Boasting a star cast of Mohib Mirza, Sanam Saeed, Sara Loren, Shamoon Abbasi and HSY, Ishrat: Made in China is clearly a passion project. The film is Mohib Mirza’s debut as a writer, producer and director (and it shows). There's lots of colour, comedy and cool cameos along the way.
The story traces the journey of Ishrat (Mohib Mirza), a university student from Karachi who is a donkey cart racing champion but is aloser in pretty much every other aspect of his life. The object of hisaffection is Akhtar (Sanam Saeed) who is a bit frustrated with his lack of commitment. Ishrat is presented with the opportunity to turn his life around , in China. What follows is a comedy, rather, a tragedy of errors that mostly left me baffled.
The return of Sara Loren was a pleasant surprise. She remains a fairly decent actress and has sufficient sexual appeal to keep the audience ‘engaged.’ She plays the role of a Chinese martial artist - Jia - who helps Ishrat. While her wardrobe could have done more for her, she still managed to carve out decent screen presence for herself, which is more than I could say for the female lead.
Veteran actors Shabbir Jan and Laila Wasti have small roles in the movie but their experience shines through. Jan plays the erratic father of Sanam Saeed’s character while Laila Wasti is the decked up, college official. I also did enjoy the cameos by Faiza Saleem and Waqar Zaka.
Some points may also be awarded for bringing attention to an indigenous sport that needs more attention and support.
Visually, the movie appears more like a telco advertisement, with an elaborate street ‘set' and rich colors, complete with taglines. In fact, the entire script seems like a series of catchphrases, buzzwords and popular slang strung together to create moments, instead of a narrative structure. The beautiful and otherwise talented lead actors, Mohib Mirza and Sanam Saeed fail to deliver a nuanced performance. While the argument may be that an action-comedy does not need such a performance, but it was a bit disappointing to see the two of them deliver such flat, one dimensional performances. HSY's role is one of an evil genius martial artist, but the fact remained he could not even land a straight kick and/or jump. He looked great though.
The story arc was flimsy and none of the characters really fleshed out for the audience to be rooting for.
Representation counts. And while I may sound a bit sanctimonious, it did seem a bit off that that it was just poor make up that was used to convert Pakistani actors into Chinese characters. How on Earth is one supposed to believe that HSY is Chinese? A complete suspension of disbelief.
It was almost embarrassing to see such stalwarts reduce themselves to caricatures of what these characters could have been. The lack of flow in the plot left more than holes in my understanding of the story. But there is a lot of room for this desi-cheeky-comic genre to grow.
Here's to more exploration and experimentation in the film industry but also a better understanding of technical codes, narrative structures and audience engagement.