Friday Classics: Balu Mahi, A Woman Riding Ahead of Her Man

What a ridiculous over the top super fun movie!  It’s not clever, not like Teefa was.  But it’s the same kind of “oh why not?” attitude towards plot and songs and everything else.  Makes me excited to see what Pakistani films come up with next.

This is a film from an industry in transition.  The director, Haissam Hussain, is an acclaimed director of TV serials, most recently Bin Roye.  The heroine Ainy Jaffri started in TV and then moved to film, this is her second movie.  The hero, Osman Khalid Butt, has the most unusual background.  From a performing family, he has done everything from stage to youtube to TV to film, along with a little writing, a little choreography, really a little bit of everything.

None of these artists are inexperienced or untalented.  They are just getting used to the format of film instead of everything else.  And the film feels it, just a little bit too much of things, some things that don’t quite fit with others, but overall a lot of talent.

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(See how the poster feels kind of disjointed and photoshopped together?  Some of the film feels like that too)

A lot of the good of what went before is carried over into this new format.  The strong female focus and female characters and blatant powerful feminist message is here, just like it is in the TV serials.  The slightly subtle acting, the long conversations that build into a romance, that is here too.  And of course the music is here.  Rahat Fateh Ali Khan performs a song and does a cameo.

And because this is new, there is a willingness to try things.  Random small cameos and detours in the plot.  Sudden shocking twists that come out of nowhere.  A lengthy polo game.

But overall, this is still a bit rough.  Pretty and fun and interesting and all of that, but a little bit rough.  Which kind of makes me like it more.  It feels, I don’t know, like that kind of friendly mutt from the pound instead of the perfect pure bred that Hindi films are with all their money and experience and trained crew members and so on and so forth.

Bottomline, it’s on Netflix and you should all watch it!!!!  Especially if, like me, you have been feeling something a little bit missing from Hindi films lately.  Something a little too perfect, a little too cautious.  This film is anything but cautious!  It is the kind of movie that (multiple times!) has the heroine randomly grab a horse and go galloping off into the sunset.  Not the hero, the heroine.  That’s what makes it feminist.  The horse just makes it filmi.

 

 

 

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The trailer spoils the movie, except not really.  Because what the trailer shows is really just a sampling of the first half, less than that, it is what you could guess just by what happens in the first 5 minutes of the movie.  Osman, our hero, walks into a wedding and declares his love for the bride, that they were together all through college and should stay together.  And then the bride lifts her veil and reveals she is someone else!  But grabs his hand and runs for it anyway.  And then, the audience can guess, they will of course have wild adventures together and fall in love after all.

What the film does a little bit differently in the execution is the back and forth of who is the really wild one here.  Yes, our hero is interrupting a wedding.  But there is a moment when he realizes his mistake, apologizes, and tries to smooth things over in a calm and reasonable manner.  He’s not really a wild romantic, it was just a momentary lapse in standard behavior.  Our heroine Ainy Jafri, on the other hand, she is the wild one.  She doesn’t just run, she steals the groom’s horse.  And we have one of our first conscious moments of feminism, when she rides off on the white horse, and we see little girls looking up to watch her go.

And then, yes, they end up on the run together.  Not because they are stuck together, not really, but because Osman is not wild or romantic but he is a gentleman.  And so when Ainy demands his assistance, he has to agree.  At least to take her to change clothes, and then to the train station.  The real surprise is when, at the train station, her family has tracked her down.  And Osman finds himself going back for her and helping her get away again.  And the depressing not-surprise is when he waits until she is gone and then calls her family, tells them that he will bring her back she just has to work through this “phase”.

Blah blah, we the audience know that Osman is planning to betray her but she doesn’t, the wander the city, they end up randomly taking part in a film shoot (item song!), they have deep conversations.  She declares that she just wants to live, she never feels like she got to have anything she wanted, her parents married for love but then her mother died and her father is under the thumb of her grandfather and she is being married off to be under the thumb of some other man, and she just wants to live for herself.  Osman explains that his parents divorced and then started new families, he only has his grandmother in his family.  And then “Ayesha”, his college girlfriend.  He wanted to give her everything she wanted, she said she would only marry a successful man with an overseas degree and job, so he worked and worked in school, went overseas, got his degree, and came back to propose only to discover she was already engaged to someone even richer.  He doesn’t blame her, it is how she is, but he wanted to at least try to talk to her at the wedding.  We, the audience, can see how perfect they are for each other, a cowardly guy who never took a risk and was under the thumb of his girlfriend, and a woman who wants to take all the risks and drag him along with her.  But then her family shows up and she realizes he betrayed her and it is all over.

What makes this feel like a TV serial is that, in another film, that would be the ending.  Or at least almost the ending.  But this movie has barely gotten started yet.  2 months later, Osman has returned from abroad and goes to her family house.  He is now sure he has done wrong, and pretty sure he is in love with her.  So he wants to meet her and apologize.  Only to learn that she ran away again and no one knows where she is.  Osman is pretty sure she will have gone to the hill station where here parents met and where her mother is buried.  Her family follows him and Osman ends up having to jump out of a car and hitch a ride on a bus to get there.  Which is where he meets Sadaf Kanwal, event planner and Ainy Jafri’s ex-best friend, who is desperate to marry someone, anyone, who lives overseas so she can get out of Pakistan.

(He also hallucinates a whole love song while traveling)

But what neither of them know is that the polo tournament Sadaf is organizing features a new play, former stable boy made newest member of the team….AINY IN A BEARD!!!!!!!  And suddenly we are in a whole new movie, one that the trailer didn’t even hint at.  Ainy is living her dream, playing Polo.  But she is also jealous when she sees Sadaf flirting with Osman.  And angry at Osman and worried he will reveal her location to her family.  Osman is in love with Ainy but too shy and unsure to express it, and very embarrassed by Sadaf’s attention.  Oh, and Ainy has a rival on the team who keeps trying to fight her and Osman has to intervene.  And all of this is taking place in luxurious tents as the whole Polo team is “glamping”.

And this second half ends in a glorious scramble as her family interrupts the Polo match just as she scores the winning point, Osman tries to hold them off and fight for her, and she finally takes off her helmet and reveals her long hair and female identity (because obviously a man couldn’t have long hair).  And, finally, a speech about how she has a right to live her own life and her family is just wrong wrong wrong, which wakes her father up into standing up for her against his own father.  And Osman sadly leaving, having solved all her problems and atoned for his betrayal.  Only for her to follow him, riding a white horse along the side of the train and confessing her love.

Mostly this film is about drama and romantic complications, with the reassuring sense that it will probably all work out in the end.  And some great moments of light comedy, like Sadaf considerately inquiring about Osman’s ability to defecate, considering he is just arrived from abroad.  But what makes it really extra wonderful is the message about women.

Way way back at the beginning, Osman asks Ainy who she is running to, and her response is to ask why a woman always has to run out on a wedding to go to another man, can’t she just not want to get married for herself?  And that continues through to their conversations, she doesn’t want to get married because she never got a chance to live for herself, to be herself instead of just obeying what the men in her family tell her.  Beyond that, it’s a whole structure of patriarchy.  Her father isn’t cruel, but her grandfather is, and the whole family is under him.  Her father is being controlled just as she is.

It’s not just in what the film says, it’s in what it doesn’t say.  Osman’s ex-girlfriend, she is never humiliated or blamed for her choices the way she might be in another film.  He doesn’t need the moment of destroying her in order to gain back his manhood.  He is man enough to except that she made her choice just as he made his to try to be with her even knowing her weaknesses.  And the film doesn’t blame Sadaf either, or make her shallow and man-mad.  We establish early on that she desperately wants an overseas husband, and we can’t blame her for going after the one that falls in her lap.  There are no “bad” women here, or “good” women.  Just people trying to live their own lives just as much as the men are.  And that is well worth going to a new film industry in a new country to find.

Oh, also to watch out for, our hero is very very handsome and wears amazing wool suits/vests/shawls/everything.  And has one sequence wearing only a tiny tiny tight fitting pair of boxer shorts.  If that is something that interests you.

Image result for osman khalid butt balu mahi

(Ignore the very handsome man, focus on the gorgeous weave of the shawl!)

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5 thoughts on “Friday Classics: Balu Mahi, A Woman Riding Ahead of Her Man

  1. I enjoyed it when I watched it several months ago. The song by Rahat FAK was a bonus and Lahore looked so pretty lit up with fairy lights. Also what struck me was what a nice new bus system they have in Lahore (I googled it at some stage to find out they do have some new metro transit system). The movie is a good tourism promo for Lahore…

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    • I had the same reaction! Lahore buses and streets and public places look really nice, I should go there. They also made wandering around at night seem super safe.

      On Fri, Jul 27, 2018 at 6:49 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. I love, love, love this “Oh why not” attitude and it was what made me watch indian movies in the beginning. I was used that films must be serious and realistic so when I learnt that it doesn’t have to be this way, it was like all new world for me. The leading pair was in Delhi, and suddenly is dancing in Egypt? Why not? The boy had his vocal cords damaged but now is able to talk again? Why not?
    It’s a pity hindi movies don’t have this attitude anymore. I want to watch Balu Mahi now! I’m going to have Netflix soon, and I hope it will be avaiable in Italy.

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    • Oh you should watch Balu Mahi! It’s so fun, and so refreshing in the “Why not” attitude. It also really reminded me of Mubarakan from last summer, did you see that? It was a syurprise hit, and it had a similar “oh why not” feel to it. Big cast having fun, crazy character twists, identical brothers, and clearly filmed just in people’s houses.

      On Fri, Jul 27, 2018 at 8:00 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. Pingback: Friday Classics: Balu Mahi, A Woman Riding Ahead of Her Man — dontcallitbollywood – Business Startup-Bay Area

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