar’s cameo in the movie is a little uncomfortable. Given that his role is a rather brief and generic one, anyone could have played it and so particularly choosing Zafar for the role is confusing. So for those who are not fans of Zafar, the film starts off on the wrong foot. The other cameo appearance, however, is a different ball game. Sheheryar Munawar plays a younger Manzar Sehbai (Sajal Aly’s grandfather) and beautifully captures the horror, fear, and shock of the detainees of the 1971 war.

 

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However, what makes Khel Khel Mein a film worth watching is not its cast. Watching local dramas, we know what our actors are capable of and just how much talent Pakistan has. What truly sells Khel Khel Mein to audiences is how inclusive it is in terms of its target audience. Sitting in the cinema, one is able to spot families, young couples, friends and even senior citizens. The first half of the film has a very young feel to it. With vibrant colours, modern wardrobes and carefree attitudes, the film feels almost too young in the beginning. It cannot be denied that certain aspects of the first half of the movie remind viewers of Bollywood productions. “It is partially Main Hoon Na and partially Rang De Basanti,” was something overheard at the cinema during the interval.

But as the plot progresses, the tempo of the movie slows down, the characters become more mature and settled while the issue at hand, the war of 1971, is approached. It is in the second half of the film that viewers completely forget about the Bollywood references as the creators of the film proceed towards handling a sensitive topic and present it to audiences in a way that is not too in depth yet fresh.

Nabeel Qureshi aces the direction with the play that the students put up together. With cinema and theatre being two completely different mediums of displaying art, it is amazing to see Qureshi nail both art forms. Even while watching the film on the big screen, viewers are able to enjoy the feel and magic of theatre. The closing performance is a visual treat. From the props used on stage to the minimalistic wardrobe, the impactful choreography and the use of graphics, the play is phenomenal. Bilal Abbas Khan, specially, stands out in the routine as he swiftly switches between grim and pleasant moods and wardrobes.

This is not to say that the direction is flawless or that the attention to detail is spot on. In an almost humorous turn of events, people of Karachi, and specially students of IBA, can spot the library and foyer of the main campus in what the team of Khel Khel Mein wants viewers to believe is the Dhaka airport. Whether it was a convenience-based decision or something that was restricted by the ongoing pandemic is what the team would know.

While Khel Khel Mein aces the music department as well, with tracks such as ‘Nayi Soch’ specially attracting viewers, songs like ‘Hum Laye Hain Toofan Se’ add little value to the storyline. In fact, the video only captures the group of friends staring into space every few minutes during their road trip. The shot is repeated to the extent that it becomes funny.

Another room for improvement can be found in the narrative of the movie. While the storyline sets out to break beliefs that are decades old and present a new narrative to the Pakistan-Bangladesh relationship, Khel Khel Mein puts almost all of the blame on India. Though done in a light manner, the narrative reiterates the belief that India is the ‘bad guy’ and our biggest enemy. With Nabeel Qureshi and co setting out to challenge stereotypes and typical ideologies, why couldn’t have India been cut some slack as well?

Inspite of the few glitches that can be spotted in Khel Khel Mein, the film has not made any mistakes that are unforgivable. To be able to unite audiences not just with its narrative but with its ability to cater to younger and older viewers, Khel Khel Mein is finally a movie that one can watch with family and perhaps even watch more than once.

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