Reluctantly as if under some compulsion and duress, I consented to watch the newly released filmmaker Shoaib Mansoor’s ‘Verna’ on a dark and dingy weekday night. The reason for this was quite obvious as there was no palpable excitement or buzz either on ‘so-and-so-called’ social media platforms or on the Lahore social circuit. After the release of the expected blockbuster eagerly making its way to the big screen following mega releases such as ‘Punjab Nahi Jaungi’ and ‘Na Maloom Afraad 2’, there seemed to be an ‘eerie silence’ everywhere as if someone had been stoned into something unspeakable. What was this ‘unspeakable’ after all? I only happened to find out about it once I stepped into the cinema hall half expecting to sit through a two and a half storyless, boring and repeatedly beaten to death romantic epic of mundane proportions. I was in for the shock of my life. Well, at the start I must say that the story seemed to be quite obvious with the husband and his wife, along with his sister frolicking around on a picnic in a wintry and deserted park. However, a black SUV was always ‘lurking’ in the background of the opening scene. After the initial setting, the story actually explodes ‘in your face.’ The story unfolds in some bizarre happenings, twists, and turns. While some are believable, others are so outrageous that in our patriarchal, feudal and male-oriented conservative society, it rather seemed ridiculous and unbelievable. Questions were raised so abruptly and starkly in the storyline that it is no doubt how it rightly felt so out of place to our traditional mindset. The dialogues were sharp, crisp and abrupt and helped to move the story forward at a roller coaster pace. All the characters downplayed the roles admirably. No dramatisation or overacting was encouraged or allowed by Shoaib Mansoor’s tight screenplay. As usual, emphasis wasn’t on the cinematography or any onscreen extravagance; it was typical and trademark Mansoor work of art, plain and simple but a gripping storyline held together by the sheer force of the social drama unfolding on screen. Mansoor, true to his colours, kept all the elements of the cinematic experience close to his heart. Mansoor’s ‘Verna‘ brings to the screen the inherent hypocrisy, bigotry and double standards of our degenerative and depressingly moribund society and culture. He has in his usual and sensitive way, exposed the nexus of our political, feudal and bureaucratic class in exploiting the moral and psychological fibre of the very basis of our civilisation; and very unexpectedly the main protagonist in ‘Verna‘ so meticulously and deliberately plans to hit back against the well established moral and societal patriarchal standards that it becomes not only difficult but also irritatingly disgusting for the unsuspecting audience to swallow the unpalatable potion of the “prescription”. But then, such is the state of affairs in our Islamic republic that nothing other than a shock therapy of this kind can put some regenerative spark in us. ‘Verna’ may not invite raving reviews and critical acclaim for touching topics and issues termed taboo to our archaic and conservative sensibilities of religion and culture but through its well-crafted roles of a husband, wife, sister, father, mother, friend, politician, civil servant, media anchor, lawyer, judge etc. It redefines the boundaries of the actual debate and dialogue which needs to be undertaken if we intend to survive in a society like that of Pakistan. Well done Mansoor and his cast of characters, especially Mahira Khan, Haroon Shahid and Zarrar Khan! Keep it up. Thank you for the wake-up call. Pakistani cinema, it seems, has come a long but a hard way. From filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s Oscar-winning social documentaries to Adnan Sarwar’s realist masterpiece ‘Shah‘ to Jami’s indigenous cinematographic masterpiece ‘Moor’ and Sarmad Khoosat’s classy and artsy ‘Manto‘, Pakistani cinema at least has finally been able to create its own niche market. Add to this, Mansoor’s goody bag of female-centric blockbusters like ‘Khuda Ke Liye’ and ‘Bol’, and the picture of Pakistani parallel or alternate cinema is very much complete. Credit must be given to the few for attempting to undertake such a coup. Published in Daily Times, November 25th 2017.