Verna – Provoking some thought
Ben Okri, the Nigerian poet and novelist said: “The fact of storytelling hints at a fundamental human unease, hints at human imperfection. Where there is perfection there is no story to tell.”
Shoaib Mansoor’s storytelling style is known to touch upon the human unease, by picking topics that are considered taboos and are preferred to be hushed up. His third big screen project, Verna focuses on the issue of rape, one of the ugliest form of crimes against women. It was one of the most anticipated movie of the year even before it hit the ban wall raised by CBFC a couple of days before its release. Thankfully, better sense prevailed in the end and the ban was lifted.
Within a few minutes of the film it was well established that it would not be depicting the typical image of a rape survivor that we have. The character of Sara Mir (played by Mahira Khan), is a headstrong individual, living life on her own terms. Daughter of renowned professors, she is an Oxford graduate, working as a teacher and chose to marry Aami (played by Haroon Shahid), a musician who has polio.
Their lives fall apart when their family trip to Hunza, along with Mahgul, Aami’s sister (played by Naimal Khawar), is interrupted and Sara is abducted, held captive and raped for three days. On her return, she is met with the standard response of how our society deals with this crime. The movie succeeds in portraying that, ‘protecting the honour’ is a mindset prevalent in society and is not tied to any one specific socio-economic class or education level. Be it her highly acclaimed academic parents or her in-laws with tribal roots, their reaction to the incident is the same. Their honour has been targeted. Instead of reporting the crime, they prefer and council Sara to keep it quiet, leave the justice to the Almighty and on-ground they will deal with it the tribal way.
While initially, trying to comply with her family’s reaction, Sara soon figures that this isn’t her and decides to take the matters in her own hands. From here on the plot twists of Verna, feel more like you are watching a thriller more than a storyline of a victim. Balancing this mix was by no means perfect. In the process, the depiction of dealing with trauma was just touched upon at the surface and the timeline in which the rape victim is shown willing to confront her rapist is questionable as well.
The things Verna did right outnumber its flaws, making it a must watch recommendation. At no point in the two and a half hours, will you be bored or feel that it is a drag. The film has the power dynamics on point and you do understand why it had touched a nerve. Another thing that you will cling on are the dialogues. Lines like, “Yehe tu masla ha kay lathi beawaz ha. Awaz ani chaheye” will stay with you. The music is on point; with sambhal sambhal, lafzon ne kharabi ki and power di game on my ‘on loop’ playlist.
The casting is on point. Haroon Shahid, does justice portraying the combination of the weak male ego and second hand trauma and how he at the end agrees to help Sara take revenge, only because there is the threat that she will leave him. Zarrar Khan, who plays Sultan the antagonist depicts the power bred brat with perfection, provoking the repulsion towards the character. Naimal did the best of what she was provided with. The only person who was a source of support for Sara from the get go, was shown doing it in a consistent subtle manner. A bit more solid footing would have further strengthened her role. As for Mahira Khan, she owned Sara in every frame and in my listing is her best performance by far.
As Shoaib Mansoor wrote in a facebook post, “Whether my films pass for being artistic or not may rightly be questionable but they do reflect my beliefs and conscience.
“I hope I am provoking some thought.”
In my opinion, he has been successful in doing just that.
Written by Fatima Arif