There is a line — and not one which is thin, or fine — between being glamorous and coquettish. Unfortunately, it has all been erased in Arth — the Destination
About halfway through Arth – the Destination, Humaima Malik screams, “I am not a whore.” It is difficult to believe the actor and not because her character is written like that of a harlot or because she delivers a convincing performance as one; it is so because of her personal style, clothes and mannerisms along with the manner in which the film presents her, screams “whore!”
There is a line – and not one which is thin, or fine – between being glamorous and coquettish. Unfortunately, it has all been erased in Arth – the Destination. From the moment Malik alights a Rolls Royce in slow motion to her final scene in the movie, there is not one instance where she embodies the style and elegance that her character sorely needs. Hers is an embarrassingly trampy, decidedly unsightly and utterly crude presence in Arth – the Destination.
The film, of course, has no time for Humaima Malik or for any other actor, for that matter. The film is writer, director, co-producer and actor Shaan Shahid’s panegyric ode to himself. Granted that, for someone pushing 50, Shahid looks good and can be charming on screen, his vanity gets the better of him in Arth – the Destination. He accords himself more screen time than all of his co-actors combined, uses the camera to celebrate what he believes is his own great cinematic persona, shortchanges the performances of his costars to highlight his own and delivers a flat, uneven performance that is at once boring and tiresome. Shahid’s unbridled narcissism renders Arth – the Destination – a film with a huge number of intrinsic problems of its own – a distasteful, overdone vanity project.
Uzma (Uzma Hassan) is an aspiring writer, who delves into English prose and Urdu poetry. She is married to Umar (Mohib Mirza) who makes what seems to be soft-porn Urdu films and cheats on his wife with his leading lady Humaima (Humaima Malik). The couple is childless. Uzma is fond of the music of Ali (Shaan Shahid), a singer past his prime, leading a lazy, resigned life. Ali has a lot of bitterness, no drive, and determination, and scant if any, musical talent. As Uzma’s married life unravels, she develops a close friendship with Ali. The friends provide comfort, companionship and career counseling to each other, and in a matter of a few poorly cut scenes, work wonders to make each other’s lives incredibly successful. A few half-hearted plot twists later, the two find themselves in love with each other, mainly because Arth – the Destination does not believe that a platonic friendship can exist between a man and a woman.
For a film about adult relationships, Arth – the Destination features none that are believable, interesting or even probable. There is no spark between Uzma and Ali. The camera is too busy swooning over the film’s hero to allow his romantic relationship with the heroine to ever come alive. Umar’s initial interest in Humaima is as inexplicable as his eventual revulsion. His interest in looking cool outdoes his love for Humaima, leaving the romance incredibly tepid and lifeless.
The interest in “looking cool” is not limited to Mohib Mirza. Shaan Shahid’s Arth – the Destination is obsessed with appearing cool, classy and stylish. The film’s characters speak poor English in fake accents. They dress up like mannequins. They disrobe as often as they can. They curse a whole lot. They smoke continuously and drink like fish. They rarely speak Urdu. None of these, however, make any of them look cool and only serve to make them appear clueless, vulgar and desperate. Very desperate, to be precise. Shaan Shahid does not understand that effortlessness goes hand in hand with being cool. Failure is certain when one has to make huge efforts in the desire to be cool. And, Arth – the Destination is decidedly uncool.
Arth – the Destination is a remake of 1982 Indian film Arth. The critically acclaimed original film featured a taut screenplay, an intelligent take on modern-day relationships and seriously good performances by Smita Patel, Shabana Azmi, and Rohini Hattangadi. The remake was done with the permission of Mahesh Bhatt, the director of the original film, who gave Shaan Shahid “complete freedom to reinterpret [Arth] however he wished.” Shaan, it seems, took the permission to be a license to kill. In making Arth – the Destination, he took the original story and removed nuance, continuity, and plausibility from it, eliminated a key character and added a few unnecessary ones, made the characters dull and uninteresting, placed inordinate focus on his own character and completely muddled the narrative. His screenplay, quite like the poetry of the character Uzma, lacks cadence, rhythm, and flow and is replete with errors of both form and structure.
“For someone pushing 50, Shahid looks good and can be charming on screen, his vanity gets the better of him in Arth — the Destination. He accords himself more screen time than all of his co-actors combined, uses the camera to celebrate what he believes is his own great cinematic persona, shortchanges the performances of his co-stars to highlight his own and delivers a flat, uneven performance that is at once boring and tiresome”
The screenplay is but one of the many problems of Arth – the Destination. Jiggling cinematography, awkward scene framing, juddering camera movement, haphazard editing, black frames and razor remnants, too many jump cuts, overexposure and other dynamic range problems, poor sound and a lot of flaws make Arth – the Destination the disaster that it truly is.
An unforgivable sin of the film is not providing the very talented Uzma Hassan a vehicle to properly demonstrate her considerable histrionic talents. Hassan does not let the poorly written character of Uzma stop her from delivering a sterling performance. The female actor is a confident, resourceful and intelligent woman and lights up the screen whenever she appears in the film. That her character lacks coherence, depth and complexity are sad. Hassan deserves a much, much better film than Arth – the Destination to showcase her prodigious talents as an actor.
A charismatic and handsome actor, Mohib Mirza looks and acts like a mannequin in Arth – the Destination. The otherwise beautiful Humaima is outrageously and completely campy as a schizophrenic film actor. It is, however, unfair to blame actors for poor performances in a film that works against them and does not afford any opportunities to act well. Shaan, for all his love for himself, does not even allow his own character to develop fully. His Ali is a one-dimensional, confused, bored middle-aged man and certainly not the hero one looks for in a Pakistani film. As a writer and director, Shaan does not have any talent, whatsoever, and if one were to judge him on the basis of Arth – the Destination, none as an actor either.
Arth – the Destination has a total of fourteen 14 songs, all composed by Sahir Ali Bagga. Played end to end they add up to almost a full hour of music. This would be good because it would save audiences the pain of listening to the film’s trite, pretentious dialogs, except that it is not. Only two of the 14 songs – Ronay De by Sahir Ali Bagga and Sanwaar De Khudaya by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan – are good. The others rate between mediocre and really bad and do not provide much-needed relief from the tedium of a truly horrendous script.
Ally Adnan lives in Dallas and writes about culture, history and the arts. He tweets @allyadnan and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally Published in Daily Times.