Rubab Zaidi talks about why ‘Cake‘, a film about progressive values and global families, is revitalising Lollywood

Cake, a UK/Pakistani co-production starring veteran actors Amina Sheikh, Sanam Saeed and Adnan Malik, is breaking all sorts of barriers. Due for release on 30th March 2018, the film has already made a name for itself by being the first Pakistani film to have a world premiere in London’s Leicester Square and seeing Asim Abassi win best director at the UK Asian Film Festival.

I grew up watching Bollywood and Hollywood movies, but I never saw myself in any of them because even though Bollywood movies have brown people in them, the majority of these films are so far removed from reality, they aren’t relatable.

Lollywood has often followed a similar format, valuing escapism and melodrama over realism and tackling social issues. Unable to compete with Indian budgets, the country’s industry has been in steady decline until a few years ago when a new generation of producers, directors, writers and actors pushed to revive it.

Lollywood posters (Wikimedia).

With its original storytelling and its realistic portrayal of characters, Cake shows that Pakistani cinema could have something else to offer.

My son accompanied me to this movie and both of us enjoyed it immensely, although some viewers may find it unsuitable for kids as there are some swear words in Urdu and English including the ‘f’ word, and some of the scenes are especially tear-jerking. I should add the movie is entirely subtitled, and my 10 year old was able to follow these easily, so non-Urdu speaking people should not be deterred.

It was positive for my son to see people onscreen that were a lot like his grandparents, his mum, his aunts and uncles. It made for a welcome change for him to watch something more realistic and challenging that what’s often made available for children and young people.

The characters aren’t perfect or one-dimensional, all good or all evil characters, they are multi-faceted personalities with lots of grey areas. I watched Cake at a preview screening in Birmingham, which was followed by a discussion with the cast and the writer/director Asim Abbasi who talked about how his characters are inspired by people’s complexities.

Asim Abbasi, Writer/Director of ‘Cake’. Photo from IMDB

What the characters do for me and hopefully for my son too, is bring our stories to life through showing the ‘global’ nature of many families. There have been some other Pakistani movies that are equally superb, Moor and Dukhtar for example, which have done wonders for raising awareness on social issues but Cake takes a regular family in regular circumstances, defying social norms and showcasing Pakistan as more than a poverty-ridden country rife with social evils.

Cake’s strong feminist theme is what makes it a breath of fresh air for Pakistani cinema. The women characters are living life on their own terms and breaking barriers one egg-smash at a time (movie reference that you will need to watch the movie to understand). There’s Zara who, among other things, is married and has a successful career in finance and has chosen to not have children, despite the judgemental comments of friends and family. There’s Amma, who is the ‘boss of the family’ but in the most endearing way imaginable. And then there’s Zareen, the independent, property managing, cigarette-smoking, flat-tyre changing, middle child who inadvertently gets “stuck” with her parents in Pakistan, while her brother and sister get on with their lives abroad. She defies conservative norms by remaining unmarried and also by eventually openly declaring her love for a nurse named Romeo, a Christian and part of one of Pakistan’s persecuted minorities.

Photo from Wikimedia

Having a Pakistani Christian as not just one of the central characters of the film, but probably the most heroic is also what makes Cake ground breaking. The film also challenges patriarchal traditions where the ‘oldest son’ Zain isn’t the ‘man of the house’ because Zareen fulfils this role beautifully and where Abba happily relinquishes control to his wife and daughters. This is a situation that might be familiar to many households, but which is rarely depicted in film.

Like its characters, Cake is unconventional because it doesn’t have a traditional “hero” and is, to quote the director “deliberately, morally ambiguous”. It lets the viewers decide what the moral is, and it gives them the freedom to choose what they want to take away from it.

When we got back from the movie, my son and I couldn’t stop talking about Zareen, Zara, Romeo, Amma and Abba (the main characters of the film). Hearing him get so excited by something other than YouTube videos and video games was a feeling I’ll never forget.

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Rubab Zaidi is sometimes a writer, mostly a reader and always a talker. She is currently working in the Higher Education sector and is a single mum to a beautiful boy who is her biggest fan. She tweets @Ruby2805.

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