Moomal Rano - A Tale of Jealousy, Woe and Romance

  • 14 Apr - 20 Apr, 2018
  • Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
  • Reviews

Siraj-ul-Haq’s Moomal Rano is a story you may have heard and seen before – and that’s not really a bad thing. This aggressive adaptation of the popular folk-tale is a collocation of film-like style within the confines of realistic affluence. And of course, one will spot titbits of inspiration as well (again, that’s not really a bad thing).

The screenplay by Zafar Mairaj re-dramatises Moomal and Rano’s story for today’s contemporary audience. The story’s romanticised fascination with adventure and supernatural are chunked out of the window in favour of a Romeo-Juliet meets Sanjay Leela Bhansali-like story-structure.

Initially a venture of Zee TV’s cross-border short-film project, Siraj’s ‘short film’ (keeping in view its eighty-minute running time), is set within a framed-narrative setting. The story-within-a-story format is slightly crude, but serves a delicate purpose: it reminds one of the time when elders used to tell spellbinding fairytales to the young and young-at-heart.

The narrative begins like this: an old-man in a mansion tells the Sindhi folktale of Moomal and Rano, and it doesn’t take long for us to realise that the story will reflect two of the children sitting around him. Moomal and Rano are cousins, who are separated by in-family jealousy. When Rano is cunningly sent away to study, his widow mother (Moomal’s paternal aunt), thinks it is best for her son to grow-up away from a divided household, otherwise he might end up in obligated servitude. Rano’s uncle is a man of old principals, and although somewhat modern (all of the girls in the house are sent to school and, if one has the aptitude, colleges), there are strict rules in place. Rules so inflexible that even the notion of respecting an elder’s point of view becomes a moot argument in comparison.

Rano, now grown-up as Ahsan Khan in perpetually messed-up hair, returns as a filmmaker with an artful soul whose documentary on Sufi-ism is shunned by his family. Like most filmmakers’, his family also does not understand or appreciate his vision. With omnipresent vehemence, there’s little chance of them appreciating his secret love for Moomal – one of the two eligible girls in the household.

Moomal (Saba Qamar) has grown-up as well (naturally), and too harbours a secret fascination with Rano. Her secret collection of images somehow has fashion-portfolio like shots of Rano’s visit before he came home; that is curiously stalker-ish of her.

Things boil-up when Rano sets up a stage production of Moomal-Rano for their local university. Their cousin, the heir of the family’s name and tradition, of course, wants to marry Moomal, while his younger sister has eyes for Rano. As one might expect, despite the contemporaneous setting, this adaptation doesn’t have a happy ending.

Mairaj’s screenplay condenses character-building aspects. One never sees just how Moomal and Rano’s love rekindle when they meet again as adults, or how jealously slowly takes root in Rano’s heart, that bit is the turning-point of the original Sindhi tale as well.

Saba Qamar is spellbinding, holding the camera’s attention and romancing the lens at just the right angles. Filmed back at the same time as Hindi Medium, Qamar upgrades and fine-tunes her acting to seamlessly blend with the potentially bigger cinema medium. I say potentially because at the end of the day, the project started out as a short, and would most-probably be played at small devices after its festival run; a bigger budget, would’ve, of course, helped with the overall quality of the production and the narrative, because the story has cinematic potential.

Coming back to the leads: Ahsan Khan is as good-looking as Qamar, but unfortunately, the condensed nature of the story’s ambition doesn’t really let the actor explore his acting potential. Ahsan, as I keep reiterating from previous pieces in Mag, started out in film, so his acting seamlessly fits both television and cinema. In case we forget, he recently starred in Ishq Khuda and Chupan Chupai.

The brightest stars in Moomal Rano, though, aren’t leads; that title is reserved for its director. Making use of what he had – the limited sets, and an evidently short production schedule from the look of the production (a total of eleven days, I am told) – Siraj-ul-Haq has made a likeable, short and snappy motion picture.

Unsurprisingly, Moomal Rano, which I am sure will not get a wide-release in cinemas, debuted as a feature film contender at Pakistan International Film Festival (PIFF), and has already been acclaimed worldwide in other film festivals.

Siraj’s aspirations are evident in the film’s visual flair: the sometimes sweeping, sometimes handheld nature of cinematography, and the precision of the edit are of cinema quality; the production design tries to make-do with the location at hand (scenes are lit by an overall ambient light, with some directional spill for that cinematic look). The score, though supportive of the story, isn’t the film’s strongest suit, at least for me.

While the Sindhi culture is pretty evident, the decision to put most of the story’s Sufi-ism on the backseat works in the narrative’s favour. Getting carried away with culture would have ruined the commercial nature and point-of-view of the film.

Siraj’s film manages to insert a fair amount of depth, even in ambiguity. The drama, although modern and fairly unsurprising, whispers about traditions, vices, the need to listen to elders, and most importantly of just sitting down and listening to bedtime stories.