The Mikaal Zulfiqar and Armeena Rana Khan-starrer Sherdil starts off with Haris Mustafa (Mikaal) going against his father to join the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Academy. We are made to believe that he’s born to fly and fight for his country. For the next one hour, nothing happens. We only see him goofing around with his friends and later falling in love with Sabrina (Armeena). No conflict is established and the focus remains on pointless comedy. No characters are established and we don’t know anything about our characters.
Cut to five years later (after a random toilet scene where he can’t reach the urinal as it is fixed a foot too high), Haris graduates while we know nothing of his training. His initial nationalistic spirit is only mentioned in passing while until the interval, we only know he tries too hard to be funny.
Mikaal is acting. Armeena is acting, or more like reading the lines off a teleprompter. And you are constantly aware of this fact because there is no other element that hides their weakness nor amplifies their strengths (if at all). Their performances come off as too plastic for the big screen, therefore, it’s hard to connect to them as characters. Whatever interest Indian flight lieutenant Arun Veerani’s (Hassan Niazi) character builds soon weans off. You simply don’t find yourself rooting for the lead couple to be together or praying for Haris to come back alive from the mission. Frankly, you, as the audience, don’t care.
And that’s what sums up Sherdil. A film that means to instill you with a sense of pride and patriotism and make you chant with passion ends up making you feel the one emotion that it fears: nothing. That is because the writer-producer Nomaan Khan, in his script, has essentially nothing to say. And the problem is that he says it with confidence.
Visually, the flight sequences look relatively impressive than the rest of the film, despite not establishing the air space clearly. It’s a chaos up there and it’s remains unclear whose trajectory you should follow. Though acceptable, they do nothing to engage or thrill us.
The rest of the film boasts of lazy scene transitions, unsynchronised subtitles and mediocre music choices that don’t go with the mood of the scene at all. Even with a lack of basic story structure, the film goes on and on for nearly two-and-a-half hours. It refuses to end, almost out of spite for the audience.
Azfar Jafri’s input as a director doesn’t help Sherdil either. Even he can’t steer away from forced gags and clichéd one-liners of the script. After a point, the film becomes too hard to follow, just like a rookie pilot’s flight, ducking and diving in the sky with no sense of direction or control as it plummets down a mountainside.
Since its invention, film medium has been exploited to propagate jingoistic ideologies. But the difference here is that Sherdil is rather a hodgepodge romance drama disguised as an air force film. It’s inexplicable what it wants to be. You walk in expecting a coherent film to take you on an emotional journey and rather find yourself watching a Sajid Khan-inspired wannabe-comedy. The form is inconsistent, the content insignificant and thus, the amalgamation of the visual and narrative elements sinks in like an empty shell.
One miniscule detail that is quite troublesome is the extreme malice in Mikaal’s tone when he mentions India, which I believe makes his character more repulsive than portrays him as a hero with love for his country. But then, anti-India gestures are always a surefire way to show your patriotism (and vice versa in India).
When it comes to Sherdil, it simply lacks emotion from beginning to end. You might walk in to the cinema hall excited, but you’ll walk out indifferent.
Verdict: Sherdil makes a crash landing but by the end, there are still no survivors. Save yourself and don’t watch it.
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Note: An edited version of this review was originally published in The Express Tribune. It has been republished here for archival purposes.