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Kamal Khan’s Laal Kabootar is undeniably one of the best Pakistani film’s released in some time. Fully aware of its strengths, the one and a half-hour crime thriller are a reminder of the talent Pakistani cinema has. The movie begins slowly setting the major characters and chess pieces in place, before building up to a fantastic climax.
Although the film doesn’t have an A list stars, the film does an excellent job of making Mansha Pasha and Ahmed Ali Akbar stars in their own right. Anchored by powerful performances from an uber-talented cast featuring the likes of Saleem Mairaj, Ali Kazmi and Rashid Farooqi, Laal Kabootar has enough star power to overcome its stumbling at the expense of a few tonal shifts and the humor that doesn’t quite stick.
However, these few minor quibbles aside, the movie is nearly perfect. By going small and focusing on the rampant criminal offences in Karachi, and discarding the glitz and glamour that’s an essential component of most Bollywood and Pakistani movies, Laal Kabootar distinguishes itself as a crime thriller that is both understated and also criminally addictive.
There’s a lot to praise here. Mo Azmi’s cinematography and Kamal Khan’s sharp direction allow us to be instantly transported into the scorching heat of Karachi. The film is very effective in capturing the smothering feel of the city and the sweat-soaked, street-smart characters. The movie often brings to mind Iranian cinema, and if that is an indication of where our fledgeling cinema industry could go, then it is a promising sign of good things to come.
Laal Kabootar is very Pakistani though, and is in its macabre way, a love letter to Karachi. This isn’t just highlighted from the way the scenes have been shot but also through the use of classical and urban music to complement the scenes, or rather the city itself. The production value in this film is also top notch, and the movie’s visuals and camerawork succeed in elevating the film from looking ordinary in any way.
The film also doesn’t fall in the Pakistani movie trap of looking and feeling like a drama. This isn’t just a credit to the film’s mature content but also to the run length time. At one hour and thirty minutes, Laal Kabootar is tidy and avoids the boredom factor. While it takes its time building up this only helps to give the film a more refined feel.
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Ahmed Ali Akbar plays a taxi driver Adeel Nawaz who is savvy and often conspires with his friends to rob the unfortunate souls who make the mistake of becoming his passengers. There are layers to his performance, and Akbar shrewdly allows his character to be more than your Bollywood bad boy hero. Akbar is very much a Karachi boy in this film, and though the character has reasons for his transgressions, Laal Kabootar isn’t too interested in justifying his behavior.
Mansha Pasha who plays Aliya gives a similarly great performance in her role of a determined widow seeking to avenge her husband’s death. When the two characters cross paths through rather tough circumstances, an uneasy alliance is formed as they fall darker into the pit of corruption in the city. This layered and violent film is often surprising not only because of where the storylines and characters go but also because how seamlessly it integrates social issues into its storyline.
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The film is tightly plotted, and once the movie picks up speed, it never lets you go. Kamal Khan’s directorial debut is exciting and leaves you at the edge of your seats by the time it reaches its climax. Nothing about this film can be compared to the usual clutter of movies that fill our local cinema halls, and while the movie may not be the kind of cheery, rom-com/jingoistic that’s done well in theatres, it nonetheless breathes new life into our film industry.
Laal Kabootar explores the seedy underbelly of Karachi in a way we haven’t seen before and through colourful characters, a tightly paced plot, great acting, and direction, affirms its status as a genuinely groundbreaking Pakistani film.