The glitz and glamour of the Nueplex Cinema in DHA Karachi lit up with anticipation as the premiere night of "Wakhri: One of a Kind" unfolded. Directed by Iram Parveen Bilal, the film introduces Faryal Mehmood in her debut lead role, promising a narrative inspired by the brave spirits of women challenging the patriarchal norms in Pakistan.
The plot revolves around Noor, a widowed school teacher brilliantly portrayed by Faryal Mehmood. As her character accidentally becomes a social media sensation, the film takes us on a journey through the challenges she faces in a society dominated by archaic mindsets.
The broad-brush approach of the film is evident from the early scenes, where Noor, accompanied by her queer bestie Gucchi (played by Gulshan Majeed), attends an underground club night. The vibrant energy of the scenes, coupled with a pop song declaring 'Patriarchy, you're out of luck!,' sets the tone for the film's unapologetic stance on challenging societal norms.
While the film might lack the nuance of some of its counterparts, it compensates with mainstream verve that is emotionally effective. Noor's struggles, both at home and in her quest to build an all-girls school, create a touching narrative thread. The relationship between Noor and her son Sulay, portrayed by Shees Sajjad Gul, adds depth to the storyline, depicting the challenges faced by a single mother.
The film explores themes of feminism, identity, and societal expectations, using social media as a tool for empowerment. Noor's alter-ego, Wakhri, becomes a symbol of defiance, challenging the conventional 'mother/whore' dichotomy and speaking truth to power. The suspense is heightened as Noor's double life unfolds, requiring a suspension of disbelief akin to Clark Kent's identity as Superman.
The film's direction, while straightforward, effectively incorporates social media reactions, showcasing Wakhri as both a saint and a sinner. The incorporation of real-life trans activists and newsreel footage about Qandeel Baloch adds authenticity, emphasizing the real-life implications for those challenging societal norms.
As we navigated the narrative, the film occasionally veered into soap opera territory, particularly with quick character indicators such as the antagonist Chaudhry owning a snake. However, Bilal's endearing championing of her characters and their right to self-determination keeps the audience invested in the unfolding drama.
The production values, despite feeling somewhat low, are elevated by the work of the hair and makeup artist, Waqar Hussain. Faryal Mehmood's portrayal of Wakhri is empowered by the visual transformation, and as her fame grows, so does the anticipation of the troubles that await.
In a nutshell, "Wakhri: One of a Kind" is a bold statement in Pakistani cinema. Its premiere at the Red Sea Film Festival and subsequent local release suggests a significant moment for the industry. As the film hits cinemas on January 5, 2024, audiences can expect not only entertainment but also a thought-provoking exploration of societal challenges and the triumph of self-determination.