What is the first thought to enter a typical American’s mind when Pakistan is mentioned in any sort of context? The Middle East problems of our contemporary world are constantly in the headlines and we seem to push all of those countries in the same group of ‘dangerous.’
In Sabiha Sumar’s film Good Morning Karachi, that mindset of Pakistan is thrown out the door, instead presenting urban Karachi in all of its glamour and distress. In the streets, there are protests against the government and the country’s problems. In the upper-class towns, there are giant parties and fashion shows.
The narrative follows a working-class beautician who wishes to become a model. In Pakistan, it appears that a woman working goes against tradition, so both her betrothed and her mother are against her having a job in any paying capacity. Although it probably was not intentional, it is endlessly fascinating, looking for similarities between American and Pakistani culture, from a cinematic point of view and from a societal point of view.
The story is a relatively typical rags-to-riches one, yet the fact that it is in Pakistan makes a few portions of the plot rather unexpected, and at times, bewildering. For instance, the protagonist, Rafina (portrayed by actress Amna Ilyas), has a fiance who is involved in a political party which stages protests now and again. Near the beginning of the third act, he is taken by the police and tortured to an extent. This is not a plot point. It happens, and the characters move on once it is over, as if it is a relatively typical type of event.
Rafina gets chosen at the end of the first act to do a photo shoot for a new campaign at an agency at which she serves tea. The method for someone of a much lower class to instantly boost up to a much higher level of classiness involves multiple dance numbers. People act good-natured towards her as soon as it happens despite being downright hostile towards her when she was serving tea.
The majority of the film focuses on the fact that Rafina is female attempting to make it in a man’s world. She and her love seem to have it going on pretty well, but the mere fact that she dreams of working gets in the way of their potential marriage. It also has a blunt effect upon her relationship with her mother. It is not her wanting to be a model that affects them all like it might in America. Sumar claims in an interview, “In Pakistan, the fashion industry is controlled by women,” so them exploiting her is not at all what they would be worried about.
Good Morning Karachi has a few issues, specifically some dialogue that is rather weak and a relatively typical directing technique, but the cultural differences between American and Pakistani urban areas and their day-to-day conflicts are fascinating enough to make this film worth the watch.
Good Morning Karachi was shown as part of the South Asian International Film Festival, earlier this month. For more information on the festival, visit their website at https://www.saiff.org/