In a filmscape that tends to mirror itself with the same tired action scenes and item numbers Bin Roye comes as a welcome divergence, concentrating almost solely on human emotions.
There is not so much a plot, as a glimpse into the mind of a girl. It is a coming of age tale which reminds us that the tragedies and heartaches in our lives that make us who we are. Un-shed tears are the most dangerous and sometimes the only way to deal with pain is to live through it and come out on the other side, older and wiser.
Without an antagonist, climax and resolution of a traditional story Bin Roye is almost exclusively about Saba and her feelings.
When we first meet Bin Roye's leading lady Saba (played by fresh faced Mahira Khan) she is at her happiest. Her life is perfect: she has boundless energy, an impeccable wardrobe, two doting parents, a loving great aunt and most importantly is in the thrall of first love.
Her crush on her cousin Iritiza (Humayun Sayeed) is all consuming and it never occurs to her that it may be one sided. Oblivious to her feelings, Irtiza falls in love with Saba’s biological sister Saman (Armeena Rana Khan).
As seasoned viewers of the romantic drama genre we can see her inevitable heartbreak coming from a mile away but for Saba it crashes into her so suddenly that she can only react with anger. She's angry at the world for not granting her the only thing she ever wanted, she's angry at Iritiza for not seeing what is right under his nose, but most of all she is angry at Saman for coming into her life and shattering her perfect little fantasy.
Mahira’s portrayal of Saba's shifting emotions provides the backbone of the movie.
The harder you love...
At the beginning of the movie she greets Irtiza on Chand Raat and instantly lights up brighter than the millions of fairy lights that adorn her house on the occasion. There is no ambiguity on the depths of her feelings. Equally palpable is her delight on learning that Saman is her sister. That delight slowly turns into resentment when she puts her into the role of romantic rival.
Just as quickly as her sweetness and innocence pulls you in, her heartache hits hard and once again Mahira channels that all too familiar feeling of loss and helplessness into a powerful performance.
Saba's reaction to Irtiza and Saman's wedding may be a extreme but we are sympathetic to her, everyone has been there.
Just as she is coming to terms with it, tragedy strikes and suddenly all her love, jealousy and anger pale in comparison to the extreme guilt that takes over her.
The harder you fall
Unfortunately towards the end of the movie Saba becomes completely passive. Things happen to her and she reacts but she makes no decisions and has no agency. She's coerced into a marriage that she doesn't want, and in a disturbing scene her new husband grabs her by the wrist and drags through her opulent house to his room where she is told she will be staying and has no choice in the matter.
In context it does make sense that the vivacious young girl we were introduced to has been worn down by her circumstances, but it would have been nice to see her pick herself up again, especially considering this is one of the first Pakistani movie catering to specifically catering to women.
Filling in the blanks
In adapting Farhat Ishtiaq’s novel of the same name to the screen, the motley crew of directors have succeeded in translating internalized characterization into tangible character development -at least in Saba’s case. The other characters motivations are not as deeply delved into, therefore they come across as cardboard cutouts rather than actual people. It's ok for a novel to be from one characters point of view, but in a movie this feels stilted.
Beyond being the object of Saba's affection we know next to nothing about Humayun Sayeed's Irtiza. We don't know how his wife's parents death affected him, we don't know what his job is and why he needed to go to San Francisco, we don't know how he felt about Saba before he got married and we don't know why he was drawn to Saman.
Likewise Saman is also almost a complete cipher. Early on she is revealed to be Saba's long lost sister who was sent to live with her aunt and uncle who had no children of their own. This is one of the most interesting aspects of the movie yet it is glossed over quickly and never really explored. She may also Armeena Khan does the best she can with her limited screen time, but for the most part Saman remains a mystery.
The tertiary characters are written even more thinly. Javed Sheikh and Zeba Bakthiar are the worlds most generic parents, all we really know about them is that they love their daughters. The grandmother is wise and loving and knows what's best for everybody at all times. Junaid Khan as Saba's potential suitor is awkwardly wedged in the story in order to move the plot forward, but makes absolutely no sense. We have no idea where he came from and he just as quickly disappears.
Most of the problems in these secondary and tertiary characterizations stem from trying to condense a drama serial into a movie. It is not badly written so much as underwritten. The blanks and gaps in the storytelling make Bin Roye intriguing but not satisfying, there is so much more to know.
If we had more time to spend with these characters, and watch the relationships slowly unfold all the angst and turmoil would feel more earned. As it stands the movie feels rushed and stretched all at once. Every scene in a movie should either give insight into the characters or move the plot along but most scenes here are not detailed or nuanced enough to count as character study or interesting enough to really drive the plot.
Regardless of the plotting issues, the stunning visuals and compelling performances are reason enough to watch Bin Roye. While it uses many tropes and conventions of the traditional drama series, it turns them up to 11. Everything is bigger brighter, and larger then life. The cinematography and sets make Karachi look indisputably like the city of lights. The costume department in particular deserves special recognition, from the dazzling jewelry to Saba’s chic but casual daywear to Saman’s more sedate but cozy sweaters to the debonair menswear, every single wardrobe choice is impeccable. A merchandizing tie with a “as seen on Mahira/Armeena” tagline would prove unequivocally profitable.
Though it may not have the high octane thrills of other cinematic offerings, Bin Roye grounded in the realities that face us on a regular basis. Instead of car chases and gangsters we get Eid bazaars and family reunions. It is both relatable and aspirational. These people may live in palatial stately houses and have access to sumptuous designer clothing, but their hearts break just the same.