As I write this, I can barely contain the sheer joy I am feeling. Not only because I had the absolute pleasure of finally watching the best movie I have seen all year, but I, through a stroke of pure dumb luck, managed to meet its leading lady.
It’s a day I will no doubt be telling my grandchildren, and literally anyone who will listen, about. At the current moment, it’s you guys. So I implore upon you to keep listening. (Reading, obviously I mean reading, let me keep the dramatics alive please, thanks.)
First, a Mahira Khan Moment
First of all, let me get this out of the way; Mahira Khan is a national treasure. All actors have their critics but I don’t just mean this in terms of her acting prowess. She is by far, one of the humblest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Many celebrities, even people I personally idolize, have this air of self-importance about them. Like they know they’re famous and they own it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and not does it give us the right to judge them.
But it was extremely refreshing to see someone who is both aware of their fame but also realizes that they’re still human. The only other person that I’ve met who was the same was Amina Sheikh. It makes me extremely happy that there are more people like that in this world.
And now, Verna
Of course, you all want to me to focus on Mahira’s acting and the film itself. I’ll do that but I’m not writing a full-fledged review. However, I will say that I found it very hard to find flaws in Verna. Heck, its massive 3-hour runtime flew by for me. The last hour in particular had me on the edge of my seat and the last 30 minutes left me utterly gob-smacked.
At this point, I’m more concerned about what a film like this means.
Just before I walked into the cinema, I was asked what I felt about this subject matter. Should a story like this be told when it’s such a taboo in our society? Before I give my answer, there’s a quick incident I should tell you.
A little while before that, an older gentleman watching an earlier screening came out of the cinema. He headed for the bathroom, muttering “khatey petey log ko iss mulk mein rehne nahi dete”. On his way back, he asked the cinema attendant, why wasn’t this movie censored?
That reaffirmed my answer. This is a story that needs to be told. It may be a taboo but when you’ve got an open wound, would you willingly let it fester? Assuming that you do, what would happen next? Necrotizing fasciitis. (The is an example, all you outraged med students please sit down).
To reiterate, while at times it’s good, smart and even right to weather the storm; it’s always foolishness to invite the next. Not talking about issues that plague our societies is doing just that. Especially if we chose to remain silent under false and fanciful pretences of ‘honour’ when really it’s to appease the fragile male ego.
A Film that Calls Us Out
But what makes Verna so important? Why do I believe that this was an entirely necessary film to be made and screened? So much so that I’m here, at quarter to one in the morning, frantically typing on my phone. Because much like the character of Sara Khan that Shoaib Mansoor so masterfully displayed on screen, he himself refused to stay quiet. Verna made it past those very same obstacle that victims in our society have to go through to tell their story.
This isn’t the only reason though.
Verna also takes direct aim at several issues that are, in my sometimes too blunt (or so I’m told) opinion, at the root of this country’s problems. Chief among them is our distorted idea of masculinity and femininity and the pompous yet brittle male ego that feeds it. In fact there’s a beautiful scene in the film that encompasses all that I find immensely frustrating about my gender, and then proceeds to call it out.
You don’t have to agree with me, but at this point when a man can make his wife’s rape about his own insecurities, where we can shame victims without knowledge or reason or turn a woman’s style of speaking into a sexual meme, you really can’t deny it.
It’s true, many of us would rather go and turn off our brains at the cinema. But when cinema is the one medium with the widest possible range, why shouldn’t our issues be laid bare where we can see them most clearly? Or in fact, placed on screens and mediums we actually pay attention too.
It brings me joy that Verna, was able to achieve what it set out to do. It brings me joy that its voice wasn’t silenced like so many are. That Pakistani cinema shines when it doesn’t copy the norms of other countries. And it brings me joy that not only was this the most meaningful film I have watched all year, but it was also the most captivating. So much so that I forgot to eat the hotdog I had ordered.
Verna is however, one step (or three hour’s worth of steps) in the right direction. While the thousand-mile journey does indeed begin with the first step, a step alone is just that. However, seeing the packed cinemas and even the bruised ego in the dinner jacket, makes me optimistic that there will be more steps to come. I’ve got my running shoes ready, for just that occasion.