Diva Review: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
At a time when the Pakistani film industry is actively seeing a slump in the release of films, there are a few filmmakers out there who are braving the storm and putting out stories for the silver screen. However, despite even the best of efforts, only a few seem to make their mark on the audiences, who still are finding it hard to come back in droves to the cinemas.
This year, however, there seems to be one film and one filmmaker who are proving their potential to bring about a change in the trend, and that’s director Umair Nasir Ali and his film, Nayab.
Featuring Pakistani television industry’s current reigning superstar, Yumna Zaidi in her debut, the movie produced by Kenny’s Films and Num Films is an exploration of unfulfilled dreams, societal norms, and deep down, the bonds in our lives that help us continue in a world that is both harsh and unforgiving. The eponymous character, Nayab’s story is such too.
With dreams of becoming a cricketer who will one day get to beat India for the trophy, Nayab (Yumna Zaidi), lives in a household that rarely understands her dream – save, her brother. Her parents, played by Huma Nawab and Jawed Sheikh, are any run-of-the-mill pair who have a society to ‘answer to,’ while her elder sister lives a marital life of luxury in Dubai. Her brother, played brilliantly by theatre actor Fawad Khan, and dotingly known as Akka in the film, is the one true saviour.
Fueled by his own failure of becoming a national level cricketer, he continues to support Nayab in a dream to one day reach the heights he now only dreams of in the face of harsh realities, crippling finances, and a family that he has to solely sustain. Sometimes if that even means sacrificing the needs of his own kin and wife.
The film, in the way it executes all of this – at least in the first half, is quite strong. The narrative builds slowly and everything takes its right time to reach the level where it has to. Even the complementing ‘love angle’ between Nayab and her supportive football-playing-cum-entrepreneur minded boyfriend Zain (played by Usama Khan) adds a fresh vibe to the film. Their pairing too, surprisingly works rather well, as both the actors have a palpable chemistry on screen.
However, Nayab seems to be more than just the right things done, it seems. The story, in which cricket in Pakistan, and its troubled state seem to be shown as the forefront plotline, are quickly entwined into a web of different narratives taking the film elsewhere. On one side, the film continues to track the eponymous character and how her training takes her on a perilous journey of its own, the story side tracks into a melodrama involving family matters and everything in between.
The film, in short, starts off with such a strong footing where apart from the strong narrative, everything from the palpable energy of Karachi – captured beautifully by cinematographer Shahjee Hassan – to the art direction and sets – made to come to life by Nouman Akhter – had been done up to perfection. It almost felt too real at points – which in a filmmaker’s world, is nothing short of a good compliment.
Unfortunately, the film does have its own set of problems.
Starting off post-intermission, Nayab finds itself in some manageable trappings. It almost goes into an overdrive, where just about everything happens in the film – without having enough time to flesh out the story. Which goes to say a lot, given that the film already has an above-average runtime.
The film, which had already established strong nuanced family ties in the narrative before the intermission, seems to rely even more on it in the latter. This, instead of giving it a fresher approach, turns into a melodramatic saga. Without giving any spoilers, the fact that Nayab goes into the depths of emotional heaviness, really does affect the audiences.
Due to this, the film, which up until that point had a quite effectively grasped the story of Nayab and her goal to become one of Pakistan’s top sportspeople, becomes weaker in its story telling. Perhaps, effective editing to reduce the film’s runtime, along with minimizing the reliance on additional songs and patriotic lingo, would have made the story much crisper.
That said, the film is nowhere a bad attempt. Nayab even with its shortcomings, is a strong story that was needed to be told.
Amidst the number of films and series released on sports in Pakistan, Nayab comes off as a strong contender for a story that is not banal. It explores how a goal could be connected to a number of narratives that are beyond just the world of cricket. Most importantly, it succeeds in humanizing the character instead of just caricaturizing them. Be it Yumna Zaidi as Nayab, Usama Khan as Zain or Fawad Khan as Akka, all the leading characters have been a given character development which one could resonate with.
All in all, Nayab holds its ground, looks like a film, and breathes life into a narrative that has all the potential to inspire men and women alike to work for their goals. If there’s a film that could do all of this in Pakistan, and make the audiences root for the underdog, that’s more than half the work done. And for that, the film must be watched and appreciated.