September 25th, 2009

Buddha Gujjar (2002)

Syed Noor has, during the last decade or so, acquired the status of the filmmaker in Pakistan but his critics say his movies seldom defy the ‘formula’. His latest flick, Buddha Gujjar, in more ways than one justifies this criticism. The narrative is simplistic – rather one-dimensional like most movie plots in Pakistan. The form, too, is rather conventional. The only deviation takes place at the end – the protagonist dies instead of getting married and living happily thereafter. Perhaps, for this small but important change the movie has been able to attract cine goers in large numbers?

    That the director of Buddha Gujjar hardly innovates is apparent even from the name of the movie. The suffix Gujjar has appeared in about half a dozen movies released during the last 12 months, though only a couple of them have been commercially successful. This is reminiscent of Jatt phenomenon led by Maula Jatt, though Syed Kamal can be given the credit of using the word prior to its release not in one but a series of flicks like Jatt Kurian Toun Darda and Jatt Kamala Gaya Dubai. Filmmakers, inspired by Maula Jatt’s phenomenal success thought the secret lay in the name alone and, therefore, they continued using it until it ran out of steam to be able to ensure box-office viability for loose plots and even looser productions. In Gujjar’s case, the word is yet to run its complete course and Buddha Gujjar is fortunate enough to have used it when it is a bit of a novelty.

    The name of any movie in Pakistan is determined in three ways; by taking a cue from Indian cinema, by plagiarizing on popular TV plays, or, most importantly, by showing in no subtle way as to who has financed the project. When wrestlers from Gujranwala and Lahore’s Walled City are the producers, the names inevitably are Achha Shookarwala, Puttar Shahiyay Da etc; when student leaders are the financiers, films blatantly tout their names as a symbol of success in life and when the money comes from Gujjars like Haji Chaudhry Fakir Muhammad, the films produced are called Humayoon Gujjar, Jeeva Gujjar, Kala Gujjar and of course, Buddha Gujjar. Of late, Arains have taken the cue and expect a spate of movies with titles like Arain Da Kharak to hit the box office in coming months.

    So much for the name, perhaps. In fact, the movie’s importance in Syed Noor’s career lies not in the title but in the subject matter. Among the most successful directors today, he has completed a full circle to reach where he once was as a filmi writer – treading the beaten track as hardly as one could – though his first film as a writer, Society Girl, was no mean achievement.

    Following in the footsteps of film writers of late 1970s and early 1980s who would bank upon unrestrained violence to achieve success, he used to churn out stuff that can easily be labeled as run of the mill. The departure came with his directorial debut in Kasam. His Ghoonghat and Sangam were a breath of fresh air for a cinema splashed all over with bloody, violent colors. From then on he continued experimenting between flicks based on socio-familial and personal themes and in at least one case, tried to put violence in a context by producing Hawain, a movie based on the life of a student leader. In Buddha Gujjar, it seems, unrestrained violence has staged a comeback as far as Syed Noor’s artistic experience is concerned.

    Violence, however, is one thing people no longer bother about in a Lollywood movie. But the bad thing about violence in Buddha Gujjar is the fact that in most part of the movie it appears to be violence for the sake of it. The forces of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are there and they fight many a pitched battle but there emerges during the process someone who believes wholeheartedly in sheer killer instinct to make a name for himself. Fortunately, he is not the protagonist but the hard-skinned, obdurate son of the main character Buddha, a God-fearing, no nonsense, magnanimous Gujjar who till the end believes violence only breeds more violence, though he also believes in avenging himself of any wrong done against him without any help from the enforcers of law.

    Sharif – the son, nicknamed Jagga and played by Shaan, is finally killed in a police encounter but not before killing scores if not hundreds of policemen single-handedly. An ending like this may be an attempt by the director to show that violence without cause always ends in the blind alley of death. Also the fact that Buddha, played by Yousaf Khan, survives after finishing off all his enemies is symbolic of the victory of ‘good’ against ‘evil’.

    Not that the theme is the only stock thing about the movie. Stock scenes, stock situations and stock characters are conspicuous by their sheer and sometimes offensive presence. The skimpily dressed dancer swaying her body amid a crowd of fans, the drunkard, scheming, selfish villain deserting even the closest friend, the local Robin Hood magnanimously doling out loot to the poor and the self-sacrificing plebeians trying to protect their upper class benefactors all have a place, in most cases a prominent one, in Buddha Gujjar as they have had in countless other movies. The court, the courtesan’s salon, the police station and the hospital are also there as they have been in almost all movies since they first appeared on the filmi scene. The most ludicrous thing about the last place is not the amount of violence that takes place there but the ‘instant’ and ‘instinctive’ way in which blood transfusion takes place. The stock situations, inter alia, include a fight over attempts to monopolize the emotions of a courtesan and the defection of someone from the villain’s inner circle of confidantes.

    The saving grace of the movie is its realistic setting and an attempt to keep the wardrobe as wearable as possible, obviously with a couple of exceptions for lead female characters played by Saima and Resham. The music and the lyrics too are apt and evocative, though not memorable.

    The acting mostly is acceptable, if not good. But one man who stands head and shoulders above the rest of the cast as far as acting is concerned is Yousaf Khan. In fact, the role of an ageing but graceful man comes to him quite naturally. He does not need to act, rather he opts to under-act here and there. But even this suits him and the character. Shaan strives hard to play the spoilt guy but his attempt to always face the camera with eyes turned upwards sometimes irritates. Nawaz Khan and Arshad Mehmood do well.

    Turning back to the ‘formula’ thing. Once Sultan Rahi and Anjuman were the ‘formula’ couple of Punjabi movies. Now that they are out of the picture, Syed Noors of Pakistani tinsel town have been trying all along to find others who can fit the bill. This will hardly take the local cinema forward. But the Shaans and the Saimas, it seems, have started to adjust themselves to the directors’ design, by playing the same old ball in a not so new way – Aijaz Gul

Cast and Production Credits

Year – 2002, Genre – Drama, Country – Pakistan, Language – Punjabi, Producer – N/A, Director – Syed Noor, Music Director – N/A, Cast – Shaan, Nawaz Khan, Saima, Resham, Arshad Mehmood, Yousaf Khan

Drama