What can one really say about a film like this? For one thing, it makes me despair as a woman on behalf of us all. How can someone like me possibly find any common ground with men who find this titillating?
Could we ever reach an understanding on anything? Don’t get me wrong! I myself enjoy a good meal and possibly more drinks than are good for me. I like that the women in this film are actually human-sized. I am happy to know that in the North-West Frontier of Pakistan I might be considered worthy of the enchanting name “Haseena Atom Bomb” (or “Bump” as pronouced by Madame Noor Jehan in the title song).
But. Or should that be Butt. As Todd wisely points out in his brilliant review, this film clearly supports the argument that “sleaze is an unavoidable byproduct of puritanism.” It is sleazy. Garishly, unrepentantly, cartoonishly sleazy. Still, it was popular enough in Pakistan to be dubbed from the original Pashto into Urdu and distributed in mainstream theaters (at least that’s my impression from reading about it). So I worry: what do people who enjoy this type of film get out of it? Even not taken seriously (can it be taken seriously?), it sends a whole lot of iffy messages. Or do they watch it only once in the same pruriently curious vein that I did, thinking “How bad can it be!”?
For beyond the significant raunch factor is the total incompetence of it all. It is not subtitled—and if it were, it should be done IN ALL CAPS, BECAUSE THAT’S HOW EVERYONE IN IT SPEAKS—but I don’t think that was a major issue comprehension-wise. The editing is choppy, to say the least. The bad guys are virtually indistinguishable from each other and they all shout their lines in what sounds very like Amrish Puri’s voice. They smack their lips and caress their own bare chests, and raping women is their hobby.
The main story begins as a bunch of them are thwarted in their attack on our heroine Haseena as she makes her way home from performing vigorously in a disco on her wedding day. (Why would she even do that? is a question not asked, or answered, as far as I can tell).
She stops for a little bath under a waterfall (again, inexplicably, although she is outdoors in broad daylight, she takes off all her clothes). When attacked, she tries to run; but alas! her stout calves are no match for the slender legs of the region’s speedy little horses!
Luckily there is a beefy man there to rescue her, and equally luckily he happens to have with him a white sheet—which she uses to cover up her modesty while he beats the crap out of her attackers, over and over and over again, to the sound of booming claps of thunder and ear-splitting dishoom-dishoom.
When she thanks him, he goes into a reverie, recalling his childhood. I am not clear on the details, but as a boy he lived either with or next door to a man with a wife and three kids:
This “uncle” was mixed up with some very bad guys, and after our boy hero prevented him from selling auntie’s sewing machine (the family’s only reliable source of income), he gave away his oldest daughter (on the right above) to the goondas to train as a money-making tawaif. The little girl was rescued from that fate by an older, kindly man who purchased her from the goons.
Back in the present, our florid hero wishes Haseena a happy wedding day (there’s nothing like a little light reminiscing between strangers!) and they go their separate ways. He looks to me like a cross between Charles Bronson and Kris Kristofferson, and I decide to call him Chuckles.
But Haseena is not safe for long. These same lip-smacking own-chest-caressing guys show up on her wedding night—and this time they prevail, raping her (for a really long time) in front of her husband. Then, they string him up on a rope, forcing an exhausted Haseena to support his body weight to prevent him from hanging. Weeping, she finally buckles and he dies. Too late she is joined by some guy who shouts angrily at the camera while she sniffles and hugs her dangling husband’s feet.
Incidentally, much of the film is framed in this way—I am not sure if it is the editing for DVD or what, but the actors are confined to the edges of the screen and cut in half while a big empty space occupies the center. We won’t even discuss the electric blue OK CD 7223382 which takes up much of the real estate.
Haseena and her angry friend are not alone in their determination for vengeance in this neighborhood, though. A hardworking policewali named Shabana (who periodically breaks into lurid fantasies about her Police Inspector boss) is out to get Lambu Dada, a tall goonda whom we’ve seen before in Chuckles’ flashback. She arrests him with the help of her Inspector. We next see him in court, where he is taken away at the end of a rope by a leopard-spandex-clad shag-haircut-sporting girl named Reshma (judge and police just watch as she marches in and removes him).
She takes him to meet Rustom Baba, who I think is the guy (and by inference, she’s that little girl) who had saved Chuckles’ neighbor-cousin from a red-light district fate. They thrash Lambu Dada for a while until Chuckles shows up and drags him (still at the end of a rope) away on horseback. He finishes Lambu Dada off by stabbing him and then draining out all his blood with a giant hypodermic needle—inspired by Mard, perhaps?
Meanwhile, Haseena is keeping busy too. She lures one of her attackers to her room with help from her shouting friend and bashes him up, killing him off by stringing him up on a rope as he had her husband. This seems to be a Pyrrhic victory though: she weeps as he dangles behind her.
Perhaps I am overthinking it, but she repeats this pattern with every man she sets swinging. Kills him, then bursts into tears. Revenge has its limitations, it seems, at least for Haseena. Reshma has no such issues; her strange fetish appears to be escorting men from the courtroom (unchallenged by any of the authorities present) and then sending them to their deaths.
At one point she takes Chuckles from the court after he’s arrested for rather gruesomely killing someone with a giant butcher knife. They then indulge in a little romantic interlude—hopefully not an incestuous one, although I wouldn’t rule it out in this movie. This interlude is pretty much the only bright spot; I even like the song! He smashes his nose and huge aviator sunglasses into her ample chins, and then they frolic in some water. At one point she obviously slips and falls, but nobody bothers to edit it out and I laugh cruelly (see? watching trash like this will corrupt your morals!).
These water-soaked scenes do neither of them any favors in the sexy department. After they thrash about for some time in a pool, Reshma pulls out a pair of giant shears and yells at us as she points them at him. (Does nobody in the area have regular-sized household implements?) He talks her out of using them, luckily, and I never do figure out why she even wanted to.
Chuckles, Reshma and Haseena continue to trade off scenes of vengeance (interrupted sporadically by policewali Shabana and her beloved Inspector, who try—and fail miserably—to bring some law and order to things, but who also have the only other nice song). At one point Haseena channels Madonna circa 1983 and entertains us with a hideous disco dance. It makes me long for Mithun.
I grow weary of all the thrusting female flesh, seam-splitting contortions and gratuitous butt and crotch shots. Ram Gopal Verma’s obsession with Urmila’s posterior is positively tame in comparison.
The story of our four small children comes (I assume) full circle as well, although I never figure out the details (and don’t really care). I gather that Reshma and Shabana are long-lost sisters. Presumably Chuckles and Reshma aren’t related too closely, since they continue their romance despite eventually recognizing each other as hair-pulling combatants from childhood.
There is a lot more sleaze and general mayhem, and by the end I feel worn down and depressed by the seediness of it all. I do my best to not be humorless about gender relations (although I am proud to be a feminist!) but this is just so sad and tawdry. The women in it aren’t at all empowered either; they always end up needing some man to assist them in a fight, and the only power they really seem to wield is through blatant sexual display.
In any case, I think I may just leave these fringe excursions to those more stalwart than I. I have found my Waterloo in Haseena. For a hilarious—and comfortingly sane—take on the film, do read Omar Khan’s review over at hotspotonline. You won’t be sorry! If nothing else, at least it has given us some stellar writing from Todd and Omar. And let me be clear (no hate mail please!) that I am not judging the Pakistani film industry (or audience) by this one miserable example. After all, I live in the country which gave the world Baywatch.