Storytelling is an art. However, when Sarmad Khoosat lends himself to it, it also becomes a science. From the selection of the shoot location, to the cinematography, to colour grading, and the choice of songs to tell the tale, there is definitely a well-thought-out method to it.
Thanks to his background in theatre and acting and his education in psychology, Sarmad has all the right ingredients to weave magic as a director. Kamli, his latest movie, takes a while to grow on you. And once it does, it quietly casts a spell on the viewer, which is difficult to break away from. I had a hard time relating to the world outside of Kamli, once it ended. I kept thinking of Hina and Amaltas and Sakina and Zeenat and Malik Sahab, long after.
The element of mystery is evident from Kamli’s wordless trailer. It brings you close to all the elements of nature with its intelligent play with water, air and fire. Is the trailer silent on purpose, one wonders, given Zindagi Tamasha’s trailer interpretation into something it was not? Zindagi Tamasha remains unreleased to viewers in Pakistan despite having Senate and Censor Boards’ approvals. Hats off to Sarmad for not selling out and keeping true to his creativity and craft while directing Kamli.
Kamli was inspired from a short film made by Mehrbano, an NCA graduate and an actor/ film maker in her own right. Sarmad bought the rights to the short film, as it struck a chord with him.
It is a tale of three women whose lives are intertwined. Despite being powerfully acclaimed actors, Saba Qamar, Sania Saeed and Nimra Bucha underwent auditions, again depicting the clinical precision of Sarmad’s technique. He wants to be sure that what he has visualised in his head translates into real life just the way he imagined it. The male lead is a newcomer, Hamza, who is a fitness trainer by profession. He, too, was selected after an intense audition.
Young and frivolous, Hina, played by Saba Qamar, is leading the life of a widow. Her husband is missing for a few years, and she lives with her visually-impaired sister-in-law, Sakina, played by the versatile Sania Saeed. They live in an open courtyard house located in a picturesque hilly village with wide-bodied lakes. Hina escapes the monotony of household chores by going off to a nearby town where she works as a model with several other girls for a painter, Zeenat, played by Nimra Bucha.
Or maybe Sarmad wanted to transcend the constraints of explaining time and location by infusing a surreal feel by juxtaposing competing elements? Or perhaps what one sees on the screen is a collage of three worlds that the three women carry in themselves? Perhaps
All three women seem trapped in their lives and are victims of their circumstances. Hina, as a young wife, is pining her life away as similar-aged friends navigate relationships and marriage. She is under strict and almost obsessive watch, by not only the society, but also by a controlling sister-in-law who dotes on her and monitors all her moves in equal measure. Inquisitive relatives are kept at bay by quoting the holy book‘s concept of Nikah and/or why Hina needs to seclude herself from worldly pleasures.
The overtly pious Sakina gives Quran lessons to young children by the day and tries to ‘smell’ sin on Hina’s body and hair at night. They sleep tightly clenched together each night after a session of magical storytelling. The more Hina is told to keep her sensuality in check, the more she wants to break free. While modelling at Zeenat’s place, she comes across the roving eye of Zeenat’s husband Mr Malik (played by Omair Rana). Zeenat is a well-off artist but finds herself stuck in a loveless and childless marriage and has taken to drinking to escape her troubles.
All three women have voids they are trying to fill by latching onto something. Zeenat has her drink, Sakina uses her faith / religion (as a shield), while Hina looks for solace in the forest till she comes across the mysterious Amaltas who saves her from drowning in the lake. The attraction between them is palpable from the word go. Their clandestine meetings in the backdrop of nature’s elements are choreographed beautifully. A choreographer was specially engaged for this purpose and Hina and Amaltas’s lithe bodies move soulfully to the lyrics of the haunting songs. As they say, the devil is in the details.
The underwater scenes (at the lake) were shot in November while the water was freezing. Saba Qamar took swimming lessons for this, and Hamza’s awareness of his muscular form came in handy for the dance sequences. One can call the dances as a mating ritual, but it is left to the viewers to interpret them.
Kamli is a women-centric movie revolving around female longing and desire which is kept under wraps in our overtly patriarchal set-up. But it is narrated with sensitivity, albeit through a male perspective. It triggers a range of feelings in the viewer during its two-hour spell. You connect with each character, absorb the beauty of the mountains and the lucidity of the lakes shot aerially, while recognising the contradictions of each character. It’s rather tough to put it into words, really.
Saba Qamar proves her acting prowess by talking with her eyes, facial expressions and body language. Sania Saeed and Nimra Bucha excel in their roles and neither of them steal the other’s limelight.
Nevertheless, with the village being quite conservative, Saba Qamar’s choice of profession to work as a model and strike provocative poses was a bit odd. The tone and mood of the environs where Zeenat and her husband reside seem detached from the physicality of the place where much of the film takes place. Also, one is not sure what time-frame the movie is set in. But judging from the contemporary clothing, it could well be the present.
Or maybe Sarmad wanted to transcend the constraints of explaining time and location by infusing a surreal feel by juxtaposing competing elements? Or perhaps what one sees on the screen is a collage of three worlds that the three women carry in themselves? Perhaps.
Kamli takes you through a whole range of emotions that can make one feel vulnerable, uncomfortable and helpless. Such is its power. It’s not overwhelming as such, but seeps in quietly, before taking complete control.