“If you don’t value someone’s dreams, it doesn’t mean their dreams don’t have value.” Romeo – Cake
You Won’t Be Served A Piece of Cake but A Spoonful of Reality
“Cake” the movie is NOT a feel-good saccharine sweet film as the name will have you believe. It’s a quirky, catchy title – a bit like the family whose lives we witness for 2 hours onscreen. The lead character Zareen (played by the very talented Aamina Sheikh), is an attractive single woman with a passion for baking cakes. She has dreams of her own, like attending The Cordon Bleu school in Paris but she has one too many family obligations weighing her down. Zareen plays her role with finesse. Her powerful expressions and perpetual friction with her younger sister, mirror her inner turmoil. We have the pleasure of watching sibling rivalry played out onscreen by two fine actresses (Aamina Sheikh and Sanam Saeed).
Cake gives out a bigger slice of screen time and dominant roles to the women, as compared to their male counterparts. Zareen’s mother (Beo Rana Zafar) is the brash, sharp-tongued mother who overshadows her quiet husband (who usually communicates only through his facial expressions). The ageing parents have three children, of which the two daughters (Aamina and Sanam) are far more assertive and capable than their brother. The one male character who manages to shine through very subtly is Romeo (Adnan Malik). He plays the family male nurse and Zareen’s love interest as well.
Zareen and Romeo’s characters are perhaps the strongest. They also carry great depth. Zareen holds her family together when they are in crisis mode, which happens to be throughout the film; and Romeo is the outwardly stoic male counterpart who supports Zareen and her family through his unswerving loyalty and quiet strength. The chemistry between the two is quite palpable in a quiet dignified sort of way that runs deep.
In contrast to them, the relationship between Zara and her former boyfriend, played by Mikaal Zulfikaar, reflects the follies of youth and attempts to rectify it unsuccessfully many years later. While Sanam Saeed once again delivers consistency in her performance – as a solid actress should, Mikaal’s character is comparatively bland and not so well defined. The characters take their time to come into their own, but once there, (in the second half of the film, that is), they seem more fleshed-out and alive.
Cake Does Hit the Sweet Spot
The storyline is penned astutely by debut writer/director Asim Abbasi. I would look out for his work in future projects because he seems to have a pulse on reflecting the dynamics in Pakistani society. Many in the audience must have identified with the dilemmas faced by the characters onscreen. The cinematography and landscape are captured beautifully. The contrast between the sense of space in the village and city reflects Zareen’s conflicting inner peace and turmoil. We see Zareen take on the responsibility of tending to the family’s lands in the village. There’s a very poignant scene where she stands against a door smoking a cigarette, and we can almost read her mind; that she feels untethered and at peace, as she gazes out on to a landscape free from obstructions – no buildings, nor people.
Most of the humour-sprinkled dialogues are emitted from the ageing mother in the form of jibes directed towards her husband and daughters. We see humour masquerading intimacy and a family bond that is alien to many Pakistani families. There is a memorable scene where the bed-ridden mother is surrounded by her family as they sing her favourite song as a way of showing their love and togetherness, but many in the audience missed this point. It was perhaps, too different or novel for their senses to comprehend.
Cake Sends A Message
Cake leaves us with the refreshing message that there is no one way to feel sad or respond to sadness. Another stereotype broken by the story is the inter-relationships between different faiths. Romeo is Christian and Zareen is Muslim. A mystery we are left pondering is the religious belief of the mother. Perhaps she’s also of another faith, as when she dies, her husband takes her wigs to the river and we see fields of wheat burning; the imagery suggesting that she has not been buried. The powerful visual scenes speak for themselves.
Where Cake Missed the Spot
In my book it’s very rare that a dessert can miss the sweet spot. Perhaps it lasted for too long? Or it was too big a helping? Cake could have been shorter in ‘reel’ time by about twenty minutes. Perhaps the marketing and promotional hype for the film went into slight overdrive and unintentionally raised expectations. Perhaps it didn’t require so MUCH attention prior to screening? Having said that, all in all, Cake was quite satisfying. I would go for seconds. For example, I’d like to know if Zareen and Romeo launch their own Cordon Bleu gourmet school in Karachi whilst becoming a poster couple for ethnic diversity in Pakistan – so many avenues to choose from. One can have one’s cake and eat it happily too.
Ingredients that Worked for Cake
Sugar and Spice,
Make Everything Nice
Our Cake is Pakistani.
With sprinklings of an engaging kahaani
There’s diversity in the icing,
To make the movie enticing
To say Cake was satisfying,
I definitely wouldn’t be lying!
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