Shoaib Mansoor spoofs the art of filmmaking, in turn trashing what was perhaps societally the most critical of his three feature films
‘Amidst all the shambles on the quest that the film takes upon itself – women’s rights – Verna’s biggest problem is that it can’t decide what it wants to be. And for a film that centers around rape, that is cinematic masochism.’
Making a film on the subject of rape in a country that ranks second from bottom in the Global Gender Gap index requires certain nous and volumes of prudence. Thankfully, Shoaib Mansoor is no stranger to making films on sensitive topics. Unfortunately, in Verna, however he spoofs the art of filmmaking, in turn trashing what was perhaps societally the most critical of his three feature films.
As demanding a task piecing together a film on rape would be, critiquing it also needs a certain level of judiciousness. For, one wouldn’t want to appear to be unsympathetic to subject as gruesomely pertinent as violence against women. But in Verna, whose only pre-release selling point was Mahira Khan and the one-day ban slapped by the Punjab censor board, Shoaib Mansoor makes that particular task easier.
Without giving any spoilers to those who haven’t seen the film yet – for, one would still encourage the filmgoers to give it a watch, as an archetype on how not to make a film on this subject, if nothing else – the basic premise of storyline is a rape survivor’s quest for justice amidst multi-pronged inertia ranging from her own parents trying to silence her, her husband deciding to play the victim himself, and of course the infinite societal ‘norms’.
‘There could be one last explanation for Verna: that it is actually satire on filmmaking. Why else would the film decide to make a mockery of a polio victim in the story of a rape victim – and why else would Islamabad have a governor?’
On the subject of rape, the film evidently intends to be on the right side of history. It categorically dismisses victim-blaming that claims that a woman’s choice of clothing contributes to rape. It also calls out the mullahs who not only espouse similar and other misogynistic norms, playing the Islam card, and questions the clergy of the prevalent rapes of young boys in madrassas. Similarly, by depicting the wife punching the husband in return after he had slapped her, it also takes a clear position on domestic violence prevalent in Pakistan.
But at the same time it paradoxically manages to reinforce the idea of ‘honour’ by the ridiculous depiction of a crucial rape evidence not being presented in court. It also manages to uphold regressive ideals with regards to divorce, considering that not only does it not happen with a man who according to a scene ‘did not deserve his wife’ and is ‘just like the rapist himself’, the protagonist also decides to live happily ever after with the same man.
What this actually did was make the female lawyer fighting the rape survivor’s case actually appear as though she unnecessarily wanted to split the couple. Talk about fueling female stereotypes! Scratch that. Talk about fueling female lawyer stereotypes!
Amidst all the shambles on the quest that the film takes upon itself – women’s rights – Verna’s biggest problem is that it can’t decide what it wants to be. And for a film that centers around rape, that is cinematic masochism.
For, while it might pose – both in trailers and at least one half of the movie – as a commentary on the regressive attitudes towards violence against women, it then decides to don other genres as well. Among these are thriller, political drama, and one that Shoaib Mansoor seems to have mastered with his two latest releases: admixture (of plots and issues none of which are remotely addressed with conviction and/or consistency).
The addition of the political drama not only looks forced, it is handled with such crudeness and naïveté that conspiracy theorists would have a ball. Either that, or Shoaib Mansoor would announce that he’s joining the PTI in the very near future.
Ironically, Verna could’ve worked well as a thriller; for the last ten minutes – minus the propaganda laden final scene – carried the most potential. In reinforcing the antediluvian concept of justice for rape, the film actually manages to come up with ingenious – even if outrageous – ideas, which could’ve sent a chill or two down one’s spine if they hadn’t had to endure the previous two hours of nothingness.
The actors, however, should be particularly grateful that the script and screenplay were a disaster, for it shrouded just how ordinary the level of acting was – including Mahira Khan, who shows a glimmer of ability here and there, but largely lets down perhaps one of the strongest female lead roles written in Pakistani cinema.
However, there could be one last explanation for Verna: that it is actually satire on filmmaking. Why else would the film decide to make a mockery of a polio victim in the story of a rape victim – and why else would Islamabad have a governor?