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Time Out New York Project: Issue #801, February 17-23, 2011
Dir. Tariq Tapa. 2008. N/R. 96mins. In Urdu, with subtitles. Mohamad Imran Tapa, Taniya Khan, Ali Mohammad Dar.
Kashmiri teenager Dilawar (Mohamad Imran Tapa) is one of life’s aimless rejects: Abandoned by his mother and now living with his strict uncle (Dar), he spends his days picking pockets or doing classmates’ homework for cash. Writer-director Tariq Tapa — who shot much of this vérité-style film by himself — does a beautiful job attuning us to Dilawar’s drifting routine, but what’s especially striking is how he gives equal weight to the supporting characters. Dilawar’s problems are not the be-all and end-all: The uncle’s viciousness is affectingly contrasted with his religious devotion, and Bani (Khan), the mail-office clerk whose passport Dilawar steals in the opening sequence, quickly becomes more than just a passing victim.
It would appear we’re in for an empathetic ensemble piece more focused on quotidian existence than plot — but that’s not to be. A halfhearted structure eventually emerges and Tapa’s unique authorial voice gets subsumed by indie-cinema clichés. Melodramatic twists (an arranged marriage) and creaky metaphors (that titular bridge on which Dilawar stands so gosh-darned ambivalently) abound — call it the Sundance effect. Yet the director still has a notably keen and compassionate eye, particularly for faces and locales. Hopefully he’ll let that instinct more readily guide him next time out.—Keith Uhlich
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