Directed by Saqib Malik, Baaji tells the story of aging actress Shameera (Meera) who grapples with her aging career. In the first scene of the film, we’re shown Shameera dressed in a glittery jumpsuit dancing to an item number before she loses rhythm and breaks a leg. Literally.
After another embarrassing sequence of the lead actress falling out of sync with the backup dancers, Shameera loses balance and sprains her ankle. Featuring an interesting cameo by Yasir Hussain, the next dialogue reveals the crux of the film. “Star hain nahien, theen. Dass saal pehley theen. (She was a star ten years ago).”
Meera as Shameera
In many ways, Baaji bears resemblance to Meera’s own life: glamorous and controversial, naïve and misunderstood, relentless and unfaltering. Director Saqib Malik can be praised for his immaculate and morally ambiguous portrayal of the film industry. He takes us behind the scenes to show the dark reality of cinema. Shameera struggles with conspirers and whisperers until she cannot discern her friends from foes. She bears the consequences of a leaked sex tape, the public revelation of her fake nikaahnama, and the act of being replaced in an item song by a much younger actress.
Within the first 20 minutes of the film, we’re introduced to the other lead actress Amna Ilyas who plays a manicurist with big dreams. After a brief interaction with Shameera in the salon, Neha (Amna Ilyas) wins her trust and becomes her personal secretary. From the way she deals with sleazy casting agents, we see Neha as a professional and good-hearted character.
Amna Illyas as Neha
Enter Rohail Khan (played by Osman Khalid Butt), a director from Hollywood who is looking to cast a classic face for his next film. He is immediately drawn to Shameera and aspires to relaunch her career with a fresh, modern persona.
Meera and Osman Khalid Butt
The film features remixes of classic Lollywood songs such as “Ye Mujh ko Aaj Kya Hua” and “Khilti Kali”, the latter being choreographed by Osman Khalid Butt. However, like other films credited for the so-called revival of Pakistani cinema, this film is also shot like a TV drama. Baaji has glamorous shots and memorable songs that make you dance and sing along, but the dialogues, however, are a tad too clichéd.
Osman Khalid Butt as Rohail
The film’s climax also happens in the last 15 minutes when a major character is murdered. The focus of the film shifts from Shameera and Neha’s carefully planned rivalry to a murder mystery where everything is happening too fast. There is a disappearance, there is a con-man, a gun-fight and there are sidekicks plotting murders and heists. The audience feels cheated as the director pulls a fast one on them – an action sequence when they’re least expecting it.
The film offers some light-hearted moments from supporting actors like Mohsin Abbas Haider who plays Aji, a small-town boy from Neha’s locality who is hopelessly in love with her. Nayyar Ejaz plays a casting agent who is the first one to announce Shameera’s declining prowess, and ushers younger actresses like Mehwish Hayat into the scene, who performs to an item song called “Gangster Gurriya” at this stage of the film. Other big names like Tapu Javeri, Deepak Perwani, and Zeb Bangash were attached to the project and its release was highly anticipated by all.
Despite its star-studded cast, the lead actors failed to make an impression with the exception of Meera, who was bold in her portrayal of actual issues faced by women in the film industry. Though a glamorous star from the mid 90s to the early 2000s, our generation has only seen her being the butt of all jokes on social media, and perhaps this film is a testament to her talent and capability. Often mocked for her scandals and incorrect English, Shameera and Meera’s final line to the audience makes it crystal clear. “Love me or hate me, but you can never replace me.”
Shameera and Neha
Baaji is currently in theatres in Pakistan and abroad.