When his job at a firm providing fake visa documents for hopeful emigrants collapses after the the authorities intercede, young, urbanised Pakistani Ehsaanullah Khan (Shaz Khan) decamps for his childhood home in the rugged hinterlands after learning that his mother, Palwasha (Samilya Mumtaz), has died. His father, Wahid (Hameed Shiekh) lives in and operates a distant, dilapidated railway station with the help of his servant, Baggoo Baba (Abdul Qadir) but is being pressured to sell up by both the local crime boss (Sultan Hussain) and his own brother, Zahir (Shabbir Rana). Meanwhile, the mystery of what caused Palwasha’s death lingers.
Moor (“mother” in Pashto ) is deeply interested in the conflict between tradition and modernisation – or perhaps more astutely, between long term prosperity and short term greed. Certainly, the railroad that serves as the film’s central point of conflict and metaphor is not a relic of pre-colonial Pakistan, but it’s a relic of a bygone era that serves a valuable but not immediately obvious purpose. The system left behind by the British in Pakistan and India was the envy of the world, but while Indian maintained their rails, the Pakistanis gradually cannibalised their own, breaking the vast country up into small, parochial settlements, open to exploitation by the likes of Zahir and his cronies.
Around this core storyline, writer and director, Jami (aka Jamshed Mahmood Raza) weaves a number of small, meandering character vignettes, building up a broader picture of the little community built up around Wahid’s station.
Whether because of its stately, deliberate pacing or a lack of understanding of Pakistani mores and cultural assumptions, Moor is a bit of a challenge to get through for a Western viewer. Pakistani reactions have been exceedingly positive, though – it was Pakistan’s Best Foreign Language Picture offering – so the latter is the more likely. It is an impeccably shot, well acted and earnest film, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’re missing something abstract and fundamental that strikes a chord with its native viewers.
Moor is playing at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne from August 11 – 21. For tickets and session times, head to the official site.