Durj is the story of Gul Baksh, based on real-life cannibalism incidents from Bhakkar. With the story, and the direction Shamoon Abbassi has tried to look at the whys and not just the hows. There is some humanity even in monsters. Durj tries to explore those societal and physiological aspects which leads Gul to this path.
Let me allay your fears right away. The film is not overtly gory. Censor board has cut out a couple of scenes which might have been a bit difficult to…well, digest but overall the violence we see in the film is pretty much what we are used to seeing in films and TV. The visual effects team Blunt digital cleverly uses the blur option to dilute the impact of some images.
The film uses Lali (Sherry Shah) to humanize Gul Baksh. Two people who have been abused by the cruel society seek refuge in each other’s arms. What brings them together? Hunger. Both have been given solid backstories to give us some reasoning for their behaviour. They see each other’s survival in being together. Gul is smart to the ways of the world. He knows how to play situations. Lali is a little bit more naïve. They start seeing dreams of a future together.
What helps immensely is the cinematography and the rootedness of the story. It’s a beautifully shot film, showing vast barren lands, echoing the hollowness we see in the characters. Moreover, credit to the team for taking on board actors from the area. Their behaviourism and accent didn’t look forced. Time after time we see Pakistani films going overboard in trying to portray a character from a certain background. Moreover, the setting is not made up so the audience becomes part of that universe.
Another aspect of the story is of a wife looking for her missing husband. Dr Farah Daniyal (Maira Khan) frustrated by police’s lethargy decides to take matters into her own hands. With inadvertent assistance from her lawyer Nouman Javaid, she kidnaps Gul from the prison, in an attempt to know the whereabouts of her missing husband. She believes that Gul is the way to get him back. Will see be successful in her mission? Head to the cinemas to find out.
There are parts of the film which does seem a bit manufactured at times. You do wonder if the relationship between the lawyer and Dr Farah is more personal (platonic) than professional. The timeline can be a bit confusing as well, with dates appearing on-screen regularly. Some unresolved parts we were told are due to censor cuts and a couple of actors dropping out. Asif Noorani’s background music also helps sets the mood. However, some sequences deserved more of a punch but since the intensity had already been high throughout, it looked more of the same.
Having said that, despite its flaws, Durj is a brave and worthy attempt. It’s perhaps not entertaining (it’s not meant to be) rather it is engaging. Pakistani filmmakers with a few odd exceptions have largely focused on upper or middle-class stories. This looks at the lives of those who our society wants to push away from its collective imagination. In days where illegally parked rickshaws are being literally crushed by our state and Karachi’s Seaview has been cleansed of the poor folk, the film is an important reminder that hunger can lead people to such dark places where our set of rules for society and our even state’s forces becomes toothless. When new privately-owned cities are built over the dead bodies of the poor and indigenous, we are inviting disaster.
As for acting, Shamoon Abbasi and Sherry Shah embrace the physicality of these characters. There is no pretence involved. Both have let go of any vanity and become this couple who lives in the mountains. The costume selection and make up also is brilliant, making it all that more believable. Maira Khan and Nauman Javaid are adequate in their roles, simply because this really is a story of Gul and Lali. There is just one song, appropriate for the kind of story this is.
All in all, this is a film made with utmost commitment and dedication. It shows in the performances and the execution of the film. For those who are done with girl meets boy Pakistani cinema, Durj will be a welcome break.