In this issue’s column, we’ll spend the entire time discussing an issue with the help of an Urdu feature film from Pakistan, Khuda Kay Liye.
Directed by Shoaib Mansoor, Khuda Kay Liye revolves around a young Pakistani man named Mansoor who goes to the United States for higher education. During his study years, the tragic events of 9/11 turn the World Trade Center into dust. Chaotic investigations and arrests engulf the United States. Mansoor too gets arrested by the American authorities, although he is innocent of wrongdoing. The experience leaves Mansoor severly traumatized.
Meanwhile, his younger brother Sarmad is encouraged by an old friend, Shershah to cease his musical career in favour of the “straight path of God”.
Mansoor and Sarmad’s uncle arrives from the UK with their only cousin Mary (Mariam) who wanted to marry her non-Muslim boyfriend back in the UK, against her father’s wishes.
When they arrive in Pakistan, Shershah trucks them to their village in a tribal area near Afghanistan, forces Mary to marry Sarmad, and leaves her there. She tries to escape but Shershah and Sarmad follow her and bring her back to the village.
This film also stars Naseeruddin Shah in a short but powerful cameo. He plays a Muslim scholar who clarifies oft misunderstood and misinterpreted tenets of Islam during a court case.
So, why are we discussing the film here?
Well, apart from the fact that it is a well made film, the most notable feature surrounding the film is that it was made and released amidst severe criticism – often laced with threats of dire consequences – by the orthodox Islamic forces of that country.
It also amply demonstrates how media and creative arts can really do their job of highlighting issues and starting a dialogue, if supported by the rulers of the nation.
Apart from the raging dialogue about terrorism and religion, the film’s many themes include the role of music in Islam and the balance of Muslim values with moderate Western enlightenment.
While audiences and film critics loved the film, the religious clergy slammed the film for manipulating the teachings of Islam and its scholars to suit the theme of the film.
There were serious differences between the makers of the film and the religious figures, but there was no violence from either side.
So, basically, Khuda Kay Liye is an example of a situation where a film challenges the status quo of a society and helps start a dialogue by bringing all the various viewpoints. Can there ever be a greater success for any form of art?
Pakistan and its films may or may not ever mean anything to us, but what this example teaches us is that if you wish, you can have a socially-relevant film in a terrorism-infested dictatorship. But, if you don’t deserve it, you won’t get it even in the most remarkable example of democracy.
Let’s ponder over our cinema and values all over again.