Why Verna was disappointingly good

It wasn’t everyday that a movie on rape is released in Pakistan. Nor was it everyday that I would go to watch a Pakistani movie, which was probably only once before in my life.

Growing up in Saudi Arabia, I wasn’t exposed to the Pakistani film industry as much nor was I particularly interested in the Hum TV dramas the aunties would discuss on long phone conversations on lazy afternoons in Riyadh. Since I moved to Karachi last year, it was the first time my ears perked up when hearing about a Pakistani movie.

The very controversial movie Verna, directed by Shoaib Mansoor, narrowly escaped a ban by the censor board. What they didn’t realize (or perhaps they did) is that this piqued everyone’s curiosity – including mine.

As though she was reading my mind, my friend texted me asking if I wanted to go watch it today. We booked the 4 pm show and watched the movie in a freezing, half-filled cinema hall (thankfully) with our cappuccinos to keep us warm.

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The story centers around Sara (Mahira Khan) and Aami (Haroon Shahid), who both played their roles very well in my opinion.

One fine day, Sara is suddenly kidnapped by two armed men, leaving Aami and his family devastated. It was clearly not random and had some motive behind it, which was discovered later on in the story. The next few agonizing days are spent in wait by Aami and the family who chose to not involve the police based on the kidnappers orders.

Finally, Sara stumbles back home in a seemingly distraught state. To her surprise, the members of the family agree not to involve the authorities and carry on with their lives. I think it was a very accurate depiction when the families advised her to forget about the kidnapping as though it “never happened” and to leave it up to God to decide their fate.

This disregard of a mind-numbingly traumatic incident highlights how our society takes such issues incredibly lightly for the sake of protecting their family ‘honor’. Making absolutely no effort in dealing with a situation is what our religion doesn’t promote, however, it is still advocated in our culture. In fact, we are taught to put in as much effort as we possibly can and then finally, put our trust in God.

This tantalizes Sara for another two weeks as Aami continues to give her the silent treatment. As he is strumming on his guitar, she bursts into his studio and demands him to say something.

His reaction leaves her stunned as he shouts how she has ‘dishonoured’ the family and puts the entire blame on her shoulders. Sara hardly has a moment to express the fury building up inside of her as Aami suddenly strikes her.

I felt that this scene was especially accurate. It addressed the male ego and insecurity of Pakistani men very well, in my opinion. It is not uncommon for men to project their anger and insecurities onto women who are the victims of sexual assault and accuse them of ‘dishonouring’ the family.

Why is this attitude still prevalent in our society?

I believe it is a much deeper issue that is rooted into the child’s upbringing. In the end, almost everything relates back to one’s childhood. We raise our men on such a pedestal and give them the liberty that we don’t give our women. Coming home late, going abroad to study, or mingling with the opposite sex are all reserved for men. Everything is forgiven and forgotten in a man’s world.

The movie did, however, portray a very unrealistic account of how Sara coped with the trauma of rape. A few scenes with Khushi Ki Baat (the only song I liked) of her in bed, unable to talk to anyone and on the treadmill to blow off some steam weren’t sufficient. The two and a half hours of the movie didn’t highlight the psychological impact of rape and disappointingly presented it as very mediocre. The human element was clearly missing.

To top it all off, Sara faced her rapist Sultan, the Governor’s narcissistic son who was played very well by Zarrar Khan. She goes back to him WILLINGLY and ALONE, not long after the traumatic incident. It seemed as though the fear of facing her rapist was completely thrown out the window, much to my dismay.

I think the approach Sultan had taken by the constant phone calls and false promises of having a “happily ever after” amidst the chaos hit home. How many times have us women been given these false vows of commitment only to be left in the dark by these knights in shining armor who ride off into the sunset with their promises strapped in the reins, never to return?

For most victims, post-traumatic stress and depression are very common. The emotions transition from fear, anger, and guilt. The only aspect that was clearly seen was her anger and determination to seek justice as this was the only way she would eventually have peace and move on.

Her pain and fear did not emanate through the screen, which should have been reverberating throughout the movie. Instead, she was seen as a brave and defiant young woman. This is what the director was trying to promote – fighting for justice after such a heinous crime has been committed. I just wish it was that easy to possess such bravado in reality, but then again, it was a movie after all!

Adding to the fact that he was a very influential figure, Sara appeared to be quite confident and relaxed on their second encounter. It threw me off guard because I had mixed feelings if she was really developing feels for him, which would have been a crazy plot twist.

The court case dragged on, as it does in reality in Pakistan, but the fact that the political party in question were constantly tampering with the evidence was close to the truth. Constantly wiggling out of situations, the corruption of our government was accurately depicted in the movie.

The ending was incredibly abrupt and nonsensical, in my opinion. The fact that the evidence presented in court was false should have been given importance instead of trapping Sultan in a very unrealistic ruse.

Ideally, Sara should have gone back to her lawyer and raised the case again and justice would finally have been served. Instead, she decided to take matters into her own hands to finally have peace of mind. Unfortunately, the human element didn’t resonate throughout the movie as there wasn’t importance given to the character development.

While the social message was definitely relevant, that was the only highlight of the movie instead of focusing on a strong script that would captivate the audience. Finally, the story was hurriedly rushed in the last 15 minutes.

Overall, I applaud Shoaib Mansoor for bringing out this social message of the feudalism that remains in our country. Although the movie wasn’t the best at depicting rape, a very important issue in our society, it is still worth watching. I believe you will be just as satisfied at the boldness, yet disappointed at the unrealistic portrayal of events as I was!

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