Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam On Zee5 Is Desi Noir At Its Most Luxuriant, Most Dull, Film Companion

Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam is one of those curious moralizing films, those that consume themselves in their progressive politics, they forget they need to first learn to tell a story. Gloss isn’t storytelling. Poetry — Parveen Shakir, Ghalib, Bashar Nawaz — isn’t enough. Politics isn’t enough. Edgy ambivalence isn’t enough. Intention is never enough. 

Six episodes track seven women — the titular Qaatil Haseenaon, or femme fatales — as they navigate false marriages, false courtships, false societies. There is a running story along the episodes —  Mai Maalki (Samiya Mumtaz) and her acolyte Anarkali (Mehar Bano), clad in black clothes, like the witches of Macbeth, and just as mysteriously, bubbling up into the narrative in odd, unwelcome hours, spouting philosophy as prophecy. They serve as the glue holding the anthology together.  

Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam On Zee5 Is Desi Noir At Its Most Luxuriant, Most Dull, Film Companion

The ensemble cast includes Sanam Saeed, Sarwat Gilani, Faiza Gillani, Beo Raana Zafar, Eman Suleman, Saleem Mairaj, Ahsan Khan, Osman Khalid Butt, and Sheheryar Munawar. Their character arcs keep intersecting — they have the same nosy neighbor or the hairdresser or the same don. The other connecting thread is blood. Murder is very much on the menu. 

Written by Farjad Nabi and Meenu Gaur, the show is luxuriantly shot. Each fabric — the velvet, the silk, the ruffles, the rainbow riot tie-dye headband — each wet shade of red on the lips is filmed with an eye for beauty, and space to spare. The camera’s gaze is never full length. It is often at the height of the forehead, with the frame occupying just the face, a blurred background with either city lights or mustard walls flushing the background. It gives the sense that these characters are not centerpieces in this show and in their lives. They don’t even get to inhabit an entire frame.

The problem is that each of the stories can be wrung into one short sentence perched on a sensational twist. But they stretch it out so egregiously — using repetitive dialogues, empty vacuous silences, and silly side characters — that the whole cathartic end of the story is dimmed by the fatigue it has caused during the hour-long runtime

The writing, for one, is pure pretension, unhappy with just making a point, needing to make it once more, in poetic meter. To not just say mohabbat, but also say ishq. To not just say, “Main kisi ka katl nahin kar sakta” but to follow that up with different variations of the same sentiment — “Kisi ko maar nahin sakta”, “Main kisi ki jaan nahin le sakta”. 

I watched three of the six episodes, hoping for a spark, a promise to take the interior lives of these characters seriously. Hoping for the style to morph into cinema. But it is uniformly dingy — not just the odd lighting but the character-building too. Everything is in the shadows. The show keeps moving between an urban, contemporary Pakistani city and “Androon Sheher” — a mythical, folklore-like neighborhood of secrets. These were supposed to bleed into one another seamlessly — like Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra tried, too, in Mirzya. But the edges between the worlds keep knocking against each other, unsure of its internal logic, much like the fumbling show itself. 

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