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Despite its important subject matter, Verna is a missed opportunity

Despite its important subject matter, Verna is a missed opportunity

After a wait of almost six years and a week-long ban by the Pakistan Film Censor Board, Shoaib Mansoor’s controversy-addled Verna has released in cinemas across the country.

Shoaib Mansoor has donned a lot many hats in the movie. The protagonist in the movie is difficult to decide. Is it the producer, director, writer, lyricist and music composer Shoaib Mansoor or the female lead Mahira Khan?

Verna follows a newlywed couple, Sara (Mahira Khan) and Aami (Haroon Rashid) living in Islamabad.

The couple and Aami’s little sister are planning on heading to Hunza on holiday but end up on a picnic in F-9 park, where the audience is treated to a musical number that ends with a black Land Cruiser inching its way towards the group.

Two shalwar kameez clad men disembark and slash the tyres of Aami’s car, before holding them at gunpoint and asking Aami to choose between his wife and sister. Sara, however, makes the decision for him and offers herself in place of her sister-in-law, and the siblings are told that Sara will be returned to them in three days alive, if the police are not contacted.

When Sara does return, presumably after being raped by the captors, Mansoor focuses on her quest for revenge, and she is shown meeting with a lawyer, played by Iram Rehman.

The film is riddled with lengthy depictions and monologues, and Mansoor chooses unconventional methods of exploring the trauma of sexual assault. In one instance, Aami - not Sara - is shown visiting a psychiatrist, keeping his face partly hidden and seeking therapy.

There are also some inconsistencies. Take, for example, Sara’s parents, who despite being professors manage to live in an ostentatious mansion.

The latter half of the film explains the motive behind Sara’s abduction and assault, and reveals the identity of the rapist.

In a flashback, Sara is seen with her family stuck in traffic because the region’s governor is arriving at a school. Amid heavy security, Sara publicly criticises the governor for the inconvenience, before returning to her own car.

When Sara visits her attacker, at the advice of her lawyer, the rapist is revealed to be the governor’s son – played brilliantly by Zarrar Khan – who tells her she was assaulted as punishment.

As far as subject matter is concerned, Verna is a success. The film brings to light the darkness in Pakistani society, whether it be the actions of the government or its functionaries, the police and the judicial system, and above all, patriarchy.

But as a film Verna is the result of Shoaib Mansoor’s failed attempt to be a master of all traits, depriving viewers of, among other missed opportunities, better music and a sharper script.

Getting singers to act hasn’t been a good experience for Mansoor. It was not Khuda Kay Leya that made Fawad Khan an overnight sensation nor was it Bol which got Atif Aslam film offers.

Same is the case with debutant Haroon Shahid. Although Mahira Khan’s Sara is powerfully acted, she is let down by the lack of an equally powerful and experienced co-star, with Haroon Shahid giving a comparatively weaker performance.

Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2017

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