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.


  1. At last a movie that I have seen! :)
    Well written!

    Though this film lacks a taut screenplay and quality acting(Naseerudin Shah compensates in the last scene),it makes up for that with its adept handling of a sensitive subject.This Pakistani film broke a lot of barriers in its home country and also was one of the first movies that was very well received in Indian theaters.

    You have covered most of the positive aspects of the film here.One thing of note though is its background score-very engaging throughout.The scene where Mariam is being chased when she escapes from the home she's held captive in,is particularly well shot.And the final courtroom scene where Naseerudin Shah proves his genius yet again sends out a powerful message to the world on what Islam truly is.
    A must watch definitely!

    P.S:AFAIK,Mansoor goes to U.S and not England as mentioned.

  2. I'm glad I finally reviewed a movie you've watched..:)

    Thanks for your inputs. True, this movie was well received despite fatwas being passed against the movie in Pakistan. Kudos to the Director for his courage in exploring sensitive issues and bringing it out to the forefront.

    The background score is quite captivating. And ofcourse Naseeruddin Shah gives us yet another stellar performance and stands as the strong pillar that holds the purpose of the movie.

    Yes, Chicago I mentioned earlier. Mistake with England the second time.

  3. well another movie which i have seen and liked. :)
    i thought it was a brilliant movie considering that it came from Pakistan, which is not really known for quality cinema.
    the way the story / plot was handled was way better than the Indian attempt (New York)

    i like the way your review goes about the various aspects of the story. Naseeruddin Shah is brilliant. the background score keeps one involved with the film throughout and some of the pieces are simply superb.

    a must watch for anybody who appreciates good cinema.

  4. I am yet to watch New York. Khuda Kay Liye is a promising leap for Pakistani Cinema.

    Thanks Shankar for sharing your thoughts on the movie. The story indeed stands apart for its theme and careful portrayal of the chosen idea.

  5. Great review again. Haven't watched this yet, but it has sure piqued my interest. Will try and get my hands on it if possible and let you know what I think...

  6. WOW... good work dear.. great review... i could relate to New York.. keen to watch the movie..

  7. Thanks yo!:)
    New York seems to be taking a good comparison. Will watch it.

  8. I enjoyed reading the review; I don't think we can compare New York and Khuda Kay Liye in the same league. New York actually lacked screen play and with very poor dialogues. Specially the closing sequence.

  9. Point noted. I guess I meant comparison in terms of theme. But ofcourse only with all the elements of the film in place can we call it an enriching experience.

  10. Watched Khuda Ke Liye last night, and honestly, it really didn't quite do it for me. What bothered me most was the mediocre acting, except for, as you have duly noted, Nasruddin Shah. But unfortunately, he really does NOT save the film. What about the mostly godawful and apalling dialogues? I even laughed out loud during some scenes at the mere obtuseness and ineptitude of dialogue delivery by most of the actors!

    The brave attempt at addressing social issues, a brilliant musical score, occasional beautiful scenic shots, and a one-man acting excellence doth not a good movie maketh. The criminal over-simplification of complex socio-political issues using cliches and one-dimensional cardboard characters with implausible motives in a preachy narrative that is one-hour too long makes the movie on the whole very immature and superficial in it's treatment of the various layers of social commentary and legal jurisprudence.

    I tried to put aside the shortcomings, and embrace the message of the movie, but the progressive and liberal message in the movie fell victim to the very apologetic, simplified and irrational puritanism and fundamentalism it was going against.

    As a contrast, I feel the screenplay would have made a good read...just like Kite Runner was an interesting read. And the visual translation to the screen was equally marvelous. The sensitive screenplay adaptation by David Benioff and Marc Foster's masterful direction makes the experience of viewing and contemplation so much rewarding!

    This was my first foray into Pakistani cinema and I was so very disappointed. If Khuda Ke Liye is believed to mark the "revival" of Pakistani cinema, I'm indeed greatly anxious of what's to come.

    Zulf, I strongly urge you to watch movies by Abbas Kiorastami, or Majid Majidi, or Nuri Ceylan, Hani Abu-Assad, Cherien Dabis, Ramin Bahrani, Eran Riklis...and these are just names from the top of my head. A good place to start would be Man Push Cart by growing young American director Ramin Bahrani which is reminiscent of the Italian neo-realism films of Fellini, de Sica, Rosellini, etc. Nandita Das' directorial debut with Firaaq, Cherien Dibas' Amreeka, Hani's Paradise Now, Karin Alkbou's The Wedding Song are just a few examples of how intricate and complex socio-political films can be made sensitively as powerful visual art forms without pandering into preachy sentimentalisms. See these gems and then revisit Khuda Ke Liye and you'll know what I mean... :)

    And if you would like to do some reading, I highly recommend the contemprary writings of progressive Muslims like Tariq Ramadan, Omid Safi, Khaled Abou El-Fadl, Fatima Mernissi, Amina Wadud, Ed Husain, Scott Siraj, Gwendolyn Zoharah...again, these are the names that come to mind now.

    Damn that's a long comment!

    Cheers! :)

  11. @ Nabil:
    All the points that you have mentioned are very valid.
    And some of the names that you have taken like Majid Majidi are sheer geniuses.
    But what needs to be taken into account is that,the Pakistani Film industry is way behind in standards,and doesn't come anywhere close to these names that you have mentioned.From what I hear of the Pakistan film industry,the quality or the lack of it could be compared to Bhojpuri movies.
    Looking from that perspective,this film needs to be given credit.The courage to come up with this kind of a film in Pakistan,touching upon extremely sensitive issues and providing a positive impact is commendable.

  12. This is one film that I have heard a lot about, but haven't been able to lay my hands on the DVD. Nevertheless, the eagerness has only multiplied, owing to your take and varied perceptions of the movie by other commentators. Hope I can post a better take and compare it with your review soon.

  13. Well written!!
    In the midst of a clutter of post 9/11 movies across the world, a story from Pakistani does leave an impression. Islamic fundamentalism is the most sensitive issue in Hollywood as well as Bollywood but it’s a surprise for all of us. It addresses concerns that affect the global mindset and clears myths that have already wreaked havoc in today’s world. A meaningful movie that has not compromised on commercials…
    PS: I like the scene where Mansoor is learning music & all the students start contributing to the song "Bande".Its touching.Well directed...

  14. Thanks Ujjwal!

    Very apt observations. Films play a primary role in addressing the current issues that our world is facing, and as you rightly mentioned, Islamic Fundamentalism is a very sensitive issue in the film industry, not to mention other media fields. A story that a film tells can correct or contort existing stereotypes. Khuda Kay Liye definitely is a thumbs up on a reasonable portrayal of our existing times. It rightly corrects the image of Islam.

    Yes, I liked the building confluence of music to "Bande", which is created with the contribution of all the students. Moving!