Chakkar Review: A Diva, A Murder And a Pretzel of a Mystery

 

Chakkar Review: A Diva, A Murder And a Pretzel of a Mystery

Zara (Neelum Muneer) is a diva in every wicked sense of the word. She is fiery and snappy one moment, and petulant and unreasonable the next. She is a film star who is a graceless dancer (that’s the real actress’ shortcoming, I fear) but with whom prominent celebrities would still like to jiggy within glitzy music numbers (the cameos in the song Chirrya that introduces Zara also has Sheheryar Munawar Siddiqui, Faysal Quraishi, Mohib Mirza, and HSY; the lackluster choreography is by Nigah Hussain).

When Chakkar starts, Zara is still a hot commodity as far as pretenses go; in her real life, the walls are closing in fast. She is in debt, and her volatile nature and bad mouth are making enemies left-right, and center.

Within the first 30 minutes of the film, she storms off from a shooting after shouting down her co-star and belittling a make-up artist (Shamoon Abbasi) and then leaves her manager (Rana Asif) in the middle of nowhere when he tells her to cool down for the sake of her career.

However, these people are just small fry. Her biggest nemesis equals her hotheadedness. Meet Kabir (Ahsan Khan) — the husband of Zara’s twin sister Mehreen (also Neelum). Kabir hates Zara’s guts like everyone else in the world, but he loves his wife; they even get to perform in the film’s only other, and far better, romantic song Dil Haaray, sung by Momina Mustehsen and Shafqat Amanat Ali, with music by Naveed Nashaad. 

Mehreen, like most cine twins, is Zara’s mirror image. She is a meek, good-natured, stay-at-home-wife who loves her husband and is non-confrontational. Once, when the sisters meet, Zara tells Mehreen that she could have done far better than her grouchy husband; in fact, if Mehreen wanted to, she could have been a bigger celebrity than Zara. The conversation clues us in on the fact that Mehreen was a far better actress when the girls were in college.

Chakkar Review: A Diva, A Murder And a Pretzel of a Mystery


It’s here that Zara proposes a switcheroo: hounded by the press because of the uproar she caused at recent film production (the producer, who also hates her guts, is played by Mehmood Aslam), Zara wants a time-out for some R&R. Zara will take Mehreen’s place and Mehreen will live the glam life of a movie star for the weekend.

And then a murder happens. Kabir is framed for murder, and hot on his trail is a special investigative officer, Shehzad (Yasir Nawaz), touted as a ‘perfect detective’ by his superior (Javed Sheikh). 

Chakkar is a brilliant change of pace for Yasir Nawaz, who co-writes, directs, and produces the film (the last credit he shares with his wife Nida Yasir). This is, by far, one of the most engaging mystery thrillers since Pakistani cinema entered its new wave in 2013. I’ve yet to see a thriller like this in the last 20 years in Pakistan — period.

Written by Yasir, Zeffer Imran, and Syed Jibran (Jibran also stars in Ghabrana Nahin Hai, by the way), the film takes its title way too seriously; and given the genre, this is a good thing. The plot twists and turns, sometimes pulling off radical 180-degree spins while throwing deadweight and inconsequential characters in front of the audience to divert attention away from the real killer.

This is Yasir’s graduation as a filmmaker. He’s learned to adhere to the conventions of the genre without going overboard. Some of his directorial calls are quite astute. For example, the film does away with both songs within the first 40 minutes and then ramps up the pace like a madman on the loose. The pace dips for about five minutes in the second act, but then when you least expect it, the film does another spin.

The climax, which twists the plot at least twice, is a killer. In fact, it reminds one of the Denise Richards and Neve Campbell-starrer Wild Things — not that it steals anything from that film.

Chakkar Review: A Diva, A Murder And a Pretzel of a Mystery


Chakkar is as close to perfection as the genre allows — especially considering the technical, budgetary, and artistic limitations Pakistani productions have to contend with. The film has many pros and only a few cons when it comes to technicalities.

Let’s start with the editing: it’s snappy and well-suited to the genre. One assumes that, during Covid-19, editor Salman Tehzeeb has had time to fine-tune and streamline some of the trickier aspects of the story (some double-dealings will whirl the mind).

Saleem Daad’s cinematography is fine in bits and parts; the lacks, I assume, have to do with the use of lenses and lighting design in cramped locations (for example Ahsan’s office scenes carry uncinematic High-Definition-ish sharpness). The action, when it happens, is blazingly fast and hardcore — in fact, the brawl between Ahsan and Yasir’s characters may yet be the most kinetic fisticuff one could expect from our cinema at the moment (the action is choreographed by Azam Bhatti).

Ahsan Khan looks and acts like a film star. As far as characterizations go, one would have loved to see Kabir explore the emotional connection with his wife some more.

Yasir fits into his role just fine, pulling off a much better performance in his own film this time around (he could have been much better in Wrong No. 2). Neelum is okay at times; not the most versatile of actresses, she does perform Zara with a delicious glee — but only in a few sequences.

However, by far the most enjoyable character in Chakkar is Ahmed Hasan. Ahmed — a young and handsome actor — goes full method acting here when he dons a very ugly wig, tacked-on silly mustaches, and a baggy potbelly. With a strut in his walk, a raspy tone, and a heaving slack in his physicality, Ahmed transforms into Sir Buland Iqbal Cheema — an LLB who wants facts to be short and to the point; this very virtue, of course, is lost to him.

Given his get-up, Ahmed is a set-up as comedy relief and, as the story unfolds, one expects Ahmed to pull off his guise at any moment, revealing a brand new player into the suspects' line-up. That never happens.

Ahmed’s get-up may be cheap, but the character is a bona fide gem who turns out to be much more than the supporting character he appears to be. In a film preoccupied with twists and saturated with recognizable actors, sometimes in blink-and-miss roles (Adnan Shah Tipu, for example), Cheema is a beacon who just wants to understand what is happening. Akin to Cheema’s curiosity, unraveling the mystery might just be the best two hours you’ve spent watching a Pakistani film in cinemas this year.

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