‘Verna’ — a woman’s story told by men

‘Verna’ opens with an idyllic scene of bliss. Sara and Aimal/Aami are deeply in love and Sara’s colleagues tease that they are still in honeymoon mode after six months. On the weekend, Aimal, Sara and Mahgul – Aami’s sister plan a road trip. Mahgul is getting a bad feeling about their trip so they change to a closer destination. There is a dark sense of foreboding that paradise will soon be lost.

The audience coming to see this film generally has some knowledge of its subject matter partly due to the initial possibility of the ban of the film. This film touches on some important themes. Rape and its aftermath and its devastating effects upon the victim as well as the family; political feudal and religious leaders and their abuse of status and the electronic media and its potential for exposing crime and injustice within the corridors of power.

‘Verna’ sets out to accomplish a lot in its lengthy two and a half hour story and while it successfully triggers discussion and debate about a crucial issue, it must be noted that certain plot points are highly problematic and implausible. The editing is also choppy elongating certain scenes unnecessarily and eliminating some important ones altogether.

You come out of the movie with a lot of questions. How would a woman raped for three days return for consensual intercourse with her rapist on any pretext? What was the point of that horrific plot point? What is an average Pakistani woman of the same or a lower economic class than Sara’s supposed to do exactly if she is raped? Should the victim speak out or not?

‘Verna’ bravely exposes the corruption within all the corridors of power by shining a light extremely directly by naming certain institutions. However, there is no clear denouement in this film, for some viewers the film starts to go south before the interval.

If ‘Verna’ was trying to encourage rape victims to speak out then it seems to have faltered in this message. Public humiliation, Threats of violence, and suicide are just some of the harsh yet perhaps accurate side effects of the result of reporting rape in Pakistan.

‘Verna’ sets out to accomplish a lot in its lengthy two-and-a-half hour story, and while it successfully triggers discussion and debate about a crucial issue, it must be noted that certain plot points are highly problematic and implausible. The editing is choppy, elongating certain scenes unnecessarily and eliminating some important ones altogether

One of the main points of the artistic employment of tragedy historically and culturally is to provide a catharsis for the audience. In ‘Verna’ that moment never came. ‘Verna’ erases the brutality and trauma of rape and romanticises revenge and bravery in an unnatural and strange manner. Phoolan Devi killed her rapists’ whole gang and didn’t date him. All three assistant directors were male; a woman on board could have saved this film.

The film needed to show the scenes immediately after the end of the kidnapping and Sara’s reaction to the trauma. The act of rape triggers Post Traumatic Stress Disorder across the board for men and women an important acting moment and point in the character arc was missed. Instead the immediate aftermath of the three day kidnapping is not shown. Aimal responds somewhat pathetically and predictably. The film does well to call out false ego and false masculinity.

Some teaching moments in the film were Sara looking up husbands’ typical reactions to rape, and a doctor advising Aami to try and maintain normal routines while preserving the physical space of Sara. The angry scenes between husband and wife and some of his atrocious suggestions that she was complicit brought the acting chops of the lead characters to the fore. However Mahira Khan glowing while courting Sultan was just too much to stomach and what killed this whole film. The ending suggesting that the solution is people’s political “vote” was trite and naïve.

Shoaib Mansoor has been accused of being too preachy but what exactly his message to victims of rape is difficult to decipher. In many ways the auteur of this film has stayed true to his craft again and held a mirror directly to our society and perhaps we are all so anguished by what he has portrayed because we cannot bear to see the awful reflection.

Finally, this film could have easily shown court proceedings wrapped up nicely in a bow resulting in a simple win for Sara at the end. Humaira the lawyer could have presented the case and called the defendant’s bluff easily and eloquently as she has some excellent dialogue in this film; especially when she calls out the religious cleric on TV on his misogynist stance. However there was a conscious decision not to resolve the matter in court and not to give us a sunshine ending; and this can only be due to the desire of the director to provide his favourite thing to his audience: a reality check.

COURTESY BY: https://dailytimes.com.pk

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