Slackistan -- Film Review

Good subject but lethargic treatment of middle-class Pakistani college grads

ABU DHABI — Any young-at-heart, likable film from Pakistan is already cause for celebration, so the no-budget "Slackistan," the feature debut of young director-writer-producer Hammad Khan, will attract festival programmers as well as the Pakistanis living in diaspora. For this is a hip insiders’ viewpoint on a little-known population, that of rich, American-educated kids bored out of their minds in suburban Islamabad.

Film’s problem is that it partakes of the same contagious lack of energy as its youthful heroes, and its dragging pace and eventless plot make it a tough commercial pick-up. Unlike Richard Linklater’s cult Slacker (1991), which is nodded to here, film’s group of aimless friends don’t have a unique world-view to sell, just their own unimaginative problems getting a date or responding to a Facebook request.

Sounds familiar? What will strike most Western viewers is the surprising similarity between life in middle-class Islamabad and disaffected youth all over the world.

Dubbed “the city that always sleeps,” the capital of Pakistan was built in the 1960’s and is full of parks and fast-food hangouts, where a group of college grads meet and wait for their future to happen. They cruise around town in Dad’s Mercedes and party, without any urgent need to look for a job. The Taliban are a distant horror seen on TV. Religion is never brought up.

The film’s narrator, Hasan (Shabaz Shigri), is a would-be filmmaker who can’t find the energy to take his new HD cam out of the box. He moons over smart beauty Aisha, his ex and now “best friend,” but she’s visibly tired of his uncertainty. Meanwhile he despairs of living in a cultural backwater without a single film theater in town, where the only Robert De Niro video available is Meet the Fockers.

Though Pakistan’s troubled political situation is not mentioned directly, Khan drops hints of poverty in the Emerald City, and the wall dividing the classes — servants and overlords — is uncomfortably high. Another casually dropped clue is a passionate college teacher who seems to have been fired for telling her students to follow their dreams. None of this is foregrounded, however, and the main point is the hero’s pained frustration at not being able to realize his potential.

An amiable cast of non-pro actors depict “the generation that got screwed.” Soundtrack boasts a non-stop, very listenable selection of all-Pak pop, rock and rap.

Production companies: Big Upstairs Films, Stealth Films
Cast: Shahbaz Shigri, Aisha Linnea Akhtar, Ali Rehman Khan, Shahana Khan Khalil, Osman Khalid Butt, Khalid Saeed
Director: Hammad Khan
Screenwriters: Hammad Khan, Shandana Ayub
Producers:  Hammad Khan, Shandana Ayub, Adnan Malik
Directors of photography: Hammad Khan, Adnan Malik
Editor: Hammad Khan
Sales Agent: Big Upstairs Films
Unrated, 89 minutes