Revenge of the Worthless starts on a touching note: "I broke my sword in my brother's heart; when the enemy came, I had nothing in my hands." Following this are three sequences running simultaneously: a group of female students playing with their teacher in a playground, army personnel going through rigorous training and militants preparing for an unspecified mission. It's a masterful setting of context for the film, and I wish writer-director-actor Jamal Shah had stopped the frame right there for a while longer for the audience to assimilate all the nuances.
Instead, though, we see a heart-wrenching sequence in which the teacher playing with her students in the playground is shot dead by the militants on a wooden bridge. This made me feel the creeping horror that invaded the lives of people in the Swat valley during the 2009 insurgency.
Right after this sequence, the film takes a leap of three months, introducing more than a dozen characters.
Overall, the film is a morass of sugar-coated claptrap that is an assault on the senses.
Jamal Shah plays the role of Zarak Shah, an ex-army officer. He has two daughters and a wife. His brother-in-law Arbaaz (Shamyl Khan) is a music director who is deeply in love with a local singer Shabana (Maira Khan).
The militants want to impose Islamic laws in the region of Swat and condemn any activity that is prohibited by Islam. They have asked Shabnam to stop singing but she is adamant about continuing. The story takes a turn when Shabnam sings in a ceremony at Zarak Khan's home. The militants immediately try to stop them but Zarak doesn't oblige and continues the ceremony.
The narratives of Zarak's family and Shabnam run side-by-side. But this didn't satisfy the creative urges of Shah. He further added the story of Gulalai (Abdul Raheem) who is shot by his brother for being effeminate. Gulalai is rescued by a group of militants who eventually convince him to join their ranks. What happens next? You will have to watch the film to see how it unspools.
Unfortunately, though Jamal Shah's directorial venture has pretensions of being an intelligent film trying to highlight a very serious issue, it stumbles because it just tries too hard. Shah's eagerness to make the audiences cry, and to cram his film with as many tried-and-tested clichés as two hours will allow, leaves one exhausted.
Audiences can forgive even the gravest mistakes in production... but one of the most difficult things to overlook is poor acting.
Overall, the film is a morass of sugar-coated claptrap that is an assault on the senses. The writing switches abruptly in tone from one character to another, making it a more excruciating experience. This is a big shame because I really wanted to like Revenge of the Worthless.
Audiences can forgive even the gravest mistakes in production -- from choppy editing to incoherent writing -- but one of the most difficult things to overlook is poor acting. Yes, Revenge of the Worthless is also a victim of mediocre performances.
You may like the work of lead actors like Jamal Shah, Maira Khan and Shamyl Khan. However, the character artists are abysmally bad -- especially the man who gets punished for selling forbidden meat; Gulalai's mother is another example. I also want to add that Ayub Khosa must reinvent himself instead of letting himself be stereotyped. While Revenge of the Worthless could never have been a great film, better performances could have enhanced the experience.
Revenge of the Worthless has the noble intention of chronicling the grief of families affected by a fraught chapter in the history of Swat but it isn't enough to make up for the stilted treatment of the subject matter.
The drama that Shah presents on the big screen ultimately isn't even nearly as compelling as the facts that inspired it.
I believe that Jamal Shah is a relentless artist who truly believed in the power of the subject that he had chosen. However, he only kidnaps our attention during some amazingly written sequences but for the most part doesn't succeed in holding viewers captive.
This real-life story deserved a more sophisticated telling. In Shah's hands, it winds up being shallow. The drama that Shah presents on the big screen ultimately isn't even nearly as compelling as the facts that inspired it.