Cake Film Review: Sweet, Fulfilling and Subtle

In an older article I said that Cake may just take the spot of my favourite film of the year from Parchi. Well guess what! It just did. Cake is by far the BEST (yes capital ‘B E S T’ best) Pakistani film of recent years. It has everything you’d want in a Pakistani movie, drama, emotions, story, relatability.  But none of what holds Pakistani cinema back.

There’s no over the top masala, no melodramatic climax, no random dance numbers and dream sequences. It’s sweet, fulfilling and subtle. And it’s the subtlety that made sure that the applause at the end was loud.  It’s the kind of film that touches you, without you even noticing it. My score: 10/10 .

Whenever I give a perfect score, I always have this argument with myself. I say, ‘there has to have been something wrong, no human being is perfect. So obviously their work wouldn’t be either.’ I genuinely though, can’t find a single thing that I didn’t like. Maybe that’s my failing but it doesn’t change the fact that this is a fantastic film. I’ll get into the acting in a bit, because my, there are some amazing performances here. However, before that I must talk about something else that was amazing about Cake. Its story and Asim Abbasi’s direction.

The Foundation

I find it incredibly hard to believe that this is Asim Abbasi’s first film. Many veteran directors don’t go into as much detail as he has. Each frame has a purpose, each prop is part of the story, no matter how small. His greatest achievement is the film’s subtly. It shows you exactly what is happening without loudly overwhelming you with action and emotion, as is the norm. Having also the written the film, he brings the relationships and emotions to centre stage. But, doesn’t allow the film to slip into the dark realms of melodrama for a second.

I echo a lot of the reviews and murmurs about the film when I say, I felt as if it was my family’s story that was playing out on screen. I felt every emotion, Zara’s fears, Zareen’s frustrations, Romeo’s desire to help and most of all, Siraj and Habiba’s love for each other. In the age of superheroes and larger than life characters, where more Pakistani films are hell bent on trying (and failing) to outdo Bollywood, a film that focuses on such a typical, normal family dynamic is exceedingly refreshing. It’s normal family without being clichéd and formulaic.

There also aren’t any plot devices, the family dynamic is at the heart of the story and it’s also what drives it home.

The lack of plot devices, tropes and clichés is another reason to love this film. It doesn’t rely on songs to keep the audience interested. It doesn’t rely on dialogues to keep up the pace, and to fill screen time. Also, it doesn’t have an interval.

A Class Apart

So many times while watching Pakistani movies I’ve wondered what makes our cinema stand out. Most movies, even social issue themed ones like Verna and Bol went the Bollywood route and added songs. I accept that song and dance have been a part of Pakistani Cinema for a while now. However, at this point, our voice seems to be drowning in a sea of musicals. Until Cake.

Cake answered my question of what sets us apart. It’s our understanding of family, of society and of emotion. While yes the story and direction are incredibly strong, the movie wouldn’t be what it is had it not been so well cast. I read somewhere that Asim Abbasi wrote some of the roles with the cast in mind, and it really shows. Each actor embodies their character exceedingly well.

All three of the leads fit their roles like a glove. The usual hero persona that we know Adnan Malik for, is ditched for a more subtle approach to heroism. He’s earnest in his portrayal of Romeo, a man willing to do anything for the happiness of the people he cares for. Sanam Saeed is also brilliant as the feisty younger sister Zara. For much of the film, she is the emotional epicentre, especially for emotions like grief.

The hero of the film though, the one who carries the film on her able shoulders to the very end is none other than Amina Sheikh. You see every relationship through her eyes first. She is also the most relatable. She mirrors her parent’s frustrations regarding her siblings. Wanting to be there for them in their time of need, but unable to shake the bitterness that represents her own shattered dreams. It’s a very nuanced character and Amina Sheikh pulls off an even more nuanced performance.

The Heart of the Matter

The standouts though were definitely Mohammad Ahmed and Beo Zafar as the parents, Siraj and Habiba. If Cake is a love story, it’s theirs.

Yeah, I know Romeo and Zareen are star-crossed lovers. But their story plays second fiddle to the romance and unconditional love between the parents. Beo Zafar is the standout performer here. She has you in splits in the very first minutes of the movie and her quirkiness imbues life into Cake. In the end, the depth of their love and how it brings their family back together will leave you teary-eyed, but satisfied.

It’s worth mentioning that, yes, there are songs in the film but they aren’t numbers. They play in the background and compliment the acting and the visuals.  The soundtrack and the sound design are all wonderfully done. There is some brilliant filmmaking here. The major climactic scene features almost no cuts, in a span of eleven minutes.

And none of the scenes are dubbed. Everything was recorded on set, giving the audience a sense of presence. As if we aren’t looking on from a screen, but are in fact present in that story. In the wonderful scenes of rural Sindh and urban Karachi, in the modest house in the city, and in the grand farmhouse in the ‘ghoth’.

So, Why ‘Cake’?

When asked why the movie is called ‘Cake’, the cast explained that we as people, our lives and relationships all have layers, like a cake. To which they also joked, why not ‘Pyaaz’? The idea however is beautifully conveyed through the film. From showing us that not everything is what is seems, to the story and the acting. The way the scenes are set up, the tiny details that tell huge stories, the quirks that give life to the characters.

Cake never becomes monotone or one-dimensional. It never tries too hard to entertain or sensationalize. There aren’t long, emotional montages and grand gestures of love. And yet it touches you, almost unexpectedly. And it leaves you with a great desire for more. More of such cinema, and more of such stories. As cheesy as it may sound, this really is the perfect slice of Cake.

(And now I want cheesecake! Perfect Nusair, just perfect).

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