In the early decades after the partition, Karachi was a thriving hub for the artists, intellectuals, poets, thinkers, and writers. The literary giants used to spend most of their leisure time sitting in the coffee houses, dining in at Irani restaurants, or surfing at the local bookshops. A few decades down the road, the truly cosmopolitan city has transformed into a materialistic region or maybe, I am just reminiscing on the wonders of past. As Paul articulately says in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, “Nostalgia is denial — denial of the painful present."

Nostalgia: denial of harsh realities

Is the present really dreadful? Well, it is not so bleak but the symptoms aren’t encouraging either because what we see today is an array of imported fast food restaurants, a haughtiness towards heritage and a total disregard for literature. But going by Ernest Hemingway’s line from The Old Man and The Sea, “it’s silly not to hope."

On the brighter side, Karachi still has voracious art connoisseurs, readers, and writers who jostle day in and out with their identities to fit into an almost alien territory. Having said that, Anjum Shahzad's #Film Mah-e-Mir evokes a terrific nostalgia at this point in our lives. It is a deeply moving film exploring a writer’s struggle in the metropolis.

Mah-e-Mir depicts the predicament of a young writer named Jamal, played by Fahad Mustafa, jostling with his own identity. Jamal writes a column for an Urdu newspaper. For him, the works of famous Urdu poets are just a jargon. The protagonist is clearly a projection of any modern day-writer. He is bored by the pretentious nature of contemporary writers as well, which ultimately pushes Jamal to seek the truth at his own pace. What is the truth? How will Jamal discover it? Shahzad brings to life the struggle of Jamal through the legacy of pain and sweetness lurking in the corners of the Eastern Coffee House. Shahzad also plunges into a world both spontaneous and soaked in nostalgia through the sequences shot in the Pioneer Book House.

Mah-e-Mir casts a spell

With opulent set designs and sturdily tremulous performances, director Anjum Shahzad accomplishes something close to a marvel. As soon as the movie begins, the writer Sarmad Sehbai pulls you into a world of his main protagonist Jamal with a gorgeous display of the images of a full moon, a restless sea, and the crumbling buildings of Karachi with a painterly fastidiousness. The attention to detail gives this sequence a verisimilitude. However, the beginning of this film reminded me of the poetic profundity of Virginia Woolf’s classic The Waves that also starts in similar fashion.

Watching Mah-e-Mir, it’s easy to see that Fahad Mustafa gives his finest work here. Iman Ali is luminous and astonishingly expressive. Her face can convey fear and hope simultaneously in just a glance. Manzar Sehbai gives a sweepingly heart-rending performance. While, Sanam Saeed blossoms in the role of an intelligent and a quick-witted writer.

Exuded through Shahzad’s transcendent cognizance and introspective glimpse, the classic revisiting of Mir Taqi Mir’s era bears lyrical fluidity and mystique. Mah-e-Mir is a testimony to the fact that Shahzad is adroit at bending the norms of an archaic film industry. The film transports you to a liminal space where you find yourself oscillating between prose and poetry.

Rating: ★★★★☆ #Cinema