The one thing that Nabeel Qureshi’s Load Wedding gets right is the love story of Meeru (Mehwish Hayat) and Raja (Fahad Mustafa). It is told with genuine charm, a lot of heart, and truly endearing ingenuousness. The two actors have great chemistry, look great with each other, act well, and light up the screen whenever they appear together.
The story of a winsome young couple dealing with the demands of friends, family members and relatives, in a society where responsibilities, archaic customs and flawed notions of honour make life challenging, could, in fact should have made for a great film. Unfortunately, Load Wedding is not content with telling that story and takes on important social issues that it is not equipped to handle, examines them in the most superficial of manners, and carries the story to a conclusion that is patently ludicrous in its theatrics and staging.
Raja operates a small festive lighting store in the village of Narali. He is in love with Meeru, who works as a polio health worker. Raja wants to marry Meeru but his mother (Samina Ahmad) wants him to marry his elder sister Farhana (Faiza Hasan) first before settling down himself. However, a couple of twists and turns later, including a suicide attempt, she allows him to marry Meeru on the condition that he will continue to collect for his sister’s dowry.
The marriage does not sit well with Farhana who blames Meeru for her spinsterhood. Things change when Meeru wins big in a reality show, hosted by Ashiq Rafaqat (Fahim Khan), allowing Raja to use the prizes to lure a beau for his sister. Farhana finds a suitor shortly thereafter and the stage is set for a huge wedding. However, in another twist, the family loses everything and is unable to deliver the dowry they promised. At this point, Ashiq Rafaqat comes in to save the family but things do not go as planned and the film rushes towards a convenient finale, that is as absurd as it is preposterous.
Load Wedding is a combination of two entirely different films: one, a charming love story that the lead actors, writers and director are able to tell with conviction, authenticity and charm and, two, a film with a social message that the cast and crew of the film cannot handle. As a result, the film straddles the line between family melodrama and serious arthouse drama, failing to meet the demands of either genre. For all its strengths – deft direction, powerful central performances, good music, brilliant art direction, and first-rate cinematography – Load Wedding never finds its footing during its protracted run of one hundred and thirty-five minutes. The film wastes the talents of several capable people – most notably director Nabeel, actors Fahad Mustafa and Qaisar Piya, and music composer Shani Arshad – and ends up being untidy, fragmented and muddled.
The two leads, namely Mehwish and Fahad, turn in refreshingly earnest performances, as the principal romantic characters of Load Wedding. Unlike other actors in the film, they carry the weight of a fake – and very annoying – Lahori accent lightly, never allowing it to take away from their sensitive portrayal of two young people in love. They also manage to deliver some truly cringeworthy lines such as “mard waisay to bara ghairat mand banta hai lekin sota jahez ke bistar main hai” with aplomb and, remarkably, a straight face. The rest of the cast of the film, with the exception of Qaiser Piya as Raja’s best friend and the film’s narrator, does not deliver and turn in performances that are simultaneously superficial, over-the-top and uninspired. Samina [Ahmed] and Faiza [Hassan], in particular, fail miserably as actors and surprise with the inadequacy and weakness of their performances. Samina does little more than deliver lines by rote, making no effort to give them meaning, authenticity or nuance. Her expressions and body language are awkward and peculiar. Expectations from a veteran like her, with almost four decades of acting experience are different but she displays no histrionic talent in the film.
Faiza Hassan is worse. The young actor carries a single, sullen expression throughout the film and, although her role is designed to be comedic, she ends up coming across as offensive instead of funny. There was a time when being overweight helped actors qualify as comedians but that was many decades ago. Subtlety, timing, acting talent, genuineness, and likability are attributes associated with successful comediennes today. Sadly, Faiza possesses none of these qualities and brings the film down with her dull, dreary and obnoxious performance.
Fahim Khan delivers a competent performance as a shallow, ratings-hungry game show host – a caricature of Aamir Liaquat Hussain – but fails to personify the sleaze that is epitomised by the real-life television host and politician. But then again, no one – not even the best of actors – can ever embody that level of sleaze.
In the end, Load Wedding leaves one disappointed because, in spite of its fragmented structure, weak script, corny dialogues, poor colour grading, clumsy product placement, kabuki-style make-up, and some truly horrible performances, the film shows flickers of brilliance, most notably in the area of direction. Nabeel Qureshi is, without a doubt, a capable film director. He is a good story-teller with a unique and original style. He is creative, diligent and dedicated. And he believes in the power of cinema. Unfortunately, he does not fully realise his potential in Load Wedding. As the co-writer and director of the film, he is unable – or, perhaps, unwilling – to rein in the film’s unrealistic ambitions and give it the coherence, consistency and flow it so desperately needs.