(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)
It’s only natural that Saba Imtiaz’s Karachi, You’re Killing Me would find home in popular cinema. It has everything. A wisecracking, self-aware, not so self-assured young journalist navigating the dangerous, dramatic city of Karachi, trying to find herself and her big story. It is replete with everyday characters that’ll appeal to the privileged audience it unabashedly targets – a little discontentment in their lives and they can take a break in Dubai – that would appeal across subcontinent. In the popular literary fiction universe of the subcontinent, it is what you can call Anuja Chauhan-esque. It’s also no wonder that popular Hindi cinema would appropriate Karachi, set a film version in Mumbai and call it Noor.
Only in Sunhil Sippy directed Noor, Noor Roy Chowdhury (Sonakshi Sinha) takes that break when life isn’t going her way, in London. There is appropriation and then there is gross misappropriation. The writing is credited to Althea Delmas-Kaushal, Shikhaa Sharma and Sunhil Sippy, and you wonder what was so complex that three minds couldn’t manage what Saba Imtiaz did so well in the book. It’s not always a crime. Adaptations mess with book plots in huge ways and make good to great films out of them. But there is always a book’s soul and some honesty in characterizations to keep in check. Noor almost fails in every way and doesn’t work even if you remove Karachi, You’re Killing Me from your mind. The journalism angle too receives the shoddy treatment. The way Noor is written and presented, it’s difficult to buy that someone whose naivete is over celebrated can also be that driven. There are fine little visual cues. A bathroom mirror and car dashboard full of post-it notes. A quick snack to reach to. And then when you learn that a big story is being broken overnight? That does not sit well with anyone, let alone your editor/boss. Poor Manish Chaudhary looks like someone dropped him from the sets of Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year with a healthy dose of cynicism injected and a third dimension removed. At every step, earnestness (the hallmark of the writing in Imtiaz’s book) is replaced by frivolity. I mean, Purab Kohli uses the word chiaroscuro. I dropped my imaginary popcorn.
Noor also makes you wonder what this material could have been in the hands of a crafty director like Zoya Akhtar. Noor loses everything going for it by making its protagonist check her privilege while it should have been about what she can accomplish with everything at her disposal. An embarrassing monologue serves dual purpose of being Noor’s homecoming and the film’s crowning piece. In trying to be current or today, Sippy puts Twitter and Facebook on screen, and also as plot elements. A traditional news cycle is lamented as death of journalism while a day old viral video is celebrated as career making. Twenty eight thousand followers on Twitter is hailed as resume worthy while the not so life altering fact is even Kamaal R Khan has millions in number. A compelling micro story about a single character loses its essence by trying to be a macro story about Mumbai, journalism and other words thrown at you with sincerity reserved for banal platitudes. Go big or go home doesn’t work for Noor. In the beginning, Noor complains that she’s working for an agency called Buzz (the film is so thoughtless that the choice of name doesn’t register as anything meaningful) and jokes – bas naam hi cool hai, koi buzz nahin hai yahan (only the name is cool, there is no buzz here). Pity that it can be said about the film too.