Choorian (1998)


Choorian (1998)
Cast: Saima, Moammar Rana, Bahar Begum, Shafqat Cheema, Nargis
Director: Syed Noor
Nutshell: the Cinderella story that created a box office storm in Lollywood


Known as the film that single-handedly resuscitated the dying Punjabi film industry, Choorian’s exceptional commercial and critical success is virtually the stuff of legend.

A simple tale revolving around city boy Bakhtu (Moammar Rana) unwillingly dispatched to live at his uncle’s house in the village where he meets ditsy, unassuming and spectacularly well-endowed Billo (Saima), his uncle’s daughter from his first marriage. Despised and terrorised by her domineering step-mother (Bahar) and step-sisters, Billo is a glorified servant in her own home, more comfortable communicating with buffaloes and crows than her so-called family.

Won over by her sweet-temperament and cheery simplicity, symbolising the best of rural life, Bakhtu declares his love for her , which is shyly reciprocated. The lovers’ bliss is rudely interrupted by Bahar, who has other designs for Bakhtu, seeing him as a good catch for her own spawn. Nargis, Bahar’s lascivious elder daughter attempts to win him over with a sizzling song’n’dance number in the rain, but fails miserably, breeding yet more resentment towards Billo. Things come to a head when the couple are confronted by Bahar, the situation is ill-handled by the belligerent Bakhtu who insults his aunt , calling her a “churail” and is promptly thrown out of the house. This however does not quench their ardour, and as a punishment arrangements are made for Billo to marry a local Chaudry, which she grudgingly agrees to, emotionally blackmailed into it by her melodramatic father.

Of course Bakhtu, like every good Punjabi hero, has a plan for this wedding involving a gung-ho attitude and a machine gun. Young love triumphs over evil, and after a mercifully short bloodbath Billo and Bakhtu happily embark on their journey to Happily Ever After.

Saima gives a subdued performance as a village Cinderella and Moammar Rana seems to have a knack for comedy and manages to come across as relatively charming in his own gormless way. Bahar excels even in her two-dimensional role of wicked stepmother acting her emasculated husband, Shafqat Cheema off the screen. Some memorable songs, especially the toe-tapping Laiyan Laiyan have definite repeat value and are demurely choreographed without the usual wild camera angles and tasteless, exploitative moves.

Formulaic in the extreme, Choorian’s very ordinariness seems to be the secret to its extraordinary box-office success. Not quite shunning gratuitous violence or tedious mindless comedic tangents (but keeping them to a minimum all the same) the director employs age-old techniques like a day at the mela, a romantic interlude in a vegetable patch and a bizarre romantic sequence involving a buffalo’s udder. This quaint rustic tale basically brings relief to an audience weary of the vulgarity and violence of recent Pakistani cinema. The alarmingly prolific Syed Noor is aping Indian mega-hits Taal, Pardes and Hum Dil De Chukke Sanam, which mark Indian cinema’s trend towards the allure of simple village life rather than flash urbanity. Whilst on the right track, he is not making the necessary effort to produce something of real cinematic worth.

Choorian is hardly groundbreaking by way of script, characterisation or plot. It must be duly noted that if this is the best of Pakistani cinema, then we have a long long way to go.