Late novelist and screenwriter Raymond Chandler once said, “A good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled,” and while Dum Mastam was so close to being a lesson on the same, it became a lesson on how not to weave a plot together.
Red, blue and prickled by passion, the Imran Ashraf and Amar Khan starrer takes off in the artsy streets of Lahore, branded by the need to flaunt all its colours and characters at once. The strategic placement of Imran and Amar’s characters at their passionate zenith in a city that evokes the same emotions, before eventually bringing them to Karachi after they hit rock bottom to help them rebuild, was a smart choice by the filmmakers. Coupled with the choreography it flaunts, Dum Mastam is well thought out, until of course, it crumbles.
Imran’s Bao, a singer and a loser in love, is borderline obsessed with the whimsical Alia, played by Amar, who’s a dancer with several witty comebacks and obsessions of her own. He cracks a joke, she laughs, he flirts, and she laughs harder. Friend-zoned, Bao hangs his guitar on his shoulder and his heart on his sleeve, leaving both unattended, as he rides his bike to and from Alia’s college. But Alia is too focused on cultivating a career. Coming from a small household, she has big dreams. And the bigger her dreams, the more she resents having to settle down with someone who doesn’t share her aspirations – someone like Bao. Being a dancer, she secretly attends dance classes too, and while Bao is supportive, he loathes having to watch her dance with other men.
The film, after all, is a take on unrequited love, and its damaging consequences, and all is well until it starts piling up one conflict onto another, at the right junctures, but without a resolution in sight.
The Adnan Siddiqui production debut and Mohammad Ehteshamuddin directorial kicks off with a wedding that goes horribly wrong. Amar’s obese friend, who’s conveniently subjected to body-shaming “jokes”, is the bride whose groom is discovered to be married to someone else. She is assured her discontinued marriage had nothing to do with her weight and is never met with again, making her entry of zero significance to Amar and Bao’s story.
In the following scene, Bao kisses Alia without her consent and rightfully furious, she walks out on him, asking him to stay away from her. Bao being Bao, avails every opportunity to run into her and even shows up at her dance classes to explain his “pure intentions”, having no regard for her boundaries. While in love and having no desire to harm her either, he admits to his mistake, leaving room for recovery, which is soon ruptured by his inability to stick to his promises.
But while Bao disappoints, Alia draws flak from the audience in attendance for not reciprocating his feelings, leaving Dum Mastam, apparently settling for or setting dangerous precedents without really having to explain itself. In another instance, to become worthy of Alia’s love, Bao is paired with pop star Guddu’s – played by viral sensation Momin Saqib of maaro, mujhe maaro fame – live band. Guddu is introduced as a side character until he plagiarises Bao’s song – another matter that is never really resolved but allows Bao to become a star, rendering it of utmost significance to his story and his development. While that is great, a suicide is faked in the process, unnecessarily, making Dum Mastam appear more insensitive than underdeveloped.
Not to be invasive either, Dum Mastam is allowed creative liberties that may not adhere to the politically correct standards of filmmaking and writing today. There are moments in the film that also explain why forced love can never really transpire into real feelings without also inviting resentment. But Dum Mastam is perplexed by its need to look a certain way, feel certain things and evoke certain feelings, all while healing from the wreckage of eloped or unattended travesties.
It is choked by its desire to become something, just like all of its characters. In its ambitious attempt to juggle multiple conflicts, it abandons the singular, most important one in its almost 2.5-hours-long runtime, only to return to it without an answer.
Not as bad
Ehteshamuddin has outdone himself, especially when compared to his previous directorial – Superstar. He takes liberties with his vision in Dum Mastam, despite the limited spaces the film captures. The camera rushes towards characters when they’re riling up, it glides with them as they dance, stands still as they stare into the abyss and captures all emotional interactions with patience.
Amar makes Alia desirable with her playful expressions, tasteful comments and confidence as Imran makes Bao unhinged, all while developing an emotional bond with the audience – which is difficult, given his character. Amar’s character fits her like a glove and for a debutante, she is a natural lead. Imran’s flair for characters and not just heroes, earns him the prestige of finally getting to play a hero people should pay to watch.
With flashy colours and dewy eyes, both Imran and Amar’s characters are guilty of so much, yet innocent in their own ways. The script is commendable; there is emotion, drama, depth and criticism, all packed and presented into a slew of punchy dialogues, but they just aren’t enough to save the film from evaporating into thin air. Raymond Chandler also said that “the most durable thing in writing is style,” and while Amar has made that valuable investment into her writing, the film’s characters display an inability to talk about their emotions without exaggerating their feelings and jumping to conclusions even towards the end, making Dum Mastam theatrical without ever maturing.
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