Cake: The Pakistani Film That Gets It Right About Family

Stories aren’t the icing on the cake , they are the cake itself

-Peter Guber

Baking the perfect cake can be a task; the right ingredients in the right proportion, something like families, right? Layer upon layer, sometimes there is something missing or too much of one thing- it may not rise properly or it may fall flat, it could be burnt around the edges or a bit soggy in the middle. There are those who get the perfect cake alright, then there are those who just can’t, but could it all be a matter of perception? After all everyone has their idea of what makes a “perfect” cake, something like what makes a perfect family, right?

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So here comes this Pakistani film “Cake”, a slice of life story of a family, where siblings reunite as their father is hospitalized. Set in Karachi, you are introduced to Zareen played by Aamina Sheikh, who signs off her emails as  Juliet to a Romeo, puffs away cigarettes secretly, and is the “Miss Fixit” around the house as she tends to her, what appears to be, her rather “dysfunctional parents”. A cantankerous hypochondriac mother who listens to old Hindi songs, tries on various lipsticks tubes and thrives on abusing her husband, who in return seems pretty okay with it. It’s a role reversal of sorts as the mother is shown as obnoxious and the father as a soft spoken “doormat”.

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Cut to London, and you are introduced to Zara played by Sanam Saeed, who flies down home after receiving a message, – “Abba is in the ICU”. There is also an older brother Zain who excuses himself from visiting the family, since the sisters will handle the issue.

The ad-hoc man of the house here is Romeo, the son of their old manservant, who is the dependable go-to person for the family.

Debutant writer-director Asim Abbasi breaks stereotypes with “Cake”, and it’s the women who are the anchors in this drama. Zareen, the middle child who sacrificed her dreams of learning at Le Corden Bleu, stuck between siblings who have flown the nest, has chosen not to marry though she carries on a secret liaison with Romeo. Zareen is the caretaker for the aging parents, runs the family estate, can change tires of her car and is not the one to ask anyone for help, as she chastises her parents for asking  Romeo to be present at their beck and call.

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Zara, who lives in London has a difficult marriage, and is haunted by an incident from her past. Coming face to face with an old love leads her to uncover some bitter truths, which were hidden from her.

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Zareen and Zara are bitter and angry,  they don’t think twice before having a raging public hair- pulling fight but on the other are partners-in-crime as they vandalize homes of  friends with rotten eggs when given sermons on social niceties and being sermonized on what makes a “complete woman”.

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From commitment issues to the lack of maternal instinct, as Zara chooses not have children, these are women whose life choices have been dictated by their circumstances but they stand by it. These women who may have been earlier categorized as abnormal on reel, are as normal as can be.

The son, first born always seen as the savior, however in this case Zain the oldest of the three is nothing but a stooge tied to his wife’s apron strings. Romeo, the man who makes the ultimate sacrifice for the family is matter of fact, he is stoic and there is no false sense of bravado. It’s Zareen who makes their relationship public, damned what the community would say.

But the sudden demise of their mother, gets the three estranged siblings together, as they recount days gone by; how their old pent up wounds earlier left unsaid come to the surface.

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Cake is real, with moments that feel like a page out of your own family book. Cake is indeed layered, as stories are unpeeled as the blanket of what one shows the world is removed to expose the reality of life as we all know it.


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