There is one scene in Pinky Memsaab where domestic helper Pinky (Hajra Yamin), who has recently moved from the rural Punjab of Pakistan to work in a house in Dubai, gets lost in the city. Her ‘memsaab’ Meher (Kiran Malik) and the chauffeur Santosh (Indian actor Sunny Hinduja) find her sitting on the stairs in some strange neighbourhood. It’s not hard to imagine Pinky’s shock over being lost in a new place with an unfamiliar language and culture.
Watching the film, the audience experiences similar feelings. Mind you, it’s not the story that’s unfamiliar. We have seen this journey of self-discovery and adjusting to a new life many times on the big screen before. And Pinky Memsaab weaves into it the fields of Punjab, Qingqi rickshaw rides, Mehdi Hasan’s Ranjish Hi Sahi and a desi flavour in a strange land. We have disputes of personalities, neglected relationships and a forgotten past, presented through Pinky, Santosh, Meher and her husband Hassan (Adnan Jaffer).
Writer-director Shazia Ali Khan tries her best to tactfully tackle the story without making it predictable. However, in trying to not give away too much too soon, she holds back important information almost until the big reveal which confuses more than it intrigues.
Therefore, the payoffs don’t even feel satisfactory because you never realise the film is building toward something. Instead, it wastes precious screen time, unnecessarily philosophising trivialities that neither help the characters nor move the story forward.
Pinky Memsaab, subsequently, feels like a two-hour-long, bland exposition through talking heads. Even the scenes suffer from a lack of completion. They start off well, establishing the situation but then fade out as if they didn’t matter. These loose threads accumulate until the film begins to feel like a worn out sweater dug out of storage after five years.
Nevertheless, what keeps you from walking out is a couple of engaging elements and promises of a few more, which Pinky Memsaab doesn’t exactly deliver. Yamin breaks out as a valuable addition to Pakistani cinema. The naivety, conflicts and aspirations projected in her expressions are enough to make you sit through the end. A more coherent and smoother script would serve her better though. Of course, those who’ve followed the actor’s theatre career are already aware of her talent.
Hinduja, albeit in a limited role, steals the show. In fact, one would have liked to see much more of him. His Vicky Kaushal vibes serve him well, and the actor holds his own in a film that doesn’t do his character justice. While a major chunk of the story revolves around Jaffer and Malik, their lazy performances barely make us feel anything for them while Yamin and Hinduja do most of the heavy-lifting.
The film may not be technically sound with its handheld camerawork often proving to be more distracting than a stylistic choice should be. But that’s forgivable. What’s not is the writing. Pinky Memsaab touts itself as having ‘strong female characters’ and it certainly does, in Pinky and Kulsoom (Hajrah Khan, who plays an exotic dancer trying to support herself). But what is sad is how the film makes them appear so uninteresting.
Pinky Memsaab has a somewhat reliable cast and a captivating story about the working class behind Dubai’s glamorous front. It has the director’s ambitious vision which takes the film far beyond run-of-the-mill flicks Pakistani cinema often produces.
Yet, despite having everything at its disposal to produce an engaging story with an equal-amount of emotional and inspirational quotient, this ‘memsaab’ doesn’t do much. It aspires to, and even reaches out, just like Yamin’s character, but doesn’t quite get there.
Verdict: Pinky Memsaab shoots for the stars but is hauled back by the gravity.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
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Note: This review was originally published in The Express Tribune. It’s only republished here for archival purposes.