Privilege, money, social standing, and pedigree can be used to secure projects but cannot make one a competent filmmaker; only talent can and Mehreen Jabbar does not have any. Her much celebrated but lackluster career has yielded a body of mostly poor work.  Her latest film, Dobara Phir Se, is no exception. 

Dobara Phir Se is the story of a group of Pakistani thirty-somethings living in New York. The affluent and mostly good-looking friends lead posh lives, play games that have not been in vogue for decades, and, thanks to clumsy product placement, consume products that are not available in the United States. They also have no visible reason to be friends and never seem to have any fun together. They tend to overdress and are very stiff socially; and they have very bad taste in music. Not an interesting group by any stretch of imagination.

The story is set in motion when architect Hammad (Adeel Hussain) meets two women at the housewarming party of his friends, Vassay (Ali Kazmi) and Samar (Sanam Saeed). The first is Natasha (Tooba Siddiqui), a Wall Street analyst, whom Samar wants to set up with Hammad and the second is the unhappily married Zainab (Hareem Farooq), who is the mother of a precocious ten-year old. Hammad starts dating Natasha while falling in love with Zainab, who becomes increasingly disenchanted with her husband, Asim (Shaz Khan) as time passes. A few months later, he ends his relationship with Natasha to pursue Zainab who has since divorced Asim. The friends travel to Karachi for Samar and Vassay’s wedding and things come to a head when, caught up in the heat of the moment, Hammad proposes to Zainab who turns him down. Heartbroken, the two lovers return to New York to moan and sulk in different ways until a plot contrivance, as absurd as it is forced, brings them together.

A story as predictable and tedious as that of Dobara Phir Se, needs interesting characters, intelligent dialog and exciting sequences to make it work; unfortunately, none of the three exist in the film. Jabbar and writer Bilal Sami seem so enamored with what they believe is a smart tale of beautiful young folks dealing with love, friendship and heartbreak that they forget to develop characters, write meaningful dialog and create an interesting narrative.   

The cast of Dobara Phir Se includes some of Pakistan’s finest young actors. They work hard but fail to turn in good performances because of the poor screenplay and even poorer direction. The characters of the films are uniformly one-dimensional and no effort is made to develop them. This is sad because Adeel Hussain and Hareem Farooq have remarkable chemistry and look good together. Hammad’s desire to give up architecture to become a restaurateur is neither explored nor explained. Zainab moves ahead in the publishing business so quickly that she does not have the time to learn the difference between a book launch, signing and reading. Hussain and Farooq’s competent performances are all but wasted in the film. The actors deserved roles with more substance. Ali Kazmi and Sanam Saeed characters are superficial, phony and largely unnecessary. The rather homely Ali Kazmi, who inherited neither the looks nor the charisma of his glamorous parents, is unable to display his decidedly good acting skills in the film.  Sanam Saeed appears disengaged and disinterested, ostensibly resigned to the fact that her role does not allow for a good performance. Two female actors, however, do manage to do the impossible by turning in pitch-perfect performances in Dobara Phir Se. Atiqa Odho looks absolutely ravishing as Asim’s mother and adds color, nuance and dimension to the role of single mother raising a difficult young man. Shamim Hilaly brings dignity, poise and a hint of menace to her character as Vassay’s mother.  It is a pleasure to watch the two senior actors do so very well in a particularly bad film.

Jabbar, it seems, wants to tell a story in the style of the inimitable Mike Nichols and the overrated Zoya Akhtar. Unfortunately, she fails and produces a film that is as artificial as it is boring. The characters talk a lot – a whole lot, actually – but have nothing meaningful or interesting to say. The beautiful actors and locales give Dobara Phir Se the look and intellectual depth of a daytime soap, where actors sport accents as manufactured as the problems the deal with. Dobara Phir Se is desperate to be an uber cool film, about uber posh people, dealing with uber complex problems but the desperation shows and the results are ugly.