Express Tribune claims that with Cake, “one slice will not be enough,” and Dawn News claims that Cake “raises the bar for Pakistani cinema and left me wanting for more.” Cake also had the privilege of being the first Pakistani film to have a West End premiere at the prestigious location of Leicester Square in Central London. With coverage on BBC News, along with B4U as global distributors, Cake had a lot going on to ensure a worldwide success.
So what do I think of it?
I enjoyed it, but, yes that’s a big BUT, the movie didn’t leave me with any lasting impressions. It’s almost like I was having a richly-realized cake, complete with all its frostings and layers, made with a lot of love and passion, but once I am done with the cake I realized there was no taste to it.
Cake is no doubt a labor of love for Asim Abbasi, the director, and writer of the movie. His passion for realizing this movie shines throughout the film, and as a Pakistani, I can safely say that Cake is one of better Pakistani films to have been brought out for sure. If we can make a film like this, then more power to directors like Abbasi.
Given the high number of duds that came out in 2017 (how many Pakistani films do you remember that came out in 2017? Not much, eh?) Cake stands tall and proud among them all. It’s also important that Cake makes money at the box office because as Ally Adnan, a movie critic in Dallas, wrote in his lengthy review, Cake needs to be declared a successful film in order for Pakistan to bring out more such films. Otherwise, we will go back to those war movies or those inane comedy movies that blatantly rip off Bollywood
Full credit to Asim Abbasi for having come up with a confident debut. The story of any movie forms the backbone of the movie, and if it’s a solid one, then the movie works. Otherwise, with a weak script, some of the even big-budget films fail. In the case of Cake, it is really a mixed baggage– the story works in some parts and fails in other parts.
One also cannot help but be left with a feeling of how great this movie has been influenced by Kapoor and Sons and Piku– in dealing with themes of sibling rivalry, family dynamics and children becoming parents and parents becoming children. Thematically and tonally, there is a lot that links Cake to these two movies, but where Cake falters is in the script.
The first half of the movie spends a lot of time in setting up the characters- and we get to know them well. However, it takes a little too long for the set up. Even before we hit the 1-hour mark, we are wondering why the story isn’t moving forward. It feels like as if someone had told the director to focus on character-building, which Abbasi does, but then takes too much time in doing so.
The second half of the movie takes place in the village and plays out as one long final third act- where the family secret is out causing rifts and strifes between them all. There are some brilliant moments too (one scene in particular which I will explain later) that stand out.
However, it is towards the end when our patience is tested. Just when you think the movie will end, there is another scene. Just when you think this other scene will end the movie, there is yet one more scene. There were people getting ready to get up and leave, only for yet a third scene to come up. This ruined the final impact of the movie. Some of these scenes didn’t really gel in well with the movie and was beginning to feel like a masala movie (family sitting around a comatose person singing a song and you are wondering whether this person will wake up or not?!). I wish Abbasi had taken some clues from Piku to show how to end a death scene with emotional impact.
The acting from the two main leads, Aamina Sheikh and Sanam Saeed, was a treat to watch. Aamina plays Zareen, the daughter who is left to look after the ailing parents. Sanam plays Zara, the daughter who left for London under mysterious circumstances, not returning back to Pakistan. There is a lot of tension and awkwardness between the two sisters, and both actresses conveyed all the nuances and emotions of the sisters very well. It’s unfortunate that the role of Zara (Sanam Saeed) is underwritten, which doesn’t allow Sanam to play out her character as well as Aamina’s. It is Aamina though who steals the movie from everyone– from playing a frustrated and bossy sister and daughter to maintaining a calm sense above all and be the mature one in difficult times.
Adnan Malik, who has often received negative reviews for his acting, doesn’t do much, except play a very restrained, underwhelmed character in Romeo, the Christian houseboy who later becomes the nurse to the ailing father. There are some interesting elements to his characters (such as wearing a sock with the toe sticking out, or the story behind the checked shirt). Even when it is revealed what Romeo had gone through, there are still no emotions resonating between the audience and Romeo. Perhaps a more powerful actor would have allowed us to feel empathy towards Romeo.
The parents are played by Beo Rana Zafar (the mother) and Mohammad Ahmed (the father). The mother is an eccentric and jovial person, which is reflected in her speech (she says whatever is on her mind), to her putting on lipsticks and wigs, to playing out old Indian songs. The father, on the other hand, is more demure but is totally in love with his wife.
Zain (Faris Khalid) is Zara and Zareen’s brother, who also returns back to Pakistan upon hearing the news of their father being in ICU. Zain has his own issues with the family and so struggles to fit in. The father is angry with Zain and blames him for being so far away from the family. Faris does a good job of playing the frustrated brother and overcoming his own personal challenges to be a part of the family.
Oh yes, there is a small part of Shehryar, played by Mikaal Zulfiqar, as Zara’s love interest. What a totally wasted role! He need not even be shown on the movie poster! Only a few lines were given to this character. It beats me why Mikaal would take on such a role. Boring and looking bored, there’s nothing to say about his acting here.
Thank God for no lip-sync songs or dancing around the trees kind of moments in Cake. The background music complemented the film well, with a touch of Sindhi music, to keep in with the theme of the movie. The songs, though played in the background, were not memorable as such and will not stay in your mind once you leave the cinema hall.
I can totally make sense of the movie title Cake after having seen the movie. A cake has layers, and in order to enjoy the cake fully, one needs to eat through all the layers. In the same way, every family has layers- -whether there are deep connections or superficial ones, we all have layers. Cake explores this theme of layers through several ways.
Abbasi plays out this theme of layers extensively through the wigs the mother wears and are laid out in the open all over her room. She is often seen wearing her wigs, making comments about her wigs, and even casually removes her wig upon seeing her daughter Zara. When she removes her wig, she is removing a layer from her outer self, thereby showing vulnerability. Tying into this, when Zara confronts Zareen, she pulls her hair out, which turns out to be hair extension. Moments later, we see Zareen holding her hair extension before she erupts out with the full truth of the family secret. Again, with the removal of hair, there is the removal of top layers of their relationships. Following this, Zareen is found with her childhood Barbie doll, and as she fidgets with the blond hair, part of the hair comes loose in her hands. Very symbolic indeed.
The other major theme Abbasi touches upon is sibling rivalries. Unlike Kapoor and Sons, we have three siblings. They are all frustrated at each other, for understandable reasons, and don’t really communicate to each other openly. There is a huge secret being hidden from Zara, which the other siblings find it hard now to keep inside of them. There are some brilliant moments between the two sisters that really shows them they are connected and once they become at ease with each other, their layers have been peeled off, and in a final moment, embrace each other with much love.
I also enjoyed the theme of how children become parents, looking after their own parents. In one scene, Zain shouts back to his father saying “you are like a 2 year old child.” The father agrees, and says “I looked after you when you were 2 years old. Now I am like a 2 year old child. I am asking you to look after me. That’s all I need.” In this day and age of globalization and children moving to greener pastures, leaving their parents back in Pakistan, proves to be a challenging situation for most families.
One final thing, which I thought was a touch of genius from the director, was that the two sisters were not shown to have love life problems– instead, it’s about their dreams and desires. Thankfully, the movie steers away from issues revolving around weddings and love stories. This was so refreshing in the movie, which I applaud the director for.
There is no fault in the brilliant filmmaking technique– cinematography, editing, sound, background score– are all spot on. It is such a well-made film, it felt like as if we were getting a glimpse into this family’s life, and not really watching a movie about them. The fluid camera movements, whether it’s a close-up or a bird eyes’ point of view, we are all very involved in the drama that unfolds before our eyes.
The 10-minute long sequence
The climax scene, which is about 10 minutes long, which has been shot in one sequence without any cut. It’s the moment when Zara confronts Zareen, and the action moves from the courtyard into the outside ground, and then eventually back into the house, shifting between the dining room and corridors. There is a lot of shouting, fighting and tense moments. Zara breaks down (in a world-class acting by Sanam Saeed– yes yes, I am a huge fan of hers!) and things all come up to the surface where nothing is left hidden. It’s a long sequence totally grabs you from the start and doesn’t allow you to breathe for a second till the sequence is cut to another scene. I know for a fact that I was holding my breath, and got tense during this sequence, which is a mark of brilliant filmmaking.
After having seen Cake, I can say that it’s a well-made movie, but it left no impact. There are rave reviews out there– and I feel like they are being driven from the fact that Pakistan has come up with a movie that can compete on an international level, but is that reason good enough to warrant such rave reviews? I think not. Personally speaking, I am done with the concept of “revival of Pakistani cinema” (I’ve been hearing this since Khuda Ke Liye!) and today, in 2018, I want to be able to enjoy a movie for the sake of enjoying a movie, and not be emotionally manipulated into watching a movie to “support” Pakistani cinema.
So I have very mixed feelings towards Cake. I really wanted to like it since it had so much going on for itself- from technical brilliance to amazing acting from the leads- but I also feel like given the somewhat weak script and the unnecessary long ending(s) (endings that didn’t allow for any emotional connection). Also, one cannot deny the fact that Cake at times falls under the shadows of Kapoor and Sons and Piku– the comparisons are inevitable.
At the end of the day, I didn’t leave with a good feeling. There was no silver lining. It just ended on a rather gloomy note– despite the fact in the post credit scene, Zareen shows her middle finger to one of those inquisitive aunties. I wish there were some redemption (yes loose ends are all tied up rather neatly) but the ending felt a little forced. I wish there were some feel-good factor after all what the family has been through.
For me, while I enjoyed delving into the layers of Cake, I didn’t leave with any lasting impressions or taste for that matter.
3 out of 5
Director: Asim Abbasi
Cast: Aamina Sheikh, Sanam Saeed, Adnan Malik, Beo Rana Zafar
Synopsis: Upon hearing the news of their father admitted in the hospital, three siblings, Zareen, Zara and Zain get together in a reunion that brings out the family secret to the surface with unforeseen circumstances
Running Time: 125 mins
Seen: Cinestar, Xinhua Mall, Lahore