A young woman at odds with her middle-class family, a pipe dream that could elevate the nation’s status on a global scale, empowerment through rebellion, and a budding romance; on paper, Nayab had the makings of an exceptional cinematic experience. The tale seemed promising, and the prospect of a female-led story seemed too good to be true.
However, Nayab, much like the titular protagonist’s journey, stumbles, falls, picks itself up, and takes its time while finding its footing. Crafted with the painful pace of a drama, as opposed to a larger-than-life silver screen experience, Nayab makes one eager – perhaps even desperate – to reach a climax that takes its sweet time.
A crisper edit
Nothing in the plot’s unravelling justifies the runtime of a staggering two-and-a-half hours. Nayab begins with a gritty shoot-out in Karachi. The abrupt cut to the next scene makes one believe that the scene will be addressed later. It is – much after the intermission – when one has spent half the film wondering why it was included, to begin with. The pay-off is also disappointing, and irrelevant to the plot point with which it wishes to connect, yet one understands that the scene becomes vital to establish the violence-stricken nature of Karachi.
Nayab’s journey towards becoming a player is also ill-established. It is made evident that she seldom practices with her elder brother, Akber – affectionately referred to as Akka (Fawad Khan). However, her desire to become a cricketer stems from an urge to defeat India. All of this could be looked over, had it not been for the fact that the time to establish these facets of the character and provide better resolutions exists during the run-time. Yet, it feels ill-utilised, focusing more on familial issues, as opposed to Nayab’s journey.
One can argue that setting up conflicts between family members is vital. After all, this adds to the realism of the narrative. Nayab has dreams, but those dreams are costly. Her brother, the sole breadwinner, is caught in the crossfire between being a good husband, father, son, and brother, with his father (Javed Sheikh) constantly reminding him that the only way to obtain a life worth living is by leaving Pakistan.
Had the film been called Akber instead of Nayab, all of this would have made complete sense. But it’s not. Nayab’s journey takes a backseat in the first half as Akber’s struggles and unfulfilled dreams are explored. A talented cricketer in the making, Akber leaves behind the game for reasons that do not quite add up by the end of the film. Akber is also a pivotal cog in the Nayab machine, which is why one doesn’t mind watching his journey unfold. It must also be noted that Fawad is brilliant in the role and essays the character to perfection.
However, should one buy a ticket thinking that one will enjoy a heavy dose of Yumna, with themes of women empowerment and rebellion overtaking the narrative, one would leave disappointed. Those themes exist and are explored, but in a half-baked manner. One is left hoping for more scenes of Nayab at the cricket academy and at the training camp, all of which would justify her eventual and inevitable selection. Alas, all this is lost in a film that acts more like a series, with prolonged sequences that could have been easily omitted, and have no real bearing on the protagonist’s journey.
Whilst touching upon omissions, one is left with the remarkable realisation that, in a rare stroke of unintentional brilliance, the film makes its male love interest redundant. Usama Khan’s Zain is an unnecessary addition. The film could easily work without his character. The entrepreneur who is about to initiate his start-up is missing for a large chunk of the film, and in the scenes where he does make an appearance, he does little to further or add to the plot. It’s a shame, too, because Usama does his best to do all that he can in the capacity he’s provided. However, with a rushed ribbon tied around his character’s resolution as the credits roll, one wishes that his role was better fleshed out.
Yumna is a compelling Nayab. She is quirky when required, fierce when needed, hilarious when the script demands, and a ball of rage when the time is right. However, one keeps hoping for more from her journey, as opposed to the paths of all those around her. While the holistic attempt to shed light upon all characters is an appreciable approach, it seems to be a strange choice that comes at the cost of the character after whom the film is named.
It is also imperative to highlight the chemistry between Nayab and Akber, which is remarkable. Yumna and Fawad bounce off each other’s skills, and their dynamic is truly one of the highlights of the film. The actors gel well as siblings, and share a believable relationship into which the audience can invest.
Adnan Siddiqui, with his limited screen time, is a welcome addition. He gets to make his Chak De! India speeches without coming off as preachy, and he gets his grand, suave entrance. The energy of the scenes uplifts when his character makes an appearance.
The city of Karachi, with its ample shots and its pivotal role in the unfolding of events, doubles as an additional character, albeit one in the background that has a significant influence on the plot. Apart from being the setting, it also impacts various characters in irreversible ways – an unlikely but vital silent player in the field that is Nayab.
Two hours into the film, one is left questioning when Nayab will face the beast (India). The pay-off is weak, yet again, and surprisingly rushed. However, by the time it rolls around, one is washed over by a wave of gratitude. As the film meanders to its triumphant and predictable conclusion, one only wishes that the road for the journey was better constructed. Perhaps, the uneven streets of Karachi have a role to play here too.
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