Monday, April 28, 2014

There are 23.5 Million Stories in the City of Karachi- This is One of Them: "Good Morning Karachi" (2013)

Known more for her documentaries about women in the Muslim world, film maker Sabiha Sumar presents an interesting fictional film about a young model torn between her dreams, and society's expectations.

The beautiful Rafina (Aamna Ilyas) lives in a small apartment in Karachi, Pakistan, with her widowed mother and little brother. She is having a chaste courtship with Arif (Yasir Aqueel), a supporter of Benazir Bhutto. Arif's mother is Rosie (a wonderful Beo Raana Zafar), who travels around providing beauty salon services for women. Rosie takes Rafina on as an assistant, and they go to work for Radiance, a modeling agency.

Rafina is obsessed with a large glamorous billboard outside of her apartment showing a Pakistani woman without a veil. Rafina starts to distance herself from Arif, as the family begins planning their wedding (they are scandalized that Rafina wants to work instead of keeping house for her new husband). Rafina eventually gets noticed at the modeling agency, and as her career takes off, her home life unravels.

The film's title refers to a morning radio show overheard during Sumar's shots of Karachi's endless cityscapes. The street scenes are chaotic. Set around Benazir Bhutto's attempted return to power before her death, Sumar does not preach, using her simple story to make her point. There are no "I am woman, here me roar" moments. The revelatory moments here are quieter, like when Rafina discovers an old photograph of a younger Rosie.

The story is empowering, but familiar to me. I am not saying this is a bad film, just one that I recognized from years of film watching. A lot of the cultural ingredients are interesting (one character's funeral, the class system inside the agency), and Sumar handles her story with confidence. Ilyas is both beautiful, and a natural actress. Her character is not handed instant fame right away, and her stealth-like "audition" at one point is caught onto by some other characters. These are not stupid people, the screenwriters do not make fashion an easy target to mock. Modeling is a way for Rafina to escape her assumed role in life.

"Good Morning Karachi" doesn't wear out its welcome despite its predictability, clocking in at just under an hour and a half. This is a nicely played, written, and directed film. (* * * *) out of five stars.