In a pivotal moment of absolute thrill, Sara (Mahira Khan) runs frantically up the stairs of her posh home, straight into her bathroom and starts to senselessly pound someone to pulp in the bathtub. The water wildly splashes up in slow motion, with a few thick spurts of blood. The pounding continues.

The poor fellow in the tub is Aami (Haroon Shahid) — her husband. And frankly speaking, he had it coming.

Aami is a music producer whose songs — such as Power Di Game, which starts the movie — rap and scream against the establishment. But behind this ever-in-vogue mindset of thrashing the government lies a very weak-willed, polio-stricken man.

Aami is constantly angry, first at his mother for not giving him the polio vaccine as a child, and then at his wife, Sara, because she was raped for three days and then delivered home without a scratch.

Shoaib Mansoor’s Verna is a pro-women film all right but with a very short-sighted, inconsiderate and amateurish point of view

Verna’s is a tricky subject to ponder by Shoaib Mansoor, a director whose film career is exclusively made up of a lot of tricky, controversial thoughts. Mansoor’s thoughts are heavy, protracted, incessant and repetitive to the point of exhaustion. There comes a time in each of his films — Khuda Kay Liye (KKL) and Bol — when one goes, ‘Enough already, we get it!’ Despite this, both KKL and Bol were intelligent and relevant works of a man who media and PR companies dub a genius, master filmmaker. Before Verna, one would be hard pressed to argue against the notion.

Running at nearly three hours, the film spotlights a very delicate topic: abduction and rape of women by powerful people whose families run the government.

Mahira Khan as the lead. This is her second film with Shoaib Mansoor
Mahira Khan as the lead. This is her second film with Shoaib Mansoor


Mansoor is vocal about a ton of social dilemmas. Firstly, he shows us our own faults for electing corrupt politicians who come with a high-and-mighty feudal mindset. Secondly, he shows us the pressure on rape victims who are dissuaded against legally pursuing justice for fear of family embarrassment. Thirdly, he shows us the importance of fighting the good fight against polio.

According to Mansoor, feeding your child a drop of the polio vaccine means they won’t grow up physically handicapped with a lack of self-confidence and turn into Haroon Shahid’s character — a man who speaks in whispers and shakes at the knees. At one point, I was afraid for the poor guy. With mounting anxiety, insecurity and disgust (a lot of it targeted at his wife), I was expecting him to turn up dead the next day. He, however, is resolute in his shamelessness and overcomes his faults by saying, “Sorry.” I think his wife forgave him because he was good-looking (Good looking people are forgiven easily, Google that fact).

Spoiler alert henceforth: If you plan to see Verna, please stop reading now, because I have an argument to make about the film’s main selling point — the revenge of the defenceless — and it cannot be made without revealing a few aspects of Mansoor’s story.

Coming back to the main topic of Verna — the rape. Judging by genre, this is the meekest rape-revenge-controversy film in the history of cinema. It is also the most amateurishly made film of the year. Mansoor makes a ton of bad decisions, starting with the cinematography. The scenes are lit by a bare-minimum of light sources and are shot with a select few lenses. As a consequence, almost all of his shots have a predictable, annoying sense of depth.

Mansoor, then, amplifies this mistake by composing his shots as if he were framing for television, which mostly limits the editing to medium shots and close-ups of the actors’ faces. On the big-screen, one can see an actor’s puffing nostrils, and quickly forget the tone of the scene.

Haroon Shahid and Mahira Khan play a couple whose marriage is strongly tested during the film
Haroon Shahid and Mahira Khan play a couple whose marriage is strongly tested during the film


Speaking of tone, for a change, yes, there is one here. It is called a monotone. Like a long, unending beep that neither goes up or down in amplitude. As if that weren’t enough, dialogue dubbing and foley (the addition of ambient sound effects) is noticeably evident. As a general rule of thumb, they shouldn’t be conspicuous.

Production design is virtually nonexistent. From the look of it, most of the film is shot in two or three houses, with furniture that was already there. The songs are pedestrian which is something I’d never expect from a Shoaib Mansoor film.

Thwarting expectations, however, is Verna’s ace in the hole. By the intermission, Sara’s character makes the most illogical decision any sane person can make.

Spoiler alert henceforth: If you plan to see Verna, please stop reading now, because I have an argument to make about the film’s main selling point — the revenge of the defenceless — and it cannot be made without revealing a few aspects of Mansoor’s story.

Mansoor hypothesises that a victim of rape who has run out of options would resort to having consensual sex with her rapist in a bid to trap him. “You can think that she was abducted for four nights instead of three,” Sara’s activist lawyer tells Aami in an effort to soothe his apprehension. Sara, then, puts on make-up and a chic black dress, and goes on a date with the man who destroyed her life (Zarrar Khan). She eats at his lush residence, laughs, fires a few incisive lines and goes to bed with him (which isn’t shown) with a slightly grim expression. The whole notion of Sara overcoming her trauma within a span of fifteen days, and then hatching a plan like this is preposterous and insensitive.

Later at a big reveal, Sara is put on the spot by lawyers, who present evidence that her night with the sex offender was consensual. Sara’s sudden, very vocal “Oh shit!” expression implies that either there is truth in the opposing lawyer’s argument or Mansoor lost control of his scene and his actors.

Verna’s pre-intermission drabness (where you hate everything and everyone on-screen) is replaced by a thoughtless plot twist designed to incite people and gain sensationalism. The question then is: do you really need to stir a ruckus to tell a strong women’s rights story?

At the time of writing this review, two days after the film’s release, the war on social media is suddenly that of men-versus-women. The consensus is that men cannot sympathise with a woman’s point of view — or her predicament. No one is arguing against the need and relevancy of such topics — they should be made — but when making a motion picture, one has to make sure that it, at least, looks and feels like a film and doesn’t take its audience for a fool.

Published in Dawn, ICON, November 26th, 2017

Shoaib Mansoor's Verna released last weekend and it hasn't exactly enjoyed glowing reviews.

Critics seem to agree that the film was overburdened with themes and wasn't able to meaningfully explore the crux of its story: all the ways Pakistani society lets down a rape survivor (Mahira Khan as Sara) and how she surmounted the odds to achieve 'justice' for herself.

Still, there's no doubting that it was a well-intentioned project. Here are some ways Verna could have been better:

Warning: Spoiler alert!

1) Verna shouldn't have created a gender divide in its characters' reactions to rape

What happens: Women like Sara are the sole bearers of the progressive messages in Verna and they push the story forward. Tasking the women alone with imparting the film’s message not only places an unfair burden on the few female protagonists, it also lumps all men under one label: bad.

In Verna no man stands up for Sara, not her father, not her husband, certainly not the authorities. The film's moral compass is provided wholly and solely by women, who lecture men on how to become better; for example, Sara's lawyer lectures Sara's husband Aami (Haroon Shahid) about how he has failed Sara.

In another instance, Sara tells Aami that it’s men who are the reason for her pain and anguish.

But is this the right way to impart a universal message? No.

What should have happened: While women are the true champions of women’s rights and empowerment, men can play a huge role in changing mindsets because of the influence and power they hold in society.

Verna could have quite easily shown even one male character supporting Sara or even pushing her agenda forward, however, that never happens, all the men are shunned and shamed for the actions of a few.

We can't help but feel that this is a missed opportunity. A strong, progressive male character could have served as a much-needed example or hero for male viewers, someone they could aspire to emulate.

Instead, by showing all men as weak or evil, Verna ends up demonising (and possibly alienating) an entire gender.

2) The unfair burden on Sara (Mahira Khan) should've been shared with another character

What happens: Sara, having been through the horrific ordeal, is surprisingly her own support and the strength of her family.

She receives no comfort from her loved ones and is constantly fighting her battles while also trying to break her family's regressive views.

Her character is overburdened with being the voice of reason. She single-handedly moves the plot forward; from planning her revenge to every strategy that she must take in order to seek justice.

With so much responsibility lumped on one character, isn't it evident that the film will seem implausible?

What should have happened: To responsibly address the trauma of rape, Sara should have had a support system that she reached out to, or just an individual she could rely on for her emotional and mental sanity.

The fact is, looking at Sara's place in society, her education and her background, we felt it was implausible that not even one person — be it a female friend, a boss, a colleague or extended family — stepped in to provide Sara moral support.

Sara's sister-in-law could have been the support Sara needed, but her character was underwritten and underplayed immensely and she was lost in the background.

Another character who had the potential to be Sara's brace was her lawyer, but yet again her character failed to rise to the occasion due to wooden acting and terrible dialogues. Instead of giving Sara advice, she was on the receiving end of Sara's plans.

Again, we felt this was a major opportunity to show a roadmap for how women (and men) organise and provide support to each other after sexual violence.

In showing Sara to be an island, Verna set up expectations that every woman is just as kickass as Sara, placing an unfair burden of recovery solely on the victim.

3) Aami shouldn't have had polio

What happens: Verna shows how Sara is deprived of her husband's support after she is raped because he is too wrapped up in his own misery at being mocked as a coward and suffering the horror of having another man lay hands on his wife.

He is out-and-out selfish and lacks moral strength, but these weaknesses of him are partly explained away by him being a polio-stricken man. Within the film's first few scenes, the film establishes that Aami is plagued by insecurity due to his disease...

What should have happened: But we ask: can't a physically healthy man also be insecure? A man's insecurity can exist for reasons other than an ailment, and the film stops short of painting Aami as a truly reprehensible man.

The film also does a disservice to polio-stricken people because it makes use of their illness as a sign of weakness. On certain occasions, Aami is told in all seriousness that he's an incomplete man or that he's weak.

If the film went on to show that Aami surmounted the odds to achieve an act of great strength, then it would have done justice to a polio-stricken man's portrayal. But that breakthrough never occurs.

It's okay for a man to remain weak or never redeem himself but if it comes at the cost of a just portrayal of a certain subsection of society, then that's a problem.

4) Shoaib Mansoor should've portrayed the legal process more accurately


What happens: The film is riddled with unrealistic depictions of court proceedings. For instance, in a key scene in the film, evidence brought by the defendant is not reviewed by the presiding judge, simply because the plaintiff's father pleaded him not to. Is it really so simple to discard evidence in court?

What should have happened: In Verna, it’s obvious that Shoaib Mansoor wanted to educate his audience. He plugs into his script facts like the 72-hour time frame for medical examination of rape victims, or the need to preserve rape evidence by not showering or discarding clothing.

So it follows that the film should accurately portray how a rape case can play out in a Pakistani court. The film presents a series of highly dramatised court scenes that only cursorily touch on a rape survivor’s hurdles to justice, like tampered evidence or attempts to slander, when it should have more comprehensively unpacked the legal loopholes that allow a rapist to get away in Pakistan.

Verna’s shallow attempt to do this makes light of both rape survivors’ ordeal and their lawyers’ efforts in court.

5) Verna shouldn't have promoted vigilante justice


What happens: When the justice system fails her, Sara takes the law into her own hands. Initially, it backfires. Then, Sara devises an even more far-fetched plot to exact revenge against her rapist. It works.

What should have happened: When writing a revenge drama, screenwriters get to exploit their viewers' willing suspension of disbelief. By the end of such films, viewers may experience a sense of catharsis after a traumatic watch, but they're not likely to interpret the film's events as a lesson in how to avenge a wrong.

So it would have been quite okay for Shoaib Mansoor's Verna to roll out as a fantastical series of events, in which lead character Sara answers the legal system's failings with a spot of vigilante justice. We’re down for some dark, gritty drama.

However, in packing his film with didactic messages, Shoaib Mansoor doesn’t allow Verna to justifiably pan out this way.

If Mansoor seeks to educate his audience in some parts of his film, this introduces the risk of the audience interpreting its more fantastical elements such as Sara's plot for revenge as a real means of recourse.

So in the film, when Sara's initial plan backfires, we felt that that’s a good thing because it sends a very important message about how dangerous it is to resort to extrajudicial measures to get justice for oneself. But then Sara succeeds in another more ambitious plan, it works and the film comes to a happy close.

This is irresponsible, at best, and dangerous, at worst, because vigilante justice is a means of recourse that can not be reasonably endorsed.

Kendall Jenner's made it to the top.

The American fashion model, who has been the face of Estée Lauder, La Perla, Adidas and Coke this year, dethroned the 15-year reigning queen Giselle Bundchan who held the top spot since 2002, reported Forbes.

Endorsements and deals aside, Kendall has also gained earnings through her family's widely popular reality TV show Keeping Up With The Kardashians, and her clothing line with Kylie Jenner, Kendall + Kylie.

Giselle has now landed the second spot with $17.5 million annual earnings in 2017, and Chrissy Teigen, making her debut on the list, gained the third spot at $13.5 million. While the Hadid sisters, Gigi and Bella were on the fifth ($9.5 million) and ninth ($6 million) spot, respectively.

Ashley Graham, the first plus-size model to make it on the list, is 10th at $5.5 million per annum.

Tyra would be proud, ladies.

An Indian medical student was crowned Miss World at a glitzy event in a Chinese resort on Saturday, making her country the joint-most successful in the beauty pageant's history.

Manushi Chhillar is the sixth Indian winner of the long-running contest, following in the footsteps of Bollywood actresses Priyanka Chopra and Aishwarya Rai.

Her win brings India level with Venezuela as the countries with most victories in the history of the pageant, now in its 67th edition.

Chhillar, 20, is a trained Indian classical dancer who also enjoys painting and hopes to open a chain of non-profit hospitals in rural areas, according to the Miss World website.

"Thank you, everyone, for your constant love, support, and prayers," she wrote on Twitter. "This one's for India."

Chhillar's victory rapidly became a top trending topic on the social media platform in India after the announcement, with Manohar Lal Khattar -- the minister of her home state of Haryana -- among the first to offer congratulations.

Chhillar was handed the crown by last year's winner, Stephanie del Valle of Puerto Rico, at the ceremony in the Chinese coastal city of Sanya on Saturday night.

Chhillar was handed the crown by last year's winner, Stephanie del Valle of Puerto Rico — AFP
Chhillar was handed the crown by last year's winner, Stephanie del Valle of Puerto Rico — AFP


Stephanie Hill of England and Andrea Meza of Mexico finished as runners-up.

Saturday marked the Miss World pageant's return to Sanya, on southern China's Hainan Island, for a seventh time, where the event was last held in 2015.

At the previous occasion two years ago, controversy erupted as officials in Hong Kong stopped Miss Canada, Anastasia Lin, from boarding a plane bound for Sanya, telling her she would not receive a visa.

The 25-year old actress claimed the decision was due to her stance on China's human rights record, including its persecution of Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual group of which she is a practitioner.

At last year's event in the United States, Lin was again embroiled in controversy when pageant officials reportedly warned her against speaking to the press for three weeks about human rights abuses in China.

Miss Lin did not participate in this year's event, with Canada represented instead by Cynthia Menard, a high school student.


چین میں ہونے والے ’مس رلڈ 2017‘ کے مقابلے میں بھارتی دوشیزہ منوشی چھلر نے متعدد ممالک کی حسیناؤں کو پیچھے چھوڑتے ہوئے اعزاز اپنے نام کرلیا۔

منوشی چھلر مس رلڈ منتخب ہونے والی بھارت کی چھٹی لڑکی ہیں، جب کہ بھارت نے یہ عالمی اعزاز 17 سال بعد حاصل کیا۔

اس سے قبل آخری بار بھارت کی جانب سے بولی وڈ اداکارہ پریانکا چوپڑا نے سال 2000 میں یہ اعزاز اپنے نام کیا تھا۔

چین کے شہر سانیا میں ہونے والے مس ورلڈ کے 67 ویں مقابلے میں دنیا کے 118 ممالک کی حسینائیں شامل تھیں۔

بھارت کی میڈیکل کی طالبہ 20 سالہ منوشی چھلر کا مقابلہ انگلینڈ، فرانس، کینیا اور میکسیکو کی حسیناؤں سے تھا۔

مس ورلڈ منتخب ہونے کے بعد 20 سالہ منوشی چھلر کو گزشتہ برس یہ اعزاز اپنے نام کرنے والی پورٹو ریکو کی حسینہ نے تاج پہنایا۔

مقابلہ حسن میں جہاں بھارتی حسینہ نے دیگر دوشیزاؤں کو پیچھے چھوڑ کر اعزاز اپنے نام کیا، وہیں میکسیکو کی اینڈرا میزا فرسٹ رنر جب کہ انگلینڈ کی اسٹیفن ہل دوسری رنر اپ منتخب ہوئیں۔

ریاست ہریانہ سے تعلق رکھنے والی منوشی چھلر میڈیکل کی طالبہ ہیں، اور وہ بھارت کے دیہاتی علاقوں میں صحت و علاج کی مکمل سہولیات فراہم کرنے کا ارادہ رکھتی ہیں۔

ان کی جانب سے یہ اعزاز حاصل کیے جانے کے بعد بھارتی وزیر اعظم نریندر مودی اور سابق حسینہ پریانکا چوپڑا سمیت دیگر بھارتی اعلیٰ شخصیات نے انہیں مبارک باد پیش کی۔

خیال رہے کہ بھارت کی جانب سے سب سے پہلے اداکارہ ایشوریا رائے نے 1994 میں مس ورلڈ کا اعزاز حاصل کیا تھا، جس کے 2 سال بعد 1996 میں بھارت کی ریتا فاریا مس ورلڈ منتخب ہوئی تھیں۔

حیران کن طور پر اگلے سال 1997 میں بھی بھارتی لڑکی ڈیانا ہیڈن مس ورلڈ منتخب ہوئیں، بھارت نے چوتھی بار یہ اعزاز 1999 میں حاصل کیا اور یکتا موکھی مس ورلڈ منتخب ہوئیں۔

بھارت کی جانب سے آخری بار اداکارہ پریانکا چوپڑا 2000 میں مس ورلڈ منتخب ہوئی تھیں، جس کے 17 سال بعد منوشی چھلر نے یہ اعزاز حاصل کیا ہے۔


Pakistan Television (PTV) on Friday sacked its suspended director of current affairs, Agha Masood Shorish, following allegations of sexual harassment and misuse of authority by multiple staffers at the state-run broadcaster.

A total of five inquiries had been initiated against Shorish, including three for sexual harassment. PTV's 14 producers had also filed a complaint against him in the Islamabad High Court, and the issue was also taken up in the National Assembly.

Shorish, who was suspended three months ago for negligence, had continued to receive his salary and all other benefits during his suspension period. He also officially retired around a decade ago after reaching the age of superannuation.

The executive also reportedly used PTV's legal resources to defend himself in the court even though the organisation was not a party in the case.

The Information Ministry issued a notification for his termination after participants of a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi decided to remove officers who were bringing a bad name to state-owned organisations, were posted even after retirement or had caused financial harm to them, sources said.

Tanzeela Mazhar, a former PTV employee who was among the main complainants against Shorish said in a tweet on Friday: "Finally, [the] darkest chapter of harassment, corruption and nepotism is closed. Thank you everyone who stood by us to make this happen."


She thanked PPP lawmakers Saeed Ghani and Shazia Marri, and multiple TV anchors for their support.

Marri had moved a calling attention notice regarding complaints by Mazhar and her fellow anchor Yashfeen Jamal earlier this year in the NA upon which the State Minister for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb had said that an unbiased committee would investigate the matter.

Mazhar had resigned from PTV later, since she said she could not keep drawing a salary without being given work by the PTV.

“I resigned because the man in question was reinstated," Tanzeela Mazhar had told earlier.

Explore: PTV anchor resigns from post amid harassment controversy

"Even though our contracts were renewed, we were not being given air time. To take a government salary but not work was unacceptable to me,” she had said.

“When I raised my voice, people responded with [degrading] comments about women, and our character and personal lives, without understanding that what we do in our private lives is a private matter,” Mazhar said while speaking of the reprisals to a social media campaign she ran against the man in question.

“I plan to raise awareness about what harassment is, as most people do not take it seriously until a person has been beaten up or raped,” Mazhar added.

Tragedy has struck and the couple is estranged - Verna's latest song is out and it's giving us the jitters.

A far cry from the previous track, 'Khushi Ki Baat' follows the bad blood between Mahira Khan and Haroon Shahid as they cope with their (troubled) situation. Though we don't know what it is that leads to their fallout, but it's grave and it's haunting.



Mahira seems visibly shaken and distressed and you can sense her emotions in the powerful scenes in the music video. Haroon, on the other hand, is seen as more pensive and mournful.

'Khushi Ki Baat' has been written and composed by Shoaib Mansoor and sung by Richie Robinson and Zeb.

Verna comes out on November 17.

Even after the Dangal actor also got positive reviews for her work in Secret Superstar, she has no plans for turning acting into her sole career just yet.

Hindustan Times reports that Zaira, who grew up in Kashmir, says she did not grow up watching Bollywood films and had no desire of becoming an actor.

“I still do not know if I'm going to become an actress in the future as a serious full-timer, but every time when I act, I try to deliver my best. Both the films that I have done offer beautiful stories,” said the 16-year-old..

Zaira still became a real life secret superstar after auditioning for Dangal.

Remembering the experience, Zaira says, "I did not go there with any expectation, but with a curious mind to explore and know what is acting and how they audition. Rest was a process and I think I am one of the luckiest children who got the best opportunity. And then working with AK (Aamir Khan) twice... I am blessed."

Aamir Khan has been in both Dangal and Secret Superstar and Zaira admires how he made sure to never overshadow her performance. But that also means her newfound fame and recognition is 'overwhelming'.

"They look at me with so much love and affection and appreciate me for my work! What could be more overwhelming than this?"

But despite the critical acclaim and success, Zaira doesn't let her celebrity status define who she is.

"Nothing has changed in me, trust me... I can spend the whole day in a room with some good food, and play with my cats. I have three cats -- one is black, one white and a brown kitten. I love them... I keep playing with them."

While we love her grounded approach, we do wish to see her in upcoming films. Here's hoping!


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