Khuda Ke Liye

Working on Sundays makes me grumpy and I still haven't got my mojo back but you should go watch Khuda Ke Liye.

THIS WEEKEND, as you wonder what movie to watch and as you sort by language and genre, you can add to your choices, a Pakistani film that moves seamlessly from English to Urdu to Pashto. Nearly a year after its release in Pakistan, Khuda Ke Liye is coming to India. Though it has been popular on the festival circuit here, as the first Pakistani film to be released in theatres across the country, it is an event to be closely observed. Khuda Ke Liye (KKL) tells the story of three young Pakistanis affected by recent global events. Mansoor and Sarmad are brothers and musicians living in Lahore.

Fascinated by the acerbic, grand Maulana Taheri, the younger brother Sarmad (Fawad) first rejects music, then his lifestyle and finally his easy-going liberal family to become a “true” Muslim. Older brother Mansoor (Shaan) goes to the US to study music and is content until his life is disrupted by the witch-hunt of Muslims after 9/11. The third thread of the movie begins in England with their cousin Maryam (Iman Ali), who considers herself British and has a white boyfriend. Her womanising father, unable to deal with his own guilt for being a “sinner”, deceitfully brings her to Pakistan to ensure that she, at least, is married to a Muslim. Khuda Ke Liye tells us how each of these young people navigate their troubled lives and deeply troubled times.

KKL was written, directed and produced by Shoaib Mansoor, one of the best-known names in Pakistani television. Over three decades, Mansoor has created shows in every imagineable format and won the nation’s highest awards. He developed iconic TV shows such as Sunehre Din and Alpha Bravo Charlie. These strongly-written, witty dramas are what Pakistani audiences today compare their current soaps to. So Mansoor’s reputation was part of why KKL attracted people to the theatres. Part of the reason, but not all of it. Only five Indian films, have ever been released in Pakistan, two of them Awarapan and Goal in 2007. Goal was the first Indian film to have a simultaneous release in India and Pakistan. But these small figures bear no relation to the huge fan following Hindi cinema has, as proven by the brisk sale of pirated films.

When KKL released, it was not just the concerns of a post 9/11 world, but also the pleasure of watching a film rooted in their culture that brought resident and expatriate Pakistanis back to the movies. “In the UK, Pakistanis went to watch it with a vengeance because, for once, there was a Pakistani film they could watch without being embarrassed,” says Iman Ali. Shoaib Mansoor, may be known as Sho-Man, in the breezy lingo of Pakistani columnists but he is a quiet, articulate figure. “My anger had been growing for a long time.

It has been two-fold: both against the minority who force a narrow interpretation of Islam on the liberal majority, and after 9/11, against people in the West for treating all of us as terrorists.”Mansoor’s smiles mildly as he describes the rise of the Punjabi film industry in Pakistan. “Most of our films are song-dance, bad song-dance, a lot of violence… We had our own Rajnikant — Sultan Rahi. His films were typically very loud and violent.” Mansoor explains the death of Urdu cinema thus: “After 1965, for a very long time Indian movies were not released in Pakistan and without competition, producers grew complacent. Simultaneously, television became huge. From the beginning TV, unlike cinema, was associated with educated, respectable people. In Pakistan, television is important the way cinema is in India.”

GIVEN THE state of the industry, only ten prints of KKL were distributed but that was considered enough for the 100-odd movie theatres in Pakistan. It was released in July 2007 and continues to run in Pakistan. 250 prints of KKL are being released across the country this week. Mansoor feels that being the underdog in the Indian market can only benefit Pakistani cinema. But it is just as likely to benefit Indian cinema as well. Choppy editing, strange colour tones and the slow start notwithstanding, Khuda Ke Liye is a film for grownups. It is difficult to describe the texture of a film that deals with Abu Ghraib-like torture, deception, rape, abduction, escape, and the loss and restoration of faith in such an understated, almost underwater manner.

After a while, it becomes comfortable to float along and watch characters wrestle with events much greater than themselves. Mansoor offers no easy answers. Every now and then there is the jolt of unexpected humour as in the absurd sequence of Maryam’s dour father sneaking away from a village (the pure Islamic air of which he hopes will redeem his daughter’s soul) because“the toilets are not good”. “I have worked for many years on my script and I knew it would work. But I am not a good director,” Mansoor says in a slightly distracted manner.

“No, Shoaib Mansoor is being terribly modest. He is a wonderful director, a much better director than I am. And I was floored by the script,” says Naseeruddin Shah, whose special appearance as Maulana Wali is one of the best things about the film. Shah had attempted to address 9/11 in a peripheral way in his directorial debut Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota, a film that barely appeared before it disappeared. KKL is being spoken of as the film that may revive Pakistani cinema. “Who knows what posterity will say?” shrugs Shah with irritation. “But what does it say about our huge, wonderful industry that we have not been able to make a single film that addressed 9/11? Instead we have Sanjay Leela Bhansali making terrible films like Black! And Saawariya!” he explodes. (While most films in Pakistan don’t cross a budget of Rs 1.5 crore, KKL cost about Rs 3 crore and has so far earned about Rs 4.5 crore.

Saawariya’s publicity budget alone was reputedly Rs 20 crore.) The cast of KKL has also had something to do with the film’s success. Shaan is familiar to Indian audiences as the handsome star of the Kaagaz ke Phool inspired Fuzon music video. In Pakistan he stands for a worldweary sophistication just as Fawad (an actual pop star) is idenitified with youthful hipness. Iman Ali is one of Pakistan’s best known models and has a huge fan following.It is almost part of the cultural diplomacy handbook for Pakistanis to admire Bollywood movies.

Iman Ali says she liked Jab We Met and Kareena Kapoor’s performance but feels no compulsion to express uniform admiration. “I always thought to be a star you have to entertain the audience, make them laugh, make them cry. But most Bollywood actresses don’t need to do any acting. The men do all the acting.” How has KKL changed things for her? “I am now considered the ultimate beauty in Pakistan and have been offered many movie roles. The only difference is, now people are willing to take me seriously,” she said. The fact that fatwas were issued when word of the film got around, has also been highly publicised. Mansoor talks about it very casually. “I knew that all the people who thought I was criticising Islam would quieten down after they saw the film. People need to understand that Pakistanis are not all rabid fundamentalists. I was not worried at all.


Newer Post Older Post Home