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Dubai born indie director Shazia Ali Khan’s debut film Pinky Memsaab has been hailed as a progressive look into the lives of two very different women living in Dubai. While it features some winning performances from its two leads, Hajra Yamin and Kiran Malik, the film is a largely mediocre film that is all the more disappointing if one considers what it could have been.
The film revolves around a maid called Pinky who comes to Dubai to work for a rich Pakistani family and in the process undergoes a journey of self-discovery. At the same time, Mehr the lady Pinky is working for has to come to terms with some harsh realizations of her own. The greatest thing one can say about Pinky Memsaab is that it’s inherently invested in the growth of its two characters.
It helps that Khan’s screenplay is also intent to ensure the audience through Pinky’s experiences in Dubai, that living a prosperous life in Dubai is no easy task. In fact, Khan’s residency in Dubai equips her with the necessary tools to ensure that the city acts as the unacknowledged third main character of the film. Instead of idealistically portraying the city as a city of dreams, Khan is more interested in showing the harsh realities of life abroad.
Unfortunately, that’s about all that Pinky Memsaab manages to get right. Khan sets up the story skillfully, keeping some cards close to her chest so when she eventually reveals them, their impact is felt. Organically setting up Pinky’s story and giving her a sadly realistic backstory helps in making the protagonist likable from the get-go. But the film falls short of what it’s supposed to be and what it actually is.
The biggest and most noticeable weakness of Pinky Memsaab is its poor direction and terrible editing. Going in I wasn’t aware that this was Khan’s first film but within 20 minutes of this film it became quite apparent. The film doesn’t shy away from the sort of clichéd direction that even our dramas have finally outgrown; for example, the movie introduces Mehr by lingering on the objects in her house and voyeuristically showing us her lifestyle before finally revealing her face, all of this made worse by the use of corny jazz music.
There are unconnected sequences that come from nowhere and the film lacked transition shots most of the time. And the editing at times is so bad that you feel like you’re watching a sizzle reel than an actual movie. Pinky Memsaab is also lazy enough to use not one but three different montages throughout the film for plot progression, all of which work to various degrees.
The acting by Yamin and Malik is strong though surprisingly I felt that Malik was more of an MVP than Yamin, especially in light of how badly written her character is. Malik’s Meher is portrayed as a flawed individual (or at least I think she is, the film seems pretty confused about that at times) but her ‘journey’ throughout the film is muddled at best. Yamin’s Pinky fares better, but only just.
The film misses an opportunity to show how stark Mehr’s wine drinking, smoking lifestyle seems to her and it takes one montage of makeovers for her to be chill with everything. The trailers market Pinky Memsaab as a movie that seems to emphasize the strong kinship between the ‘memsaab’ Mehr and the domestic worker Pinky but in reality, the film never even wholeheartedly attempts it.
We rarely see a drama about a strong female friendship and it’s disheartening to see that Khan passed a big opportunity to truly represent positive female friendships in Pakistan, even between people of different social classes. What’s worse is that the film pitting its two leads against each other is shown as the plot device that serves as the catalyst for change both Mehr and Pinky need, even if they don’t realize it till very late.
It is thus quite ironic that Pinky Memsaab is being accredited as a feminist torchbearer when all it does is perpetuate the age-old myth that two women can never be anything but adversaries for each other. Throw in a weak storyline, poor direction, and editing that borders on being amateurish and you have Pinky Memsaab in a nutshell. But for all its flaws, Pinky Memsaab is still a blessing for putting women front and behind the camera and hopefully, the film will encourage more female directors and stories on the big screen.