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Web Series ‘Midsummer Chaos’ Is Not For Everyone

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Riddle me this: If Midsummer Chaos is indeed the IQ-draining, acid-gurgling, seizure-inducing, cinematic nightmare that we’ve all decided will kill us in within 7 days of viewing, why can’t we stop talking about it?

On one hand, this overreaction is entirely understandable for a nation forever spoiled by the politically nuanced artistry of Khalil ur Rehman Qamar, the sophisticated productions of Waqar Zaka, and a plethora of majestic item songs copied thumka-by-thumka from Bollywood originals.

And then there’s Midsummer Chaos: a web-series birthed by the untamed, unrefined passions of a bunch of young people who spent their pandemic days doing something other than processing the trauma of Malala’s casual indifference towards ‘shaadi’ – the reason for Pakistan’s creation.

What makes Midsummer Chaos so fascinating

There’s a good chance that you’ve seen a bad film or a TV-series before in your life. But a piece of filmic art must fail in a very specific way to be intriguing enough to impact our collective consciousness.

‘The Room’ by Tommy Wiseau is a good example of a film so bad, it’s actually good. It has amassed an international cult following, powered by countless screenings before small audiences of film-enthusiasts, cheering every cinematic fail, and patting themselves on their backs for having successfully identified the objective terribleness of it all.

A bad film teaches us as much about the artistic and technical aspects of filmmaking, as a good production. In fact, some aspects of filmmaking, like editing, are noticeable only when they’re bad, because a competent editor cuts and pieces together a show in a way that distracts the viewer from the technical parts of filmmaking, and maintains focus on the narrative itself.

In short, Midsummer Chaos is artistically fascinating because it proudly exhibits some of the biggest don’ts of filmmaking.

The editing is…interesting

One of the places where Midsummer Chaos fails spectacularly, is in the editing room. It’s not entirely certain if this may be attributed to the editor’s incompetence, or the director’s fault for not shooting enough good footage for the editor to work with. Certain scenes in the story are so jarring, they make it impossible for a viewer to remain immersed in the story. The audience becomes hyper-aware of watching a ‘production’, and therefore, hypersensitive to everything that goes wrong in it.

A perfect example of this bad editing is – spare the drumroll – the swimming pool scene. Once the girl hits the water, a bizarre sequence of whiplash-inducing cuts overwhelms the viewer’s senses. No effort is made to establish the relative geography of the setting prior to the inciting incident. So, characters seem to appear magically before the camera, bombarding us with expository information that has little reason to exist in this emotionally intense scene. Harris, who’s supposed to be in the verandah at an undisclosed distance, tells Sameer that he’s been drinking too much.

The entire scene could’ve been improved immensely by the inclusion of a 2-second shot of Harris leaning over the verandah’s railing, looking anxiously at the poolside fight. And regarding Sameer’s drinking, it might’ve been nice to actually see him take a few pretend-sips of alcohol and act visibly tipsy, or is “show, don’t tell” not the first lesson a writer learns in his field?

Acting is hard

And it’s especially difficult when the camera fixates on an actor’s face for 70 uninterrupted seconds, as it does to Hiba Ajaz in episode 2. A more experienced cinematographer with a better budget may have used smarter tricks, like a higher camera angle making the actor look smaller and more vulnerable, or a wider shot of a room to emphasize her loneliness. Instead, the uninspired camera-work forces this young actor to do all the heavy-lifting in terms of conveying her character’s sadness and angst, and leaves her open to smug laughter from the audience, blaming her for not being in absolute control of all 20 muscles of her face.

It’s not just the actor’s job to make the audience suspend their disbelief in the realness of the story. Improper camera work, poor editing, a confused screenplay, and an unconvincing script, all make the actor’s job significantly harder. Even Meher Bano, an experienced and undeniably stellar actor, appears unconvincing at times because of these problems. Nael Amir puts up an admirable, albeit somewhat underutilized, performance as a cocky ‘Instagram model’ Salar.

It goes without saying that almost every actor in this series, except for Meher Bano, is a relative newcomer just learning the complexities of film acting. We all start somewhere, and Midsummer Chaos is clearly not the multi-million dollar blockbuster that promises oscar-grade acting skills.

It’s Not For Everyone

Culturally, we seem to have decided that young people are stupid and disposable, and everything that they enjoy, from TikTok to fourth-wave feminism, is trivial to the point of being offensive.

It surprises to no one that this web-series invites an extra dose of vitriol from Boomer-istan. The series is not centered on saas-bahu politics, casually misogynistic uncles, old-fashioned marital drama, and property disputes. I can see how their absence can be confusing to some Pakistani viewers.

Midsummer Chaos is a cultural trailblazer for several reasons. Firstly, as an indie web-series, it gets to circumvent a few censorship rules that mainstream Pakistani filmmakers must contend with. Secondly, as a show created almost entirely by young people for the millennial / Gen-Z demographic, it deals with coming-of-age issues that popular drama serials do not usually explore. The political significance of Alynah’s “identity” arc alone is worth giving the web-series a reverent nod.

We need more…

Midsummer Chaos is a poorly structured, technically shaky, with hodge-podged young-adult subplots handled with the grace of an impromptu free-for-all bhangra at my cousin’s baarat.

And I can’t stop talking about it. Everytime I rewatch one of its episodes, I feel like I understand its convoluted plot a little less, but I learn a lot more about the trials of filmmaking and our country’s shifting cultural zeitgeist.

It’s not flawless. For instance, the writer’s disinterest towards youth outside our bourgeois circles, to the point that there isn’t even a fleeting reference to those living below the default upper-middle class setting. And the show could certainly benefit from outgrowing its stereotypical ‘youth drama’ based around pool parties and dates.

There is no doubt, however, about the cultural and artistic significance of Midsummer Chaos, and I, for one, cannot wait for the next episode.

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Naya Daur