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Review: Parey Hut Love is pure rom-com escapism

Based loosely on the classic rom-com Four Weddings and a Funeral, Asim Raza’s second feature, Parey Hut Love makes for a lighthearted and funny Eid watch.

Featuring Maya Ali as Saniya, a strong, driven grad student and Sheheryar Munawar as Sheheryar, a struggling actor, in leading roles with star-studded supporting cast and cameos, the film sets out to tell a story of personal growth and star-crossed love finally persevering in the face of seemingly insurmountable barriers, both personal and external.

How well did it manage that?

A little about the plot: Sheheryar is begrudgingly attending his cousin Natasha’s (Parisheh James) big fat mehndi, where he meets Saniya, who is visiting Karachi after living abroad in Turkey for many years. After the event is over, Sheheryar takes Saniya out to see the City of Lights before she leaves again. Over the course of the night, the two fall in love and promise to stay in touch.

It works for a while, but soon, Sheheryar can’t keep up the commitment and Saniya’s calls and unreplied texts start piling up. By the time he changes his mind, it’s too late and Saniya, though hurt, has moved on — but all is not as it seems.

What to expect

Parey Hut Love is best enjoyed if you keep in mind what you’re heading into the cinema for — two hours of pure rom-com escapism in a beautiful, meticulously crafted world with endless, dreamy nights, perfect outfits and tons of inspo for any upcoming weddings, whether your own or a friend’s/cousin’s.

If the thought of watching four shaadis in two hours stresses you out as much as attending them, you needn’t worry. Each wedding showcases a different culture or community within Pakistan — albeit a standardised, bougie version of each — which keeps the visuals interesting.

However, the exercise of showcasing Pakistan’s diversity through its many wedding traditions is just that — an aesthetic, exhibitionist sensory overload of excess that does little to drive plot, character or motif development beyond providing a venue for the meet-cute. There are also moments it veers hazardously close to Tarang ad territory.

Buf if you’re into that, there’s plenty of it.

The film cuts to intermission with a cliffhanger that is intended to shock (but which may come across as crass and insensitive to some) and things really do come together to a satisfying end in the second half when all the loose ends are tied up.

Poetry and word play abound, with references from Faiz to Neruda to Madonna.

When will we start fleshing out female characters onscreen?

Parey Hut Love‘s producer and leading man Sheheryar Munawar’s character — very helpfully also named Sheheryar — is lucky in the sense that much of the film’s character development seems to be reserved for him.

He takes the emotional highs and lows of his character in stride to look within and struggle with introspection and repeated career and personal setbacks. “Main fail horaha hoon, failure hoon nahi” (“I am failing, I’m not a failure”) is a memorable line among many as his character matures in the second half.

It is also refreshing to see a leading man show vulnerability onscreen and — yes! — cry when he is alone and in front of his lover, friends, family and colleagues without being reproached or chastised for it.

A self-confessed commitment-phobe, film-Sheheryar also chafes not just at the ubiquity of marriage in Pakistani society, but also its ties to notions of adulthood, growth and personal success and stability — much of which are explored in his relationship with his mother, played by Hina Dilpazeer.

Her role could have been written to be less one-dimensional, but even so, Hina Dilpazeer’s flawless acting and comic timing redeem the part, and Nadeem Baig’s voice and presence are as powerful as ever.

Maya Ali, in her sophomore film, is cast as Saniya, pitched as a strong, independent woman pursuing higher education who makes her own choices. Sounds good, right?

It’s unclear whether Saniya’s character is a case of rushed writing or acting; according to the story, she is repeatedly described as mature, strong and independent, but what appears onscreen is a safe, sheltered young woman of taciturn expression: eager to please, palatable and non-threatening.

Her decision to explore Karachi’s nightlife with Sheheryar, her (distant) cousin, ends with her being reported missing to the police by her father. Saniya finds herself in a string of decisions that are questionably her own, but she manages to finally assert her own voice at the end.

Zara Noor Abbas plays Shabbo, film-Sheheryar’s colleague, neighbour and friend. Though she herself holds traditional views about marriage and wants to get married, like, last year, she’s got Sheheryar’s back and knows when to push him to prioritise his career and when to encourage him to challenge his fear of commitment.

Mahira Khan’s cameo in the fourth act is a major driver of the film’s climax and its resolution. I only wish she had gotten more screen time to explore the potential of her character’s motivations and cunning.

Some questions

An interesting but unexplored arc is film-Sheheryar as consistently committed and unwilling to give up or change his path as an actor/producer despite repeated failures and opportunities to leave acting.

With Mahira’s character pushing the envelope, it seems possible that film-Sheheryar’s fear of commitment to a long-term relationship may be receding — until Saniya decides to reappear in his life.

Could Saniya’s return have undone potential growth in Sheheryar’s character? We’ll never know.

On the technical side, a few scenes were noticeably fuzzy or out of focus, and the sound design and levels could have been more polished and even.

The cinematography was lacklustre too, with shaky camerawork relying heavily on OTT décor and generic visual cues of clichéd, unspecified locations in either Gilgit-Baltistan or Azad Jammu & Kashmir, as well as Turkey. Istanbul isn’t mentioned by name, but we all know it’s that bridge in the background and that mosque on the skyline.

The soaring visuals and location shoots shine, but key scenes feel more TV than big screen.

There are six songs on the soundtrack composed by Azaan Sami Khan; two appear in the first 15 minutes of the movie. I’m not worried I forgot to Shazam my favourites in the theatre; I know I’ll be hearing them in every mehndi this upcoming shaadi season.

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