“This is not a film from the Bollywood industry.”
This year at Red Sea competition section, there are two Pakistani movies being shown – “Wakhri” and “In Flames”. Both films address the challenges faced by women in the country today, but “In Flames” takes a supernatural approach at times.
Mariam, a medical student, resides in a small flat in Karachi with her mother, Fariha, and younger brother after her father’s passing. After her grandfather’s death, she inherits a large amount of debt. Her uncle offers to help, but Mariam is skeptical of his intentions. However, her mother believes he has good intentions. During this time, Mariam meets Asad, another student introduced by a friend. Despite an attack on her car, the two become closer due to Asad’s persistent pursuit. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes and Mariam’s mental health begins to deteriorate, causing her to experience terrible nightmares that start to affect her daily life.
Zarrar Khan is the director of a film that initially portrays a social and family drama. The film aims to shed light on the challenges faced by women in Pakistan and the larger issues in society. One scene in particular, where a school official reprimands Mariam and Asad for sitting too close, highlights this theme. The uncle’s storyline and the constant harassment faced by the beautiful Mariam further emphasize these issues.
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It can be easily stated that the movie starts off well, with a captivating plot and detailed background. However, as the story progresses and Mariam’s mental health deteriorates, Kahn’s control over the story weakens, leading it down nonsensical paths. While this could also be seen as a commentary on the treatment of mental illness in Pakistan, as shown through the scene with the spiritual healer, the overall narrative becomes disjointed.
Faraha’s character appears to be the one most affected by this situation. The scenes with the lawyer and the twist feel disconnected from the rest of the story, although they are tied together in the end to some extent. Speaking of the ending, it can be said that it, along with the beginning of the story, and the way the entire plot is flipped, is the movie’s strongest aspect. It also includes an unrealistic yet satisfying comment.
The performances are of a very high standard. Ramesha Nawal convincingly portrays Mariam’s downward spiral and her attempts to defy the odds, making her a likable and heroic character. Bakhtawar Mazhar also gives her best in a role that is not well-developed, shining towards the end. Omar Javaid’s child-like and charming behavior steals the spotlight at times, especially in his flirtatious scenes with Mariam, showcasing their excellent chemistry and adding to the movie’s appeal.
Aigul Nurbulatova’s camera work effectively portrays the confined environment of the main characters, utilizing scenes of “healing” and an intrusive voyeuristic aspect to enhance the film. Craig Scorgie’s editing maintains a steady pace, and the twist is well-executed. However, the abrupt shift into unrelated plot points detracts from the overall quality of the film, especially when it delves into supernatural horror elements.
The film “In Flames” has many strengths, including impressive cinematography and acting. However, the director’s indecision between making a social drama or a horror film weakens the overall impact of the movie. The lack of coherence in the transition, combined with some gaps in the plot, ultimately results in a missed opportunity. Personally, I believe that Kahn’s talent lies in the horror genre and I would like to see him focus solely on creating shocking scenes in future projects.