abylicious” is ‘a true love story that never has an ending’, and this clearly tells what to expect from Essa Khan’s debut who has penned the story and directed the film. In fact, according to the young director who studied economics but whose heart was always in filmmaking, this story of unworldly romance and the heartbreak that inevitably comes with it, is based on his own life. In Babylicious, the story opens with the college romance already blooming between a twenty-something Omer, essayed for the big screen by Shehroz Sabzwari and Sabiha, played by Syra Yousuf. While Omer is impractical, imprudent and hopelessly in love, Sabiha, is much more practical, pragmatic and ambitious. “There was a Sabiha in my life and I was Omar. The film is basically an adaptation of the break-up of my relationship when I was young. The day we broke up, I started writing my own happy ending,” Essa said in an interview.
The hype around the film was built up through a strategic marketing campaign that run over months with song releases, teasers, posters and media junkets. The buzz that the producers generated to tantalize the young segment of the audience, had set the tone. Personal history of the young leading pair, who had both previously done some body of work for the big screen but never anything as central or noticeable, added to the allure. Once a real-life couple, Syra and Shehroz had parted ways off-screen, but came together for promotions like true professionals. Audiences were further intrigued by the freshness and vividness of the visual language of the film seen through teasers. The music is a clear departure from the standard scores that most Pakistani films offer. It is sprightly, melodious and soulful. With Pakistan’s increasingly burgeoning urban-centric youth culture as its backdrop, Babylicious proves to be a strong introduction of the impish genre of pop-corn chick-flick, something hereto unknown and unexplored by the local filmmakers.
Notwithstanding some fundamental flaws in the story arcs of the central characters and a few protracted sub plots that could have been easily curtailed, strong performances by the leading duo and the support cast never lets the film drown. Syra is refreshing and her performance is dynamic with the right dose of multi-dimensionality. Shehroz, who was previously seen as the lead in the disastrous “Chain Aaye Na”, is surprisingly convincing as the candy-eyed Omer, despite the fact that his character is always dangerously close to being plain annoying. His resorting to hiring a prostitute along with his band of friends to get over his heartbreak, refusing to acknowledge his shortcomings and forcefully pursuing Sabiha, using a female friend to make Sabiha jealous, turning to black magic to win her, a failed suicide attempt, and the worst part of it, his plans to leak her intimate pictures to her current fiancé, are seriously problematic. Its high time our filmmakers should start drawing the line between being persistent in love, and being a toxic and obsessive ex who refuses to acknowledge the girl’s feelings and aspirations.
It is said that cinema is an edited reality and while society decides morality, films are desperate to connect with the audience and fulfil what the society fancies. Having said that, the toxicity of male characters depicted in Pakistani films and dramas has become a constant source of pain. Eulogizing the flawed ideals of persistent love, toxic male lovers salvaging their dignity at the end through a change of heart, women eventually getting rewarded for their submission, and the worst of it all, sugar coating emotional and physical abuse as an expression of mad-love, should end. While with Babylicious, our commercial cinema has endeavored to shed a lot of baggage that it carries from the past visually, it is much more important for it to do away with the regressive and noxious ideals of blind love. The saving grace for Babylicious is that Shehroz manages to convince the viewers that Omer is doing all this in his innocence and naivety, without actually being evil, and the chemistry between the actors playing the leads remains endearing despite the problematic plotline.
Last but not least, what really stands out for Babylicious is the youthful vibrant and energetic vibe that the makers have been able to project to tell a story that demanded just that. The overall production design is ten on ten, and full marks to Essa and his team, which includes production designer Sweccha Sharma, art director Himani Patel, costume designer Palwasha Yousuf, and a set of their young female assistant directors for making sure that every detail from locations to costumes to lighting to props are in sync with the setting of the story.
In Essa Khan, Pakistan’s cinema has found an energetic, technically sound, creative story teller who understands what appeals to the younger segment of audiences. Here is hoping that he also gets some wholesome, healthy and inspiring stories to tell.