Monday, September 28, 2009

Khuda Kay Liye

Khuda Kay Liye is a 2007 Pakistani film directed by Shoaib Mansoor.

It tells us the story of three people who have problems that relate to on going issues and Islam. Two brothers who are both singers, Mansoor (Shaan) & Sarmad (Fawad Khan), become the best singers in Lahore. Sarmad gets influenced by an Islamic activist, Maulana Tahiri. He begins to practice the extremist interpretation of Islam, goes against music, also putting pressure on his free-spirited family to comply. There is a call to ban music and pictures.

In England, a girl Mary/Mariam (played by actor-model Iman Ali) is a westernized girl in love with a British man, Dave. Her hypocritical father disapproves, despite the fact that he is living with a British woman to whom he is not married. He promises her daughter marriage with Dave, after a trip to Pakistan. However, this is a trap and she is forcefully married to her cousin Sarmad in Afghanistan, and abandoned there.

Meanwhile, Mansoor goes to music school in Chicago. There, he meets a girl Janie and instantly falls in love with her. She quits alcohol for him, and they eventually get married. After 9/11, FBI officers capture him when someone overhears a drunk man accusing Mansoor of being a terrorist. Subsequently, he is tortured for a year in custody just because of his Islamic background.

Meanwhile, Mary manages to run away, but is caught by Sarmad in the process. Sarmad eventually consummates their marriage by force. Mansoor and Sarmad's parents finally come to her rescue under the protection of the British Government, but Mary, driven by vengeance, then takes her father and cousin to court in Pakistan. There, a wise Maulana Wali (Naseeruddin Shah) who explains to the court how Islam is being butchered in the name of war and hatred, bringing the religion forward in a believable and peaceful manner.

Traumatized by all the suffering he has seen and caused, Sarmad withdraws from the case. He also realizes the damage that he was made to do in the name of religion. Mary is now free, but decides to return to the village where she was kept prisoner, so she can educate the girls there. Meanwhile, Mansoor is still in U.S. custody after a year of torment; the last torture session having inflicted permanent brain damage. After a failed rehab attempt, he is deported and reunited with his family in Pakistan where, thanks to the hope of his family, he begins to slowly recover.

The movie clearly depicts the image of Islam as has come to be understood by the world. We see how the two singer brothers are forced to draw away from their music, and Sarmad, in the process undergoes a transformation. This shows us how Islam is seen to be intolerant to music and fine arts. A talented young man is pulled away from what he loves most and is taken to an extremist direction. This change is seen in the way he transforms his dressing and wears attire like Maulana Tahiri. In Pakistan, artistic expression is subdued because of religious dictatorship by such extremist characters.

Mariam, a westernized Muslim girl who is in love with a white man, is faced with strong disapproval from her father, who is not very happy about his daughter dating a white man; although the father himself lives with a woman he not even married to. This is a clear depiction of discrimination against women. The mother strongly voices against this partiality. He talks about how it is acceptable for a Muslim man to marry a non-Muslim girl but not for a Muslim girl. He fears he’ll be the laughing stock of the Pakistani community. The implications are much stronger against a girl than a boy. She simply has no say in her desires to marry someone. Although this may be an extreme portrayal of women in Islam at this time and age, these practices happen. Patriarchy and the unfair implications of a male dominated society is strongly shown where a woman is faced with bias in spite of a liberal upbringing. In the end, conventions stand ahead of a woman’s voice and free will.

Mansoor, who goes to England and falls in love with a British girl, is faced with conflict, as he is not sure how the different cultures may not fit in if they plan to get married. The girl, however, quits smoking and drinking for him. This is important in showing how alcohol is forbidden in Islam. It also shows how inter-religious marriages do take place in a liberal society, when the man is in power. A Muslim man marries a Christian girl.

After the 9/11 attacks, Mansoor is wrongly accused of being a terrorist and knowing the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. He fears his life and he is put in prison and tortured. I see now how most Muslims abroad live in fear. Fear of being falsely accused, fear of being suspected merely on virtue of their religion. How unfair this attitude is. I strongly resent it. The film shows these prejudices in a way that shakes you out of your comfort in believing that everything is under control. It leaves you uneasy.

The music is captivating. Especially the fusion piece which reflects the confluence of cultures.

The girl escapes and Naseeruddin Shah explains how the image of Islam is marred by such misunderstandings of the religion. He attempts to correct this marred image by delivering meaningful lines. Shah symbolizes the voice of the Right Way to understand Islam.

Although the film is slow paced and lacks credible realism at times, watch it for its honesty and courageous attempt to correct the image of Islam and its potential to change existing beliefs.

Friday, September 18, 2009


Persepolis is a French animated film based on Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel of same name, made in 2007. It was written and directed by Satrapi with Vincent Paronnaud. It tells the story of a young Iranian girl and her experiences while growing up in a war torn country. Marji, is brought up in a liberal family who follow an open-minded lifestyle and does not impose rules on their daughter. They give her the freedom to live, but to live responsibly and well aware of her roots.

She sees how her country is torn by the Iranian Revolution. Rules begin to be imposed on the people. Being the free spirit that she is, she finds the restrictions ridiculous, going about her own way of living life. She goes out to buy heavy metal music, wears a leather jacket, and constantly retorts back at her teacher for teaching the wrong ideas.

After being sent abroad to study, she becomes more aware of her Iranian identity as she realizes how people look at her not as an individual person, but as a representative of the country she comes from, which increasingly frustrates her. She tries to hide the fact that she is Iranian. She returns home, as she feels guilty that her countrymen are dying and she is away from home.  She feels further aggravated by the rules of the fundamentalists and snaps back at every opportunity. After a disastrous marriage, she returns to France and this time, less in denial of her identity.

Persepolis, on its first watch, had a uniquely blending impact of endearing characters with its cartoon figures and serious undertones of the themes. I enjoyed the quick dialogues, the wit and directness of speech by the characters. I was strongly drawn to the use of animation to show the face of Iran during the revolution. The people suffered under the strict regimen in the name of "Islamic law" and the women faced prejudice and unfavorable attitudes.

            The name resounds for its unique vocal quality. I wanted to read it. And then I wanted to watch it. Persepolis gave me a uniquely enriching visual and textual experience. The movie according to me, did as well as the book. The name fascinated me, as I found that it is a historic city in Iran. What drew me closer to the film was the story of this girl, in a state of mental conflict between her freedom and her experience in a country that suppressed and restricted free thought and action. Marjane comes across as a strong symbol of the fighting woman who does not give up, yet is constantly facing an inner trauma of discovering herself and being caught up with preconceived notions of her national identity.

            I found in Marjane a spirit that inspires, a drive that pushes above all odds and a strong will to fight back injustice. She questions, challenges, and faces its consequences without fearing its fallbacks. Issues of religion, patriotism, family ideals, trust, love, friendship and betrayal are brought forth beautifully.

            The music that is played during times of heightened tension, with no dialogue increases the sense of agitated anxiety one faces when watching the helpless state of the citizens under the repressive rule. The use of black and white to depict the author’s past memories and color to show the present give a stark contrast that reflect the narrator’s mind and how she sees things as she tells us her story.

            Watch the film for its uniqueness of reflective narrative and elements of animated story telling with a passion.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Un Chien Andalou

Un Chien Andalou is a 16-minute surrealist film made in France in 1928 by Spanish director Luis Bunuel and Spanish artist Salvador Dali. It is considered to be one of the best-known surrealist films made in the modernist era.

The film brings across the true form of Surrealism. In the conventional sense of the word, the film does not really have a narrative. It consists of disjointed scenes, which jump from one to another. This creates a series of events that attempt to shock the viewer's psyche.

The silence makes the visuals more unnerving, as we are highly aware of the visual impact the imagery has on us. Provocative themes and abstract concepts is the recipe of this film. We are left baffled and at a loss of any rational explanation. Senseless as it may seem, it leaves us with a disturbing sense of uncertainty that plays with our mind in a way that is beyond our logical comprehension. 

Although the film seems to have a chronology because it opens with "once upon a time" to move on to "eight years later" and then "spring", we realize that the texts are misleading as it does not really make sense. The characters are randomly faced with surprising incidents, which the viewer cannot immediately decipher. The obscurity puts the viewer in a state of constant confusion that is disturbing. It gives a theme that appears to be vague yet is deep in its idea of showing the larger sense of its purpose.

The famous scene of the slitting of the eye is open to many interpretations. When the film starts, we see the moon about to be covered with clouds, while the husband (played by Bunuel) gazes at the moon, fingering the razor he has just sharpened. The moon is symbolic of the eye of the wife because, as soon after this shot, there is a cut to the close-up of his wife. There is one more cut which shows the moon being overcome by the clouds as the husband slits his wife’s eye. Highly symbolic imagery is used here. When he slits the eye of his wife, there is a feeling of convoluting shock as we see how effortlessly the action is done. One cannot understand the motive behind it. And throughout the movie, we are left wondering why that scene was shot as we taken in quick sequences of varying movements and actions. This scene may be looked at as the essence of the surreal art form, as the cluelessness left behind may be the purpose of having it.

This movie can be compared to other masterpieces such as Trainspotting by Danny Boyle and Eight and Half by Frederico Fellini. Both the movies explore different themes using surrealism to create a desired effect on the audience.

One of the world's rarest short films, Un Chien Andalou is a must watch for a mind-boggling, bewildering experience.