Two decades after Richard Linklater’s “Slacker,” Pakistan gets its own paean to post-college limbo in “Slackistan,” a low-budget comedy-drama set among Islamabad’s highly westernized, privileged twentysomethings. Blighty-based feature debutant Hammad Khan returns to his motherland to explore youthful ennui. While the pic’s only novelty is its location, and the script lacks proper comic zing, this labor of love should connect with young South Asians, especially in the West, who will relate to the characters’ conflicted identities. Festival play reps the low-key pic’s best chance of general exposure.
Working with mostly non-professional actors, Khan (who not only helms and edits here but also shares credits for lensing, producing and writing) convinces in his slice-of-life depiction of affluent college graduates evidently in no rush or under much pressure to find gainful employment. That leaves plenty of time for driving between hangouts, each no more or less interesting than the last.
Narrator Hasan (Shahbaz Hamid Shigri) despairs of ever discovering in Islamabad the inspiration he believes will kickstart his own filmmaking creativity — he can’t even find “Mean Streets” on DVD — and plans to emigrate. His treasured movie camera sits unused in a cardboard box. So, too, figuratively, do Hasan’s unexpressed feelings for his pretty childhood friend Aisha (Aisha Linnea Akhtar). Vague drama comes from the tribulations of pal Sherry (Ali Rehman Khan), who has been funding his flash lifestyle with loans from the thuggish Mani (Khalid Saeed), which must suddenly and inconveniently be repaid. Pic deserves better than this overly familiar, yet unconvincing, narrative motor.
Suicide bombings and Pakistan’s political travails barely impinge on the characters’ lives. A typical concern is how to respond when an uncle submits a Friend request on Facebook. But a wider perspective does eventually emerge, especially as Hasan develops a conscience about his treatment of a family servant, and strays into an adjacent impoverished neighborhood. Epiphanies, however, remain modest.
With Khan opting for mostly static camera setups, frequent driving scenes provide some respite, as do screen wipes, intertitles (“7 minutes later,” “Meanwhile…”) and occasional jump cuts. Male wardrobe choices favor jokey T-shirts (“Horny devil,” for instance) perhaps more suited to younger characters, but maybe that’s the point. A generic soundtrack of rock, pop and occasional rap showcases local acts whose sounds are totally in thrall to, and indistinguishable from, contemporary sounds from the West. Maybe that’s also the point.