Syed Noor began making 786 almost two years back. This film was completed earlier this year and the title was changed to Hum Aik Hain, as the Censor Board Members did not approve of 786.
Syed Noor has often claimed in recent months that this film is his effort for promoting sectarian harmony, unity and peace. He wants religious understanding among different sects of the society. Such a claim coming from a film director certainly was heartening. Film, after all, is a medium for mass consumption. Today with Cable TV, Video, CD and DVD, only a small segment is going to the cinemas but that segment is crucial part of the society: male, single, urban, lower-middle-class and largely illiterate. And when it comes to religious harmony and sectarian peace, this segment of the society needs the message – loud and clear.
True to his claim in letter and spirit, Hum Aik Hain begins with an Azan showing Badshahi Mosque and other parts of Lahore with rather badly photographed (and badly lit) clips. The titles end on Shan (Mustafa) who is the muezzin. He is educated, wears jeans and is looking for a job. But the job does not come even after repeated appointments. The academic degrees are not even worth good enough to be sold as waste paper. Trash must go to trash and the degrees are burnt alive in a rage of disappointment and frustration. There seems to be plenty of fire around at nights around Lahore with flames burning inside large empty drums (read ‘a heavy symbolism of hero’s agony’).
And yes, Shan has an ultra-religious mother Naghma who looks like a nun in white She helps children with Quran lessons and baptizes babies by marking 786 on their foreheads (it is supposed to me good omen). Naghma was never a good actress and now her haggard looks and somewhat forced Urdu accent, does not make things any easier for her and the audiences. Coming back to fire in the streets, Shan watches a Maulana being gunned down in cold blood. He is a witness and must suffer at the hands of the police and the establishment.
Shan later joins Nisar Qadri’s gang, delivering bags (containing bombs) from one place of the town to other and is instrumental in inadvertently killing his mother who happens to be traveling in one such bus to be blown up on Nisar Qadri’s command. Incidentally Shan is strictly not allowed to see inside the bag and find out what deadly explosives he has been carrying and delivering. Now it is time for Shan to change his loyalties and he does that pretty fast.
He builds up a gang of his own the members of which wear red bandanas with 786 emblazoned on them. The villains must be paid in their own currency and the scores are settled on the occasion of Ashura when crowds are purifying their sins from events of Karbala. A van carrying explosives by Haider Sultan is averted minutes before but blood baths are choreographed simultaneously in the nearby deserted streets. The man behind these deadly schemes, Nisar Qadri, is actually butchered in his decorative temple, right across the street from Badshahi Mosque – now you know the significance of terrorists hitting religious monuments. In fact, Nisar Qadri’s neat little temple with badly sculptures statues is shown numerous times with minaret of Badshahi Mosque visible right across the frame. One could call that pretentious framing and composition.
Hum Aik Hain also takes on many other sub-plots. Shamyl Khan is a diehard young man from the Shiite community and a friend of Shan’s. Together they must go through the physical torture but must fight the evil and make this world a better place to live (and die). And then there are drugs and junkies suddenly make an appearance. If that is not enough, Shan must also go through the exotic experience and feel the ecstasy. Hum Aik Hain in spite of cheap and low-grade comic relief by a bhands and mirasis is dry film. Saima and new face Gull (Rozina’s daughter) appear in extended extra roles and their brief appearance does not have anything to do with the story.
Shan works remarkably well. He was made for this character, which he has been playing in abundance since 1995 so successfully and shamelessly. Shamyl Khan appears in a brief yet strong role with a little bit of romance and a couple of songs. He is a man with strong convictions but he is torn between his conviction, friendship to Sunni friend Shan and the murder of the Maulana in the Imam Bara. Gul is a rich lady who donates generously to Imam Baras and meets Shamyl Khan and falls for him instantly (this is where we must suspend our disbelief). Saima is a mirasan who meets Shan in the hospital. She looks good and we can watch her in almost over a dozen wardrobes in just a single song. The song in question is apparently supposed to add to the production effects of the film but with a flat, one-dimensional set, it just doesn’t.
In a world where you are watching the best and the latest from both Hollywood and Bollywood right in your living room, filmmakers have to be intelligent and visually alert to make films with substance, meaning, powerful characters and slick production, all the while remaining within a modest budget. And then you have to know what kind of a film you are making. In Hum Aik Hain, Syed Noor should not have mixed religion with drugs, seductive dances, musical melodrama in the hospitals and love spots. There are more sober ways and means of providing relief other than introducing superfluous characters and ludicrous situations. Technically, Ali Jan as cameraman and Z.A. Zulfi as editor have done well but the film’s length could have been reduced to give a fast pace to the lingering scene after scene. M. Arshad as composer has ripped off many tunes. One song filmed on Shamyl and Gul is straight out of Bandish (1980) which was a beautiful composition by Robin Ghosh, rendered then by Mehdi Hasan and Mehnaz.
Syed Noor here is almost remaking his earlier film Angarey, a totally plagiarized version of an Indian film. In Angarey, Shan is a lawyer who must fight the villains and eventually hang the culprit. True, he has brought in Sunni-Shia element, but he has shown his bias by showing Hindus as the real culprits behind the sectarian split in our society. Noor goes on to the extent of involving RAW in the plot, which he shows in reverse as WAR and makes sure than Shan comes out with this explanation loud and clear. The claim that India has had its share of anti-Pakistani films does not hold true at all.
Films like Moosa Khan and now Hum Aik Hain are not showing Indians but Hindus as sources of all evil. Indian filmmakers have never done that. They may have had their share of Border, Khakee, Refugee, Maa Tujhey Salaam, LoC: Kargil and Sarfarosh, but while these films can be anti-Pakistan, they are never anti-Muslim. The Muslim characters may be cardboard figures but they are never really shown in a hideously negative role. Syed Noor as a writer and director must realize that the film medium is not there to degrade minorities and involve them in hateful crimes. That itself is religious bigotry, something Syed Noor is supposed to be fighting against – Aijaz Gul
Cast and Production Credits
Year – 2004, Genre – Drama, Country – Pakistan, Language – Urdu, Producer – N/A, Director – Syed Noor, Music Director – M. Arshad, Cast – Shaan, Shamyl Khan, Saima, Haider Sultan, and Introducing Gul (Rozina’s Daughter)