Woot! Fight fight fight! And, a Deewar homage! All the good things in one place. And ending with Mahira!
Again, I know this bit keeps cutting between the bad people and our hero, I just don’t remember exactly the order of scenes. So forgive me! I may be messing up which part comes first, but I do have the general placement correct.
I think after the rom-com cute Fawad-Mahira scene, we see Dora come to visit her brother in Jail. A not-so-subtle indication of incest between the brother and sister to some degree. The chemistry between them is amazing, the relationship is so interesting. She is strong and powerful and dignified, and he is all power and fearlessness, and we have now seen enough to realize that these two people only care about each other. The way they behave with each other, the understanding they have for each other, is different from how we have seen these characters in all other situations.
And then we get the SUPER COOL flashback, as the Big Bad Brother says that when his sister was born, his father ordered her killed. We have an overhead shot in all grey and black tones of a small square grave with a crying naked baby inside. And then a small boy leaps on the gravedigger, kills him as the baby cries, then pulls out the baby and calls on the ground with her cuddled against his cheek. Very epic looking, and very blunt “save the girl child” message. And a refreshing message, I’m not sure if this is actually new in Pakistani cinema, to just straight up show the murder of a baby and then encourage the audience to cheer as the murderer is brutally killed, but it is new in India. India (especially lately) has been all about the soft persuasion, the “maybe if we give enough speeches, they will realize their missdeeds on their own” instead of the “these guys are the bad guys and we will kill them” argument
The sign of a good story is a good villain, one we can sort of cheer for at the same time we are cheering against him. And this story has a VERY good villain. Or rather, villain group. The family dysfunction of the Natts is way more detailed and interesting than anything going on over with the “good group”. Maybe that’s the point? Good families are dull, an assortment of bad families is INTERESTING. We have the Dad who is currently old and out of power but we know in the past killed Fawad’s parents, AND tried to kill his own daughter. We have the oldest son who is tormented by his knowledge of his own strength and weaknesses, that he can win any fight but doesn’t know what to do afterwards. We have the next son who desires power but cannot win over support. And we have the daughter, the smartest of them all and best suited to rule, who knows she can hope for no more than being the co-ruler/consort of her beloved brother. Oh yeah, and also that the love between older brother and sister is the only true love in this family, to the point that it feels just a wee bit inappropriate. The villain scenes are a little talky and boring, but the characters are great.
Forget all that, we are back to our hero! And the mysterious robed stranger who approaches him and says “come to the ruins tomorrow to learn of your past”. This dude is the dude the audience saw rescue him from the bodies when his parents were massacred with their followers and then hand him off to his foster mother. He reveals that he has been watching him this whole time and is ready to reveal who he is. It’s a pretty quick reveal, they walk through the ruins and Fawad almost immediately remembers his past. Kind of makes me wonder why he never happened to have walked through these ruins in riding distance of his village and remember all of this long ago. Oh well, best not to ask.
And then we get the interesting philosophy part! Fawad wants vengeance immediately, but the robed stranger reminds him that if he truly wants to earn his father’s weapon, he should fight for justice and ideals, not just vengeance. This movie goes back and forth on this argument the whole time. We know the family that killed his parents is the source of all Bad in the area, but HE doesn’t know that. The movie SAYS “it’s right to avoid vengeance and seek justice, even when you have to be almost purposefully blind to what is happening not to realize your vengeance people are responsible”. But it SHOWS that if Fawad had just gone and killed folks, we could have been saved a lot of trouble.
Anyway, Fawad goes from this revealing speech to being back in the bar when the goons show up again for protection money. This time, they threaten the young woman of the family for full on Evil effect. Fawad stands up to them again, his Foster Brother again tries to rush him out, but this time Fawad very smoothly shoves his brother ahead of him out the door and then bolts it. Before spinning to KILL EVERYONE IN A BIG BLOODY FIGHT.
That door moment is, of course, very Deewar. And it’s a lovely brother relationship moment, Fawad keeping his brother out for his own safety because he knows his brother will try to come back in and help him. Plus metaphorically shutting his foster bro out now that he knows more about his REAL story.
After it’s all over, he goes back to his foster Mom’s house with a bloody weapon and she is FURIOUS. Again, interesting philosophy here. It’s not exactly that he was “in hiding” as a peasant, it’s that she tried to raise him as she would have raised any child, avoiding danger and violence and seeking a nice happy life. It’s not quite the same as the usual “prince unknown raised in poverty”. It’s much more the Zanjeer argument of violence marking him and his foster family trying to give him harbor from violence. Now of course, I am totally anti-Mom. She’s very much a “gosh darn villager” mindset. Fawad has won a fight, he wants to keep fighting injustice, and Mom wants him to stop just because….he might get hurt? Best not to get involved? Something like that. And the movie goes against her too! Fawad storms out, and foster Bro follows! Mom is wrong, doing the right thing is right even when it may put you in peril.
And finally, Love Scene. Sort of thrown in at random, but I don’t care. We see Fawad tying up his horse with his big shawl drapped round himself in a big empty space. Mahira walks towards him, and he flips his shawl round her and pulls her close. Goes in for a kiss and then instead swoops her up in his arms and carries her off.
Next thing we see, it’s night time and they are in the carriage of the village Ferris Wheel. Mahira is complaining that she doesn’t want to go off with him to this creaky carriage, what’s wrong with a nice dark alley like all the other couples? HA! Love forward Mahira. Fawad explains that he likes this place because he can see everything. And then flips to sitting on the top of the carriage and pulls Mahira up with him. As they snuggle together, he shows her the stars and tells her he is afraid he may someday go as far from her as those stars (implying, this path of justice and vengeance is going to bring him death or glory and she is just an average village girl). Mahira grabs herself closer to him and declares that she will just hold on tight and not let go, no matter how far he travels.
And then the song. It’s so lovely. Mahira goes from talking right into singing, very slow and solemn and sweet, the translation in the subtitles are something like “Our story is a legend, it will outlast the sun, listen to it”. Fawad joins her in singing and then the camera moves to show his foster brother laying on his rope bed outdoors singing the same. Then the younger evil brother, the evil sister, and finally a chorus of prisoners in jail with the oldest brother. And then it ends.
It’s just, so lovely. It’s not a song sequence, not as is traditional in south Asian cinema. It’s something more than that, more like a Greek Chorus, or one of those moments in Shakespeare when everyone stops so someone can sing a song. Or in Western films, the occasional diegetic musical moment in a non-musical media that makes everything stop (like the instrumental duet in the first season of Only Murders in the Building). Without this moment, it is a fun sexy violent action movie. With this moment, it is a statement about what it means to be a Legend, what it means to be aware you are a character in a Legendary story, the inevitable weight of that.
Not sure if it is before or after this lovely moment that we get more BORING. Oh right, evil brother has hired two assassins to infiltrate the prison and kill his brother. Big Evil Brother easily defeats both assassins. So now we know Good Brothers=close, Bad Brothers=fighting. And that Big Evil Brother is, once again, The Best. It’s after this that Fawad has his fight in the bar and leaves one man alive (as is traditional) to return and tell the tale. The Evil Natts are upset, and of course evil brother things he will finally prove himself by going off and taking care of these Upstarts.
I know I shouldn’t, but there is where I start trying to figure out just how many villages the Natts control. Like, is all their income just from Fawad’s village and bar? Or are there a whole bunch of other villages we never see who have had their own moments of rebellion that didn’t really work out? If Fawad’s village is their main source of income, why don’t they know about this super good wrestler who lives there and why weren’t they already trying to recruit him?
Anyhoo, Evil Little Brother rides off to the village. And, in a clever director decision, we don’t ACTUALLY see the fight. He just strides in with his bully boys and challenges Fawad, and next we see he is riding out of the village backward on a mule with a blackened face and all his men dead. He looks really stunned too. I checked this with my friend who watched the movie with me, and we both got a vibe of something more than just losing a fight and getting a blackened face. Like, maybe he got sodomized/raped? Or Fawad cut off his penis? Something terrible. Which would also explain why he goes home and stands dramatically on his balcony. Sister, awesome as she is, confronts him and says that punishment for such failure should be death, pushing a dagger at his chest. And he smiles, and let’s himself fall backward off the balcony.