Teefa in Trouble Review (No Spoilers): A Wonderful Cartoon Playbox for Ali Zafar to Play in and Invite the Audience Along

First, if you want to talk about Ali’s personal issues, jump over to this post.  I put it up specially so I could segregate Ali-the-person discussion from Ali-the-actor/director/producer.  Separate from that, read this review and not the SPOILER review if you can’t see the movie!  It’s a great film with a lot of surprising twists and deserves to be watched with fresh eyes.

This is such a refreshingly intelligent film, a film which understands just how serious and not serious to take movies.  It doesn’t try to be “real” or avoid the ridiculous plot twists and songs and falling in love at first sight that are the calling card of South Asian films.  It’s bright and colorful and impractical.  But at the same time, it takes film very seriously, it takes the ability film has to create a story and uses that to make us see the world in a different way.  It’s fun and funny and romantic and exciting and with the kind of political message at the end that makes me give a little fist pump into the air in excitement.

There is never a lazy moment.  The film looks at every moment and asks “yes, but could we do more with it?  Go a little bit further?”  I wish I could give examples, but I want you to discover them all for yourself.  Here’s a small thing, there is a scene where Lahore boy Ali is being made over in a cool European clothes shop.  His outfit is already perfect, that slightly too cool kind of cool that FOBs lean towards, and then just to put the peak on it, we see that the price tag is still hanging off the side of his sunglasses and he doesn’t even notice.  It’s the basic plot requirement of a make over, and then on top of it they go a bit further and find this perfect ridiculous outfit that fits the character and the situation.  And then they don’t stop there, they find just the right price tag and have it hanging in just the right way off just the right item to show clueless new money spending.

I’m going to give credit to Ali for that, and for most of the film.  He is the producer, he came up with the money and directed it towards what he cared about.  And he is the star, he carefully crafted a note perfect performance that makes fun of heroic masculinity.  And he wrote the dialogue, the exact clever little turns of phrase that make the characters come out and the film bubble along.  And most of all, he wrote and sang the songs.  Fun, clever, unique, and perfectly in rhythm with his character, with the rest of the film, breezing in and out of the plot without a stumble.

Ali has created a great film, but the film is also benefiting Ali.  He has a very particular specialty, the hero who is just a bit too much of a hero, who just slightly tip-toes over the line between acting and parody.  This is a whole film that keeps dancing between sincere and parody, and mostly landing on parody.  Ali’s performance doesn’t stand out as being not quite-quite the way it does in Mere Brother Ki Dulhania, for instance, where everyone else is doing a semi-sincere film, and Ali is off in some kind of endlessly amusing cartoon version of a hero.

This film is Ali’s little sandbox.  He has created a cartoon world where Polish millionaires have massive goon squads, and Lahori gangsters just want to open restaurants, and you can fix a broken leg by just forcing yourself to run on it.  And he has done it with the bare minimum of cost.  I am sure I saw the same stuntman in fight scenes over and over again, and there were only 11 speaking parts.  They filmed mostly in Poland, which has it’s own unique cheapness.  The filming locations were clearly just people’s apartments and homes, no need to clear the streets, they just folded the random passersby into the film.  And of course no complications related to filming at home, no news crews following them or law and order concerns or family responsibilities or any of that.

The songs are lovely, and cheap, a handful of back-up dancers and one location and a clever idea.  Or one beautiful magical setting (a shallow lake that you can stand in), used to the full extent.  Or just a pleasant tune with a walking beat that makes a simple walk through the country plenty magical enough.

The fight scenes are clever, and also cheap, no pyrotechnics, minimal wire work, and a lot of smart editing.  The actors are used cheaply, few scenes with all of them at once, mostly quick easy shots of only 2 or 3 at a time.  The costumes are fine, but not spectacular, off the rack stuff for the European wear, and one a couple of nice outfits for the Lahore section, nothing that would break the bank.  And Ali does the heavy lifting in every way, the other part about him producing, starring, writing the songs, writing the dialogue, and so on and so on, is that they don’t have to pay anyone else to do all that stuff.

Ali does all the heavy lifting, but he isn’t a selfish star.  Maya Ali, the heroine, really is a co-lead, with her own motivations and backstory and personality and everything else.  She is far from the usual “heroine” role.  No one really is limited here, even the “gangster” “millionaire” and “comic friend” parts are just a little more.  Heck, even the Random White Dude character got his own poster!

Plus, and this is the one little tiny spoiler I will give you, at a certain point in the film a group of men are fighting over a woman, the way they do in movies, dragging her back and forth and threatening each other.  And she suddenly pulls free and declares “I doesn’t matter which of you is taking me, the question is, who do I want to go with?  I’m not just a thing, I have my own mind, why don’t you ask me what I want?”

And that was my fist pump moment.  Because it wasn’t done as a moment of dramatic bravery from the heroine, it was done as a sudden opening the window on the whole concept of the way these films treat women, and the way society does too, accepting that a father has the right track down his daughter and drag her home again, that a man has a right to “rescue” a woman and drag her away against her will.  That no one ever things to ask the woman what she wants, or listens when she says it.  And, best of all, this did not seem at all out of character for this particular heroine, or for this film.  All along it was a story of a woman taking control of her own life and the hero conflicted and aware that it is wrong to stop her.  In a very humorous way.

Here, if you really want to know what this film is like, take a look at the item number.  Titled “Item Number”, and featuring lyrics like “your black black eyes got us a youtube ban”.  This is a film that is very area of how media is used and consumed and what messages it is giving and how funny it all is.

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32 thoughts on “Teefa in Trouble Review (No Spoilers): A Wonderful Cartoon Playbox for Ali Zafar to Play in and Invite the Audience Along

  1. The scene with the girl who decides for herself is enough for me to watch this movie. And I won’t lie, I want to see polish dudes too 🙂

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    • Random white dude is actually British in real life. But Poland looks good! Cool clubs, nice churches and city squares, and so on.

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  2. I’m glad you saw this! I’ve been wondering how this would go over. I’ve always been a fan of Ali Zafar and I love love love his voice. Of course, I’m conflicted about the personal stuff, but if I can enjoy a Salman Khan movie still, I think I’ve lost all credibility in taking a moral stance. Also, Coke Studio Pakistan Season 11 is coming soon and I’m reminded that I need to go back and rewatch and acquire some of my favorite songs! Umair Jaswal (a regular on Coke Studio), much like Ali Zafar, really does it for me with his rock star vibe and his awesome voice. Plus, he’s absolutely gorgeous in a Kunal Kapoor kind of way. For those that don’t know him, he’s right up there with Fawad Khan and Ali Zafar and in the running for sexiest Pakistani dude:) Here he is in a great ensemble song from last season: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gar-Vw9UzVs

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    • It’s a great movie, very silly light throwback kind of feel to it. I think you will really like it. Looks like it is doing great box office, which is good for more movies like this, for Ali Zafar, and for the resurgence of Pakistani films.

      Also, I really need to find a Pakistani or Pakistani heritage commenter to ask them if it is true that all men in Pakistan are shockingly Godlike attractive. Because based on the films, that seems to be true.

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      • Yes, I’ve only seen one and a half Pakistani tv dramas (and both with Fawad) and then I’ve seen only one Pakistani film all the way through…though I’ve looked briefly at bits of ones on YouTube to get an idea for what they’re like. I feel like their production values are getting better and better fast. I know the Lollywood film heritage is very strong but for an earlier period and need to look more into those classics, too. The one film “newer” Pakistani/Urdu film I’ve seen was Dekh Magar Pyaar Say and Sikander Rizvi as the lead in that one was very nice to look at:)

        Umair Jaswal has also done a tiny bit of acting and is finally releasing a solo album, too. He looks older, but he’s only 31 so maybe we’ll see him get even more famous. It would be cool to at least have him do some music for Hindi films, too, as well as support the rejuvenated Pakistani film industry.

        Have you done a post on Pakistani films you’ve liked yet?

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          • This is my 3rd Pakistani film ever. And I’ve liked all of them, but I don’t know if that is really a good sample size 🙂 I’m in the middle of Balu Mahi now, the one on Netflix, and it is AMAZING, and you in particularly will love love love it. And it is also making me think “is Pakistan just a land of Godlike handsome men?” Like, even the waiter with no dialogue is stop traffic handsome.

            My impression is the same as yours, that there was a strong Lahore classical film tradition and it somehow went away, but now is in a resurgence. This is Ali’s first Pakistani film, which really surprised me. But I guess until recently music and TV was the place to be and not film

            On Thu, Jul 26, 2018 at 10:18 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Yeah, except he seemed more puzzled by me than anything. May not lead to the international fame and fortune and best friendship I could hope for.

        On Thu, Jul 26, 2018 at 10:25 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • If he is puzzled then you should probably reply to that tweet claiming the review & sharing a link to your book & bio so he knows your pedigree & authority…my 2 cents to market yourself.

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          • Shoot, you are probably right. Oh well, too late now, I just replied with “thank you”. Maybe next time I will remember.

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          • Still not too late to follow-up your thank you with more details re: your blog etc…even if it doesn’t catch his attention, perhaps you will attract more readers for your blog. Happy Friday.

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        • I think you should reply to the tweet and ‘claim it’ while sharing a link to your book and bio – so he knows you are someone with passion in this area and a lot of knowledge…this will help with your marketing…something I know has been top of mind to you.

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  3. Thanks for highlighting this movie! I agree we need to keep Ali’s personal issues separate from this movie and him as an actor/producer. But it can be hard for some people.

    After alot of thinking I have decided to watch this movie this weekend. Thanks for the synopsis.

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    • It is really so so good! Can you split the difference and buy a ticket for another movie so you don’t feel like you are financially supporting it even if you are watching it? I do that sometimes as kind of a bargain with my moral compass.

      On Thu, Jul 26, 2018 at 4:30 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • This is also why I watch a lot of stuff on library DVDs. One way or another, I am making sure they don’t get my money!!!!

          On Thu, Jul 26, 2018 at 4:45 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Not even at the funky all Indian theater?

            On Thu, Jul 26, 2018 at 8:30 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Maybe. Pakistani films seem to have very iffy distribution, my local theater always plays trailers for them and I get all excited, and then most of the time they don’t actually get the film.

            Oh well, it will be streaming eventually.

            On Thu, Jul 26, 2018 at 9:16 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Success! Because I am procrastinating about writing another post, I looked up showtimes. It MIGHT be playing at the Norwalk AMC. Which is probably way too far for you and so on, but it makes me feel better to know it is playing SOMEWHERE in LA. Oh, and it’s also playing up by San Francisco, but somehow I have you down in LA not up there?

            On Thu, Jul 26, 2018 at 9:16 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • I am so jealous that it usually ISN’t an hour trip for you. I have 3 different theaters to choose from, but they are all 35-45 minutes away depending on traffic. Or the 4th one that doesn’t have parking and is an hour by public transit (blech!). It’s like I am in some kind of magnetic field that repels movie theaters and sends them all at least 40 minutes away from me.

            On Thu, Jul 26, 2018 at 11:38 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • I just watched Item number, and you’re right, so funny.
      I haven’t smiled so much durning any party song since Main Tera Boyfriend.

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      • What’s extra funny is that it is a song making fun of how this song will be why people watch the movie, but it actually is the reason people watch the movie! Kind of like how AIBs “Another Party Song” is actually a kind of catchy fun party song.

        On Thu, Jul 26, 2018 at 4:40 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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