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Bright lights, small village
It may be an absolutely unapologetic formula film, but Mohabbatan Sachiyan reinvents rural Punjab in the loveliest of ways

By Ayecha Ahmed

People seem quite impressed by the recent revival of cinema and to make audience return to the theatres yet another movie hits the cinema and this time it is a Punjabi movie. Mohabbatan Sachiyan, directed by Shehzad Rafique opened on Eid and since then has been getting positive response from viewers. Notably the movie is the first love story in Punjabi language after Syed Noor's blockbuster Choorian. And this time, the man who takes the credit for bringing in cinema goers is director Shehzad Rafique.
After Shehzad Rafique's Salakhain flopped in 2004 he returns with Mohabbatan Sachiyan and has done a decent job with it. Although the story line isn't what the viewers haven't seen before, the cinematography is brilliant. The vulgarity element usual in Pakistani and especially Punjabi films isn't there. It's a fresh start for cinema in Pakistan and alongwith violence, vulgarity too is out of the traditional Punjabi 'blockbuster' formula.
Mohabbatan Sachiyan is set in a small village in Punjab and starts of with Salma and Sameer's childhood engagement. As they grow up Salma (Veena Malik) finds herself falling for another boy from the same village. Nomi (Adnan) is a naive village boy who is well mannered and likes her too. Both Nomi and Salma happen to study in the same college and have everything going for them, but both of them are ignorant of Salma's engagement. Sameer's family, on the other hand, has moved to the city and Sameer (Babrak) is a spoilt brat who does not take life seriously, preferring to party it up in Lahore.
One-day Sameer's mother tells him about his childhood engagement and forces him to tag along on their visit to the village and see Salma. Sameer who has no intentions of marrying let alone commit to a childhood engagement, accompanies his mother for kicks. Nomi and Salma try all they can to convince Salma's father to let Salma marry Nomi. What follow is emotional drama and a few fight sequences.
Mohabbatan Sachiyan's storyline is one that has been done to death on both sides of the border, so in every scene you can actually predict what will happen in the next. Yet Mohabbatan Sachiyan is eminently watchable by Punjabi film standards. And that is because a conscious effort has been made to make it so. At the premiere, I asked Shehzad Rafique about how the colours are so brilliant and he told me that the processing of Mohabbatan Sachiyan was done in India and it's the first Digital Intermediate (DI) film of Pakistan. Look it up and you will find that DI is "the process of digitizing a motion picture and manipulating color and other image characteristics to change the look, and is usually the final creative adjustment to a movie before distribution in theaters." Mohabbatan Sachiyan is the first step in that direction for Pakistan. No wonder the colours look good. The storyline may not leave anything to the imagination, but the packaging is so beautiful in the darkness of the cinema, you will be held spellbound.
Then there is the music. By the renowned Wajahat Attre (pop singer Jimmy Attre's father), the music is melodic and more than that Indian singers Sonu Nigam, Sunidhi Chauhan and Sherya Ghoshal sing on the soundtrack. That is enough to sell music on both sides of the border. Speaking of which, Mohabbatan Sachiyan will be released in India on Diwali alongside Om Shanti Om and Saawariya. But then, since it's in Punjabi, it will have a different market. Currently, Veena Malik and Shehzad Rafique are in New Delhi at the Second South Asian Film Festival plugging their film. Released by Geo Films, Mohabbatan Sachiyan is proof that the revival of cinema will not stop short at a story well told. Marketing a film is essential in this day and age and that is what is being done with Mohabbatan Sachiyan, as it was with Khuda Kay Liye.
Coming back to the songs of the film, a few of them are shot beautifully in the northern areas of Pakistan showing places that have never been seen in such splendour on our movie screen, because of the lack of film labs here. Add to that the choreography of the songs – just look at these stills. India is not the only country to make the capturing of the flying dupatta/pallu a fine art.

Veena Malik is the star draw of Mohabbatan Sachiyan. It is strange to think that this talented actress was reduced to side roles
previously, playing second fiddle to Saima, Meera, Reema, Sana and even Zara Sheikh. Through television she has gotten a new lease of life through programmes like Hum Sab Umeed Sey Hain and she more than held her own against veteran comedian Rauf Lala at the Lux Style Awards this year. Mohabbatan Sachiyan reinvents Veena the film actress and now she is so much more.

Chances are Veena's portrayal of Salma will go down in film history. She plays a modern village girl. Yes, she speaks Punjabi, but she is educated and knows what's right for her and is willing to take society head on to marry the man she loves.

In that sense, despite being a formula film Mohabbatan Sachiyan breaks new ground. It portrays a village as it is today. With increasing urbanization in the Punjab, the gandasa wielding hero and the lacha wearing dancing village belle are stereotypes from a bygone era that no longer have any relevance. There is more to villages these days than oppressive feudals and family feuds. This is the changing reality that Mohabbtan Sachiyan portrays through the rose-tinted lens of high tech film processing.

Veena is supported ably by Adnan and Babrak Shah who nearly do justice to their roles. Newcomer Adnan has done well for a first timer and a good choice for the role of Nomi. He does appear to be smiling more than required in the initial scenes, but gets into the role eventually. Babrak Shah too does his role as a spoilt brat well, but his attempt at an English accent cracks one up. Our filmmakers would be well advised to employ elocution coaches, just as they do anywhere else.

However, the women in the roles of mothers in the film give new meaning to the word 'unbearable'. They had very few lines and that benevolent smile never left their face. And on that note, if anything could be taken away from the film to make it much tighter, it's the many long sermons delivered by the parents, you know the girl being the khandaan ki izzat and the moashra bring unforgiving.

The other bit that jarred was the comedy bit. Ali Ejaz is cast as the village idiot who comes up at random and says lines for comic relief. There is no role for him in the storyline, he's very much an outside agent interjected at random to inject some hunour into the film. It's what Johnny Lever and Kader Khan did in so many Indian films till directors learnt to incorporate them into the script. The attempt at comedy with Ali Ejaz is unimpressive and Mohabbatan Sachiyan could have done without it. One does feel an experience actor like Ali Ejaz should have been more useful if given some other role, but all Ayub Khawar came up with was that of an old, good for nothing resident of the village.

Ayub Khawar's script left much to be desired. Full of clichés, it was typical Pakistani film melodrama. Indian cinema has gone well beyond it, but our script writers still fall into the trap. The only person to escape this was Shoaib Mansoor with the brilliantly scripted Khuda Kay Liye.

Ultimately, what saves Mohabbatan Sachiyan is the packaging and it's modernization of the Pakistani village. However, it must be said that the film is elicited a fantastic response. The people of Pakistan are hungry for cinema and they appreciate a good effort.