New Feature ‘In Flames’ Makes Release

In 2023, amidst the bustling energy of the Cannes Film Festival, a remarkable debut made waves: “In Flames,” a Pakistani-Canadian supernatural drama film written, directed, and co-edited by Zarrar Kahn, captured audiences with its haunting narrative. Set against the backdrop of contemporary Karachi, the film delves into the lives of Mariam and Fariha, a mother-daughter duo grappling with societal pressures and supernatural forces after the death of their family patriarch. As their story unfolds, “In Flames” navigates themes of patriarchy, resilience, and the quest for agency in a deeply patriarchal society.


The film follows Mariam, a young woman living with her widowed mother and teenage brother in Karachi. After her grandfather’s death, the family’s financial stability is threatened, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation by predatory men. Mariam begins a secret relationship with Asad, a friend of a friend who recently returned from Canada, but further tragedy leaves her struggling with trauma while juggling her other responsibilities.

As the film progresses, supernatural elements are introduced, suggesting that Mariam and her mother are being haunted by ghosts. However, the most terrifying aspect is the predatory men that surround Mariam, highlighting the historical oppression of women by men. Despite allowing room for men to exhibit kindness, the film suggests that almost nothing can be trusted, creating a sense of danger and uncertainty for Mariam and her family.

Production Insights

Zarrar Kahn’s vision for “In Flames” stemmed from a deeply personal place, driven by a desire to shine a light on the pervasive issues of patriarchy and sexism in Pakistani society. As a Pakistani-Canadian director who has straddled both worlds, Kahn brought a unique perspective to the project, infusing it with authenticity and insight born from his own experiences.

The genesis of “In Flames” can be traced back to Kahn’s upbringing in Karachi, Pakistan, where he witnessed firsthand the struggles faced by marginalized communities in a conservative religious society. Drawing inspiration from his own observations, Kahn crafted a narrative that serves as a searing commentary on the oppressive forces that often dictate the lives of women in Pakistan.

For Kahn, the genre elements of “In Flames” served as a means of amplifying the characters’ experiences, allowing audiences to immerse themselves in the world of Mariam and Fariha. By blending elements of psychological horror with a gripping family drama, Kahn created a cinematic experience that resonates on multiple levels, challenging viewers to confront uncomfortable truths while also offering moments of catharsis and empowerment.

Filming for “In Flames” took place in Karachi in February 2022, with Kahn crafting each scene to capture the essence of the city and its inhabitants. Kahn’s production company, CityLights Media, spearheaded the film’s production, receiving support from the Telefilm Talent to Watch program. Collaborating with co-producers such as Other Memory Media and Fae Pictures, Kahn assembled a talented team of creatives who shared his passion for bringing “In Flames” to life.

Critical Response

“In Flames” ignited a firestorm of critical acclaim upon its release, with reviewers praising its innovative storytelling, gripping performances, and thought-provoking themes. 

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an impressive approval rating of 92%, based on 25 reviews, with an average rating of 7/10. Critics hailed “In Flames” as a triumph of storytelling, with its rich tapestry of characters and themes leaving a lasting impression on audiences worldwide.

Shelagh Rowan-Legg of Screen Anarchy applauded “In Flames” as an “intense psychological horror” that challenges viewers to confront uncomfortable truths about power and privilege. She praised the film’s deliberate pacing and evocative imagery, which combine to create a sense of claustrophobia and dread.

Christian Zilko of IndieWire hailed “In Flames” as a “genre-bending horror movie” that offers a searing commentary on the complexities of life in contemporary Pakistan. He praised Kahn’s masterful use of suspense and subtext, creating an atmosphere of unease that lingers long after the credits roll.

Manuel Betancourt of Variety celebrated the film’s central performance by Ramesha Nawal, describing her portrayal of Mariam as “dizzying” and “zealous.” He commended the film for its ability to straddle the line between genre fare and social commentary, offering a nuanced portrait of resilience and resistance.

For The Hollywood Reporter, Lovia Gyarkye highlighted the film’s exploration of patriarchy and its impact on the relationship between mother and daughter. She praised Kahn for his nuanced portrayal of female empowerment, noting the film’s ability to depict the struggles of women in a patriarchal society with sensitivity and depth.

Allan Hunter of Screen Daily commended “In Flames” for its meticulous craftsmanship, from its evocative sound design to its rich production design. He noted that while the film’s climax may falter slightly, its ultimate message of female empowerment shines through, offering a poignant reminder of the resilience of the human spirit.

Siddhant Adlakha of JoySauce.com described “In Flames” as a “fine-tuned, socially oriented character drama” that blends elements of supernatural thriller with personal demons. He praised the film for its ability to shed light on the cultural fanaticism and societal pressures faced by women in Pakistan, offering a compelling narrative that resonates on multiple levels.

Accolades and Impact

The acclaim garnered by “In Flames” extended beyond critical praise to a multitude of prestigious awards and nominations, solidifying its place as a cinematic triumph. At the Red Sea International Film Festival in 2023, the film clinched the coveted Golden Yusr Award for Best Picture, a testament to its compelling narrative and artistic merit.

Further accolades followed as “In Flames” triumphed at the Mannheim-Heidelberg International Film Festival, where it was awarded the International Newcomer Award, recognizing Zarrar Kahn’s directorial prowess and the film’s impact on the global cinematic landscape. Additionally, the film secured the Best Feature award at iSAAF 2023, further underscoring its status as a critical success.

The film’s recognition didn’t stop there. It was shortlisted for the prestigious Directors Guild of Canada’s 2023 Jean-Marc Vallée DGC Discovery Award, highlighting its contribution to the Canadian film industry and its potential to inspire future generations of filmmakers. Moreover, “In Flames” was honoured with a nomination for the John Dunning Best First Feature Award (12th Canadian Screen Awards in 2024), further cementing its legacy as a trailblazing work of cinema.

Moreover, “In Flames” has played a pivotal role in reshaping the landscape of Pakistani cinema, heralding a new era of storytelling that embraces diverse perspectives and challenges entrenched norms. By pushing the boundaries of genre and narrative, Zarrar Kahn has paved the way for future filmmakers to explore complex themes and narratives, inspiring a new generation of storytellers to bring their unique voices to the forefront.

Zarrar Kahn, the Director

Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Zarrar Kahn’s journey as a filmmaker has taken him from the streets of his hometown to the vibrant multicultural landscape of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Kahn’s path to success was paved with a commitment to amplifying the voices of marginalized communities. Before “In Flames,” Kahn garnered acclaim for his poignant short films, which centred on characters struggling against societal norms in Pakistan’s conservative religious society. From women and people with disabilities to members of the LGBTQ+ community and religious minorities, Kahn’s characters embodied the resilience and defiance of those who dared to challenge the status quo.

He notes that Pakistan’s film industry was dismantled by a far-right government in the late 1970s/early 1980s, but is now experiencing a renaissance driven by international financing models. The success of films like In Flames and Queen of My Dreams demonstrates that there is an audience for these types of stories and helps to spur the local industry forward. 

The premiere of “In Flames” in Vancouver on April 19 at International Village, marked a milestone in Kahn’s journey, bringing his vision to audiences on an international scale. The subsequent Q+A session with the filmmaker and stars provided a platform for dialogue and reflection, further cementing the film’s impact on viewers.

Wrapping Up

“In Flames” is a powerful debut by Zarrar Kahn that explores patriarchal oppression and supernatural suspense in Pakistan’s conservative society. The film delivers a strong message of hope and resilience in the face of adversity, offering a cathartic portrait of characters who refuse to be defined by their circumstances. With critical acclaim and prestigious accolades, “In Flames” is a triumph of storytelling that transcends boundaries and ignites important conversations about gender equality, cultural identity, and the human spirit.

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