A family portrait of ‘Cake’ cast. (All photos: Courtesy Ras H. Siddiqui)

The comeback of Pakistan’s movie industry (a return to its 1960’s peak) cannot be announced yet, but things certainly appear to be heading in a positive direction. Some observe that it is still stuck in the “Chicken or Egg” argument with filmmakers complaining that the support of paying audiences is lacking and the potential audience saying that they are holding back because Pakistani films are not up to par and not worth the price of a ticket. Online piracy is also a major concern. And the fan following that Pakistani television dramas have developed over the years has still not spilled over into its movies, writes Ras H. Siddiqui.

But every now and then a movie comes out which reminds us that the country and its Diaspora have filmmaking talent. Director/Writer Asim Abbasi’s recently released “Cake” is one such work. It has all the makings of a great film, a well-acted and produced work with a powerful story-line which carries the viewer almost to the point where he or she almost becomes a participant in the story. It also does not run like a television drama which most Pakistani movies gravitate to. The production quality here is almost at par with India’s Bollywood.

The three siblings in ‘Cake.’

“Cake” is not about the sweetness of life and its title is somewhat disarming. It is actually about a family whose story is certainly not a piece of cake! We meet Zareen (Aamina Sheikh) a young woman, the middle child, who is devoting herself to her parents and their agricultural land, while her two siblings Zara (Sanam Saeed) and Zain (Faris Khalid) are overseas rethinking their happiness there (to expatriate viewers this may ring a bell). But they are lucky to have their aging yet amazing parents still with them – father Siraj or Abba (Mohammed Ahmed) and mother Habiba or Amma (Beo Raana Zafar). They are the family anchors, living in modern-cosmopolitan Karachi but retaining their bond with their rural roots in Sindh. “Cake” is certainly about a modern Sindhi family adapting to the 21stcentury at a fast pace possibly due to events beyond its control. To use a term from the game of Cricket, life throws them a googly and they make difficult choices which are not without controversy and a high cost.

Flashback-Three kids (Zareen, Zara and Zain) growing up in a close-knit house along with their friend/household member Romeo (a Christian) amidst tolerance and good times. Time rolls on and Siraj (Abba) is suddenly not in good health. That brings the three siblings plus Romeo (a nurse) back home and not only do they have to face the iconic Amma to whose character Beo Zafar does true justice to, but the outcome of decisions made in the past. In “Cake” Beo surpasses her portrayal of Rosie Khala in Sabiha Sumar’s “Good Morning Karachi (2013) when some viewers last saw her. She is really amazing here as the naughty, no-nonsense matriarch of this family. Let us just say that some of her portrayal as Amma in “Cake” may irritate some conservative nerves. But what a performance!

Mohammed Ahmed as Abba is not far behind even though the female characters in here are far more prominent. He plays a full rainbow of sub-roles in this movie from a Sindhi Patriarch to humorous husband, responsible father and yes, a religiously liberal and tolerant person who accepts Romeo as much more than an outsider. From a sick patient in Karachi to the leader of the family at his ancestral home in rural Sindh, Ahmed carries his role well.

(L-r) Sanam Saeed, Mohammed Ahmed and Aamina Sheikh in ‘Cake.’

But to elaborate on what was mentioned earlier, this movie belongs to strong women characters, the two sisters played by Aamina Sheikh as Zareen and Sanam Saeed playing Zara, both of whom grab our attention and keep it as does Beo Zafar’s mother portrayal. What a wonderful performance by this trio! The sibling rivalry between Zareen and Zara takes center stage and there is even a “catfight” in the mix which was well presented and believable.  So powerful are these roles that one might be distracted enough to overlook the fine background music and songs by Saif Samejo/The Sketchesband. There has even been some buzz about the borrowing of a classic Bollywood R.D. Burman song “Piya Tu Ab Toh Aaja” in this film (trailer). The main numbers “Sajan Mo Khay” and “Meri Duniya” do stand out and fit in quite well.

To conclude this review, one can admit that some effort has purposely been put into not revealing the real story-line here so no “spoiler alerts” need to be issued. ‘Cake’ is a superior film with a universal message, one which reveals itself more after the first set of credits roll through (a clever move so please don’t leave). It reflects some of the tolerance that Sindhi culture is known for. It is not a propaganda film about patriotism and military prowess which have recently sprung up in South Asian film markets. The focus here is on human beings, their problems, decisions, and consequences. It is a movie which all South Asian film fans can enjoy and be moved by.

(Rating 4 out of 5 Stars)