There was a time in our cinema when we had to tolerate a lot of illogical absurdities, unimpressive storylines, impossible character arcs and – for lack of a more fitting term – sheer nonsense, simply because we did not have more choices. This was what was being produced, and this was what we were being forced to consume. But not anymore. Those days are behind us, and although there is a lot of distance to cover, we have set out on the path of good, content-driven films. Precisely why, once in a while, when a movie harks back to those dark days, it needs to be called out for what it is, lest we regress, lest we fall behind, and lest we try to take the easier, glossier, and more convenient path. Director Shagufta Rafique’s debut feature film Mon Jaane Na poses exactly that threat.
The film’s ‘story’ – if it can be called that, in the first place – has a somewhat Taxi Driver-ish feeling to it. Yes, I refer to the film by Scorsese here. Why, there’s even a scene in which the entire Scorsese cameo from Taxi Driver is replicated – just for the sake of it, making no discernible difference to the storyline! Anyway, here’s the story. Amir is a taxi-driver who moonlights as a hitman for a mafia boss named Murad. One fine day, Amir feels lonely, and decides to get married. His new wife – Pari – is a simple, bubbly girl. She is not aware of the dark side of her husband’s life, until one day, things turn ugly, and Amir’s sins catch up with him.
Along with the obvious inspiration that I have already spoken about, the entire film has a very Bhatt-camp feel to it too. And it’s easy to see why. Rafique herself has written some of the Bhatts’ most famous films. Untimely songs, illogical plots, violins playing in the background as hitmen suddenly spring a conscience, glammed up heroines, and – let’s not deny it – premise after premise directly lifted from foreign films. These are but natural traits to find in most of these films. Why should Mon Jaane Na be any different?
How many times have we had to take moral science lessons from hardcore criminals who do not bat an eyelid before pulling the trigger? How many times have we seen a gangster struggling to step out of the shadow of a mob boss who has literally ‘picked him up from the streets and put a gun in his hand’? How many times have we seen a sweet, charming and innocent girl falling prey to the protagonist’s criminal ways – changing him for the better in the process? Surely, there are other stories to be told? And surely, we are capable of telling those stories? Just look around.
It is not merely the lack of originality that bothered me. Even the execution is terrible. Consider, for instance, the notion of cinematic pace. I don’t remember the last time I had seen a film which had managed to mess up its pace so royally. Like a student who wastes an unreasonable amount of time to write answers to the first few questions in his exam, and then panics to find that there is no time left to finish the rest, Mon Jaane Na too has an unnecessarily long first and second act, resulting in a climax so rushed that it almost felt like everyone in the film just wanted to say goodbye and go home.
Among the bevy of actors who hem, haw and muhaha, perhaps the only semblance of sincerity can be found in Mimi Chakraborty, who despite everything else that is happening around her tries her best to make some sense. Her scenes in the second half of the film bring some respite from the unabashed overconfidence that we are subjected to. The rest of it is all a colossal waste of time, and not even worth writing about.
I sincerely urge writers and filmmakers to sit up and take stock of the situation around them. Times have changed. There are beautiful stories being told. We have learnt to marry good content with commerce. And it’s working. It took time, but we are making steady, undeniable progress. When all of this is happening, what film do you want to make? What film do you have the responsibility to make? One that guides us forward? Or one that takes us back? Well, at the end of it, all I can say is – join the march, or be left behind.