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There are good films that entertain, bad films that worsen mood and films that make you think about what you saw on the screen. Shamoon Abbasi’s directorial venture Durj falls in the last category as despite all the bad publicity, the initial ban, and delay in release, it makes you think no matter who you are. For young and upcoming directors, it is a movie that shows them the way forward, for the audience it is something they were missing and for Pakistani cinema, it is a step in the right direction.

The Plot

Prisoner Gul Bukhsh (Shamoon Abbasi) is accused of being a cannibal and is suspected of killing a few people, including a TV journalist named Daniyal. When Farah (Maira Khan) aids in Gul’s escape from high security prison and interrogates him in order to find her husband Daniyal and her colleague, the cannibal tells her what made him go against the norm, why he wants to be free again, and what’s his connection to Laali (Sherry Shah). Time is running out as Inspector Daud (Dodi Khan) and his team are on the case, searching for both Farah and Gul, before it’s too late.

The Good

It would be incorrect to say that Durj is Shamoon Abbasi’s finest work as an actor, director and writer. The film revolves around his character and even though he is playing a bad guy, you sympathize with his character, which is a huge deal considering we are not sympathetic people. The way he connects three different stories is nothing short of being admirable, with the twist in the end shocking all who thought that the film was about to end. His co-star Sherry Shah who got her head shaved to play Laali was equally impressive, exploding on the screen more times than Shamoon. Her character was the reason why he became a cannibal in the first place and their on-screen chemistry makes you believe that there was a reason behind the decision to eat human flesh. The locations where the film has been shot have hardly been filmed in Pakistan and are fresh for the local cinegoer who are accustomed to foreign locations. The background score is also good in patches; in the first half it does seem to overlap the performance but as the film progresses, it gets better and better.

The Bad

The film suffers from bad editing which is not the director’s mistake; certain scenes were chopped despite the film getting an Adult Rating otherwise the release wouldn’t have been possible. The film picks its pace after the first 15 minutes because, by that time, it looked no different from the many films released throughout the year. The only song in the movie seems a little forced but when you take a look at the lyrics of other films running in cinemas, you consider it better. The producer Dodi Khan who plays a cop in the film doesn’t get many lines but he impresses with his mannerisms and could be a good addition to cop films if they are made in Pakistan. Fans of Maira Khan would be disappointed because after Cheekh they expected her to give a better performance if not something as good. Her performance didn’t fell in the same league as other actors in the film except for singer-turned-actor Nouman Javaid whose acting needs a lot of training if he wants to make a career out of it.

The Verdict – Impressive

Durj is not your typical action thriller film, and that’s why it might not do well at the box office. However, it has provided a ray of hope to those film students who want to excel at other genres than romantic comedy; it has made audience worldwide aware that there are people in Pakistan who want to make good films; it has proved that you don’t need big budgets to make a profitable film and that profit doesn’t necessarily mean money. With his intelligent direction and superb portrayal of a man who became cannibal to escape death, Shamoon Abbasi must be commended. Not many actors shapeshift to look a character and Shamoon does that to play an older man who is angry at the world for rejecting him, and wants to get back in his own way. Sherry Shah also deserves a standing ovation for going against the norm and playing a leading lady without hair, and who balances Shamoon’s violent act with her subtle performance.  On the whole, the film will go down history as one that dared to change the course of filmmaking in Pakistan and who knows, in the future people might be giving examples of the film as something that helped them broaden their vision. If it manages to convince even one future director to change his direction, it would have played its part in the development of Pakistani films.

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