Cooking Up Drama
Pakistani film, Cake, was streamed recently to an appreciative audience. The Asim Abbasi film, was released in the UK, and was the country’s entry for the Academy Awards.
TV serials from Pakistan have been popular across the Urdu-Hindi speaking world, but hardly any film crosses the border, and those that do (pirated) are usually shoddy copies of Bollywood films—though Bollywood is known to filch their music. Some of the better films—like Khuda Ke Liye or Khamosh Pani— have been screened at festivals, but now even that channel seems to be blocked.
Cake takes Pakistani cinema up a few notches and presents a picture of the country that is modern and sophisticated. Set in the well-appointed home of a wealthy landowning family, the film tells the story of two thirty-something sisters Zareen (Aamina Sheikh) and Zara (Sanam Saeed), single and independent. Their married brother Zain (Faris Khalid) lives in the US with his wife and son.
While Zara has a finance career in London, Zareen dutifully looks after her elderly parents in Karachi and manages the family estate, having given up her own dream of being a baker. She is unhappily caught in the ‘middle child’ syndrome, shouldering far more responsibility that should be expected of her alone. Zareen is in love with the strong-silent Romeo (Adnan Malik), but class difference—he is an employee’s son—keep them apart.
The father Siraj’s (Mohammad Ahmad) hospitalization brings Zara rushing to his and mother Habiba’s (Beo Raana Zafar) side; later Zain arrives too, but is just a bystander in the simmering hostility between the sisters. Romeo is around to look after Siraj, so there is another kind of tension in the air. Then, as Siraj recovers, Habiba falls ill and when all of them move to their farmhouse, long-buried skeleton come tumbling out.
The plot is soap opera-ish, what stands out is the very contemporary look. The home and farmhouse are lavish and beautifully done up. The women dress in western outfits, drink and smoke (a lot). The parents have a casual and flirty way of communicating—the mother addresses the father with the casual ‘tu’—and in a sweetly romantic scene, welcomes him back from hospital with a shower of flowers, the song Bahaaron phool barsao, mera mehboob aaya hai playing on the music system. (Songs from Hindi films make up the soundtrack along with original numbers).
More surprising is the friendly relationship between parents and daughters. They talk freely, hug and give each other pecks on the cheek or forehead. The father is not authoritarian or distant, though, it turns out, he has controlled his daughters’ destinies; ironically, in the process of trying to protect them.
The film is slow-paced and starts coming together only in the last thirty minutes or so; can’t say if a film like Cake would do well if (big if!) released in theatres in India, but on a TV screen, it is worth a look, mainly because it presents a picture of Pakistan that is quite different from the news that emerges from the country.