(‘Khuda Ke Liye’ was released today in India becoming the first Pakistani movie to be released in Indian theaters. This review is being reposted)
Khuda Ke Liye is a Pakistani movie which has smashed all box office records there. A movie that has become a craze all over Pakistan, so much so, that on one hand there was a fatwa against it by some radical maulvis and on the other hand an endorsement from Pervez Musharraf. The director of the movie has gone on vacation with his family, as soon as the movie was released fearing his life. The two sides are involved in a heated debate ranging from why it is the best movie ever in Pakistan to why it is not worth watching at all. Newsweek did a feature on it. It is being touted as ‘The Movie’ that can revive the film industry there.
It tackles a very tough subject and it is mostly handled well. The film is collaboration between the Pakistani, Indian and US film industries. It has perhaps been edited in India and has Naseeruddin Shah doing a short cameo in one of the most important roles. It was slated for an India release but for some reasons it seems to have been put on shelf.
The movie revolves around two musician brothers Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Mansoor and Sarmad – one of whom transitions into religious extremism and the other fells victim to racial profiling. It depicts an upper middle class/rich family in Lahore with a mix of traditional and liberal values. The movie plot starts somewhere in pre 9/11 timeframe and ends in late 2002. The brothers have their own music group and are shown as beginning to make a mark on the music scene in Pakistan. The younger brother (Sarmad) gets involved in an extremist company whereas the elder brother (Mansoor) moves to Chicago to attend a music school.
Two more angles enter the movie where Mansoor gets into a romantic relationship in Chicago and eventually marries a white American and Sarmad deceitfully marries his British born and raised cousin. In the latter case, the UK based uncle of the boys, worried by the prospect of his daughter having an affair with a white British, traps her into a visit to Pakistan and sends her into an Afghan village where she is forcefully married.
The movie moves into post 9/11 territory when Mansoor is picked up by law enforcement agencies in the middle of the night from his apartment and detained ostensibly in an extra constitutional prison and humiliated in all ways. Sarmad on the other hand gets involved in the battle between Taliban, US forces and Northern Alliance.
The story is interesting as it handles two major issues Ã¢â‚¬â€œ religious extremism and racial profiling – and twines them well. There are other issues also that the movie tries to focus on; condition of women during Taliban days in Afghanistan, theological issues of acceptance of music and cultural contextualization of Islam and the way various groups are putting forward their own version of the religion. There are though things in the details where one may feel are over-simplified. But overall Shoaib Mansoor (the writer and the director) has been able to put the things in perspective pretty well.
The characterization of most of the characters is good. The two glitches are that of the UK based uncle and American investigator whose actions do not always appear very realistic. The acting by almost all the actors is very controlled. Shaan, who played the role of the elder brother Mansoor, plays his role with full gravity, particularly when he is in detention. Rasheed Naz, who played the radical Maulana Tahiri, gives a great performance. The way he handles some dialogues like ‘ye ngo pengio crowd hai‘ or ‘ye billo ke ghar jaane ka kya matlab hai‘.
Shoaib Mansoor does a creditable job in direction. The depiction of the protagonist family, the village in Afghanistan, the transition of Sarmad where he is sandwiched in the thought processes of Mansoor and the radical Maulana and the nuances and the layers in the Pakistani society has been done very well. There are some glitches like why Mary/Maryam did not send the letter to UK earlier which she sends later in the movie? Or why the family was not finding out about their younger son while he was away in Afghanistan? Or why the elder brother did not intimate his family about his sudden marriage in US? Or how the judges or the lawyers in a Muslim country are not aware about the Islamic rights of the girl in a marriage?
There are no song-only-parts as it typically happens in the movies from the subcontinent. The songs go on in the background wherever appropriate and that keeps the things on track.
The movie was missing a balancing part on religious scholarship until Maulana Wali comes into the picture later in the movie. Up to this point the discussion between what is allowed in religion and what is not was happening between a radical Maulana and novices. Naseeruddin Shah, playing Maulana Wali, as expected gives a superb performance Ã¢â‚¬â€œ arguably the best one in the movie. It is a short cameo but is one of the most important. He is a well known Maulana in Lahore who is invited by the court to give his opinion on religious matters. The director does a good job in bringing in serenity in the environment of Maulana’s house. When Mariam sits in his drawing hall a gramophone is playing a record which is perhaps Sehgal’s voice.
The best dialogues in the movie have been written for Maulana Wali and Naseeruddin Shah delivers them as good they could be. On Mariam taunting him that it does not matter whether he does his namaz before or after as it is just an exercise, he is amused and politely replies ‘meri ibaadat ko exercise kahne wali ya to bahut pahunchi hui hai ya bahut dukhi hai‘ (The one who describes my worship as exercise is either spiritually very elevated or is very sad). In the court he continues ‘deen me dadhi hai, dadhi me deen nahi‘ (In religion there is beard, not religion is in beard) or ‘haraam ki kamai jeb me rakhkar, halal ghosht ki dukaan dhoondhte hain‘ (People look for Halal meat shops with inappropriate earnings in their pocket.). On matters of dress he says ‘Kaheen aisa to nahi ki ham Abu Jahal bane rahe hain. Kyonki dadhi to Abu Jahal ke bhi thi or holiya bhi wohi tha‘ (Is it that we are making Abu Jahals, because even he had a beard and even his appearance was similar). And it continues.
Maulana Wali tries to tackle the issue of music in Islam and I think that here the dialogues missed on the issue. He mentions about Hazrat Dawud and how he had knowledge of ragas and had the most mellifluous voice. The critics on the other side do not question the vocal part as such as they will approve the naats, qasidas or nasheeds. They have issues basically with the musical instruments and this is where the things could have been touched upon more. Also the traditional criticism of music is more nuanced than the one depicted by the radical Maulana as a blanket ban or by the director as absolute approval. But then it perhaps does a better job in going deeper than Junoon star Salman Ahmad’s documentary ‘The Rockstar and the Mullahs‘.
Overall itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a good movie. It ends positively in various ways and has been handled by the director quite well. The last scene has Sarmad (who is back into tradition) and Shershah (representing the radical Maulana) competing for the Azaan. The competition for the mike for who speaks for Islam has been shown to begun!