Amidst what seemed like eons’ worth of a gamut that ran from mediocrity to downright tripe, all in the name of the Pakistani film industry’s ‘revival’, one would have to be careful while billing Asim Abbasi’s Cake.
For, considering the aforementioned mundane-fest, one’s knee might well have the propensity to jerk with more intensity, considering the involuntary reflex action that watching any half decent local film would naturally cause – especially after what the industry has served in the past 15 months, if not the past decade in its entirety.
Yes, some of us have talked up certain films, even those that we couldn’t quite sit through till the credits came, and yes, not all of us were paid by the producers or the media partners to do so. There has been genuine effort from one and all to ensure that the ‘revival’ tag comes to fruition by doing their best to encourage the film goers to take the leap of faith – one and all, barring almost every filmmaker, that is.
But Cake has come out of an oven that one didn’t even know existed in Pakistan. It’s a product that is so far ahead of anything – and this includes Shaan’s warmongering, Shoaib Mansoor’s social commentary and Nadeem Beyg’s Bollywood-esque entertainers – witnessed in a Pakistani film, that it necessitates a completely different yardstick.
Even so, what is undoubtedly the strength of the movie, is also its Achilles’ heel. For, the local audience – even the revival flag-bearers – need the guns/gandassas or slapstick humour, and can’t possibly imagine a film that does not have a tub-thumping soundtrack. They probably aren’t ready for a realistic family drama that does not move at the speed of Usain Bolt and serves technical prowess that we’ve never had to witness, let alone muster the nous to appreciate.
But for those with a fraction of that nous, Cake is a masterpiece that merges the cinematic experience of European avant-garde filmmaking, with your everyday life, to produce a family drama that isn’t loud and overly melodramatic, but oozes with every ounce of emotion that most of us experience, regardless of our family dynamics and our commonalities with the characters – at least not commercially ready enough.
A project like Cake would’ve left egg on everyone’s faces had it not had a half-decent star cast. What the film does in fact have is a stellar lineup, almost every one of whom has given their best and nailed whatever was asked of them to do.
At the forefront of that depiction are the two leads, Aamina Sheikh and Sanam Saeed, the sisters whose relationship is at the heart of this family drama, where ties are spread out like webs, with the binding forces varying and the resentments moving in synchrony, in a bid to sift the cobwebs from within.
And in this regard, Beo Raana Zafar and Mohammed Ahmed as the parents are uniquely refreshing and bring forth steady acting performances that match the characters that they’re designed to play.
While the two female leads are the film’s soul, Adnan Malik as the family friend and confidante, who serves the ill father as his nurse, is absolutely top-drawer as well. Faris Khalid as the third sibling – the eldest brother, and uncharacteristically for a South Asian movie, the least involved eldest brother – does what is required of him. And so does Mikaal Zulfiqar in his brief cameo.
Those that felt that Cake has shades of Kapoor & Sons after watching the trailer, would feel vindicated after watching the film in its entirety. But while there are similarities, let’s not mistake Cake for an inspired film, let alone a counterfeit, of that or any film.
The film’s technical dexterity was epitomized by a 10-minute one shot approaching the climax, which condenses Cake’s brilliance in a single scene, where both the storyline, the pent up emotions of the characters, the razor-sharp camerawork and the eye of the needle direction, all begin to converge and unravel in unison.
Cake’s portrayal of strong women is absolutely unlike what South Asian cinema has been showcasing them as for decades, and significantly punchier than even the half-baked feminist portrayals of recent years. Not only are they independent, and absolutely kick-butt, they do not carry the perpetual victim cards on their sleeves.
Yes, the storyline has given them the class privilege that most of us won’t be able to relate to, but their squashing of gender stereotypes does not emanate from the economic wherewithal and more so from an upbringing and self-learning that forms the ethos of the family.
Just like women empowerment, religious pluralism is meticulously woven in the narrative and not shoved in. That is what makes Adnan Malik’s role as a Catholic male nurse veritably challenging, which he does complete justice to.
Hence, while there is subtle mastery in the manner in which Cake addresses societal problems and taboos, what the film exhibits is a wide array of relationships and the average human dealing with their intricacies.
Every one of us has, at the very least, something that they can relate to in the many complexities of human emotions and familial experiences that Cake that deals with. That is but one of the reason why anyone with any remote interest in visual – or audio – arts absolutely needs to go and watch the film, if you haven’t already.
What definitely isn’t a reason to watch it, is the fact that we owe anything to the film industry’s revival. For, Cake merits a viewing one hundred percent, without the ‘for a Pakistani film’ qualifier.