Layers of 'Cake' like life itself

Published: Jun 19, 2019, 08:31 IST | Mayank Shekhar

Whether it's a Pak film or cricket, hard to ignore how much is common between people of the two angry/sulking neighbouring countries

Layers of 'Cake' like life itself
Asim Abbasi's stellar directorial debut Cake starts off with slightly Roma-like family/home montage, followed by relatively clumsy, OTT introductions to key characters. And then there's a complete switch or upward spike on the timeline

Mayank ShekharMost might recall for longer that glorious rant of a young Pakistani cricket-fan bemoaning the team's World Cup loss to India, at Old Trafford this week, than the boringly one-sided match itself.

The thoroughly amusing video, which went viral on the Internet, had a teary-eyed bloke, deeply upset because the Pak cricket team, he'd heard, were busy eating "burgers," (he mentioned that twice), and "peeze (pizzas)" the night before the big game!

Is there more to the "burger" than meets the eye? In Karachi, yes. "Burgs," short for burger, refers to an entire sub-set of Anglicised/westernised young in the Sindh capital, who are wholly disconnected from their supposedly local culture. They probably live in the gated Defence (in Clifton Cantonment), which as a tony neighbourhood is as well-known to non-Karachi folk as say Gangnam
in Seoul, or Malabar/Pali Hill in Mumbai. No, never been to Karachi. Know this from a friend, from back in the day. Got reminded of it only when the Pakistani family in Asim Abbasi's stellar directorial debutant, Cake (available on Netflix), calls a non-resident, desi kid visiting from New York a "burger". Because he can't pronounce the word "palla" (for hilsa) fish.

But the family in the film itself is what you would call "burg". In terms of lifestyle — shopping at swanky supermarkets; women driving home at midnight, from a posh New Year's Eve party — they could belong to anywhere in the liberal First World, that India has as many massive boroughs of.

Sure, I sound like a typically western ignoramus being so surprised by these facts. But, what to do? Ignorance breeds from lack of exposure. And Pakistan, for an Indian, progressively seems further than it ever was.

So I first watched Cake as a peek into a world I know of as little as I'm curious about. And then I watched it second time on as simply a warm, adorable, yet heart-wrenching story of a mildly dysfunctional family — brilliantly branching off from British independent films, by the likes of Mike Leigh or Ken Loach. Or, closer home, a robust version of Shakun Batra's Kapoor & Sons (2016).

Kapoor & Sons had Pak superstar Fawad Khan in the lead. Cake has Bollywood's own Aarti Bajaj (Jab We Met, Rockstar, Dev.D) as editor, with Udit Duseja on sound. This is apart from Hindi film songs, in particular RD Burman's Piya Tu Ab Toh Aaja, being a motif running throughout. Guess a family that sings together, lives/loves together. One would like to wish that for the sub-continent as well.

Now, never mind movies that are hopeless from the get-go. Ones that start off well (majority of them do), but eventually don't work, I believe, inevitably have a moment that you can pinpoint on the timeline (as I'm sure in the script). This is that dipping point, where proceedings begin petering out for a picture that it never recovers from thereafter. Tell me a film. And I'll tell you that point (for me personally as a viewer, of course).

Abbasi's Cake, in that sense, is an exception. It takes at least about 15-20 minutes getting into. The movie starts off with slightly Roma-like family/home montage, followed by relatively clumsy, OTT introductions to key characters. And then there's a complete switch or upward spike on the timeline. Once you are slowly but surely led into this world, there's no question of remaining unaffected by such a soulful screenplay, so skillfully executed. All of it leading to an incredibly choreographed, talking-head sequence set in a farmhouse, between two sisters, their brother, his wife, their father, his Man Friday — shot entirely as a single take, running into several minutes. It ought to count as one of the best climax scenes we've witnessed in a family drama ever.

At the centre of it of course are the two phenomenally poised female leads. One of whom (Aamina Sheikh) perhaps looks a bit like Sobhita Dhulipala (from Amazon Prime's Made In Heaven), and sounds a li'l like actor Divya Dutta!

The second one (Sanam Saeed) plays a character visiting from London. There are short videos on YouTube briefly delving into this character's recent back-story. This is a great, freebie DVD-extra, since DVDs hardly exist. Of course, I'm making these references merely because, like many others, I'm totally unfamiliar with these gifted actors' previous works.

Either way, you're likely to fall for both, in the same way that most girls (and boys) of my vintage fell in love with Marina Khan (Dr Zoya Ali) from the gentle Pak drama Dhoop Kinare (DK) in the '90s. Snooping around on Marina Khan's Insta, I still find my friends fan-girling on her every day! Think I was more interested in mimicking Rahat Kazmi (Dr Ahmer Ansari) from DK instead: "Kaise mijaaz hain aapke?" Because everything in Urdu sounds like poetry! Yeah, well, and even in that distance, we've sort of grown up together. Haven't we?

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14
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