‘Money Back Guarantee’ is entertaining in parts but relies far too heavily on a star cast.
KARACHI: A comedy of errors is born when slapstick humour meets a case of mistaken identity, puns, and quirky word play. Faisal Qureshi’s Money Back Guarantee makes a broth with the same ingredients but adds social messaging and political satire to enhance the flavour. Fans of the now-director’s writing in Teen Bata Teen will recognise his sense of humour. But perhaps the world has changed since then…
Money Back Guarantee (MBG), which premiered in Karachi on Thursday, was the most-anticipated film to be released this Eidul-Fitr. It was billed as a full-fledged entertainer, with a star-studded ensemble cast that included Fawad Khan, Hina Dilpazeer, Gohar Rasheed, Javed Sheikh, Mikaal Zulfiqar, Kiran Malik, Adnan Jafar, Ayesha Omar, and others, as well as debut actors Wasim Akram, Shaniera Akram, Muniba Mazari, and George Fulton.
The film explores the dichotomy of capitalism and socialism as it dabbles in numerous societal problems such as corruption, VIP culture, stereotyping, theft, political point-scoring, injustice, and discrimination, set in a strange land that feels part-Pakistan and part-New Jersey – actually shot in Karachi and Thailand. It establishes the tone for a satirical and ridiculous brand of dramedy. Money Back Guarantee is great because it doesn’t take itself too seriously as it gathers a motley crew of degenerates to carry its plot forward while mocking the very values it tries to instill.
These degenerates represent Pakistan’s various ethnicities as they attempt to avoid stereotypes that society propagates about them, such as Pushtoons being “dumb,” Christians being “Karanta, Choora” (slurs), Punjabis being “hungry,” and others. The film makes extensive use of symbolism, with the setting taking jabs at the core values of the subjects it inhabits.
Majority of the film has been shot in Pak bank – a fictional bank that hosts the wealth of all the corrupt politicians in Pakistan – with our crew of degenerates planning to rob it. Everyone’s blood has turned white – quite literally, the Pakistani flag is represented by a WiFi signal, Pak bank’s design mimics the map of Pakistan with minor alterations to suit the rich, as it ingeniously represents how each province and part of the bank operates – or not. The “most secure” bank of the country has been designed by a lawyer, not an architect. The only way to access the millions of rupees inside its cells? You guessed it; biometric! A painting of The Last Super hanging inside the bank has been beautifully morphed to feature the greedy politicians of the country, feasting on the poor. And the politicians have been played by the same actors playing the robbers-cum-rebels to signify “Jesi qoum, wese hukumran.”
The plot of the film revolves around the heist that our amateur gang embarks on with the goal of reclaiming the people’s money. The plan, however, is not foolproof and is constantly changing as the robbers fail one after the other. While this is meant to be amusing, it leaves the film looking chaotic, as if it is struggling to find its centre. It also leaves a lot to the imagination, and not always for the things that should have been left alone.
The plot isn’t woven together smoothly. There are cause and effect issues, and it is impossible to determine how or why something occurs.
The characters, albeit, are well fleshed out. Fawad’s role as a cheapskate bank manager, Bux, who caters only to the wealthy and listens only to the powerful is written to perfection. The actor also wears it like a glove as he finally embodies a non-romantic, non-emotional, grey character, widening his acting scope and career graph. His dialogue-delivery and maniacal expressions are beautiful, to say the least.
Kiran, Gohar, Mikaal, Ali Safina, Afzal Khan – part of the robber gang – display exceptional acting chops too. Sticking to his usual sidekick energy, Gohar plays an unemployed goon that struggles to provide for his wife. But somehow, his Sindhi accent doesn’t grow on you as the film progresses. It is also quite painstaking to watch each of the robbers struggle to speak in a particular accent to represent a particular ethnicity. It is because of the demand to do so that the film reinforces another stereotype about the ethnicities represented.
While that is a creative choice, the audience’s ability to connect with the characters is harmed because MBG also pokes fun at the way brands are promoted in Pakistani films to appease sponsors by doing the same thing.
Wasim and Shaniera’s roles aren’t particularly challenging. As a result, they shine as debut actors. Mani appears to be trying too hard to play circuit from Munna Bhai, and his accent continues to irritate.
There are moments in the film that could have been cut short, and moments that the film could have done entirely without. The opening scene, for example, is too long and boring to grip the audience in. The closing scene, or scenes, are too many to call the film well-rounded. It’s as though the editors struggled to prioritise what to keep and what to do away with.
Writer-directed films frequently struggle with leaving little breathing room in terms of dialogue. At times, it becomes overly verbose, with each character falling in love with the sound of their own voice and each character having something to say. There is sometimes so much social messaging that the message is lost. And, rather than relying on the actors’ comic timing, the characters are forced to laugh.
All in all, Money Back Guarantee can be watched for the variety it offers in terms of cast and characters, the awami comedy, the political jabs and definitely the scope of production. But the film could have been shortened at least half an hour, doing away with extensive social commentary, announcing of intentions and unsought resolutions. I was actually afraid ‘Umeed ki Kiran’ will grow old — If you know, you know.