There couldn’t have been a better time in Pakistani cinema and society for Shoaib Mansoor’s much-awaited cinematic debut Khuda Ke Liye (In the Name of God) that premiered throughout Pakistan on July 20. I have never seen a Pakistani film that is so bold, fearless and yet marvelously balanced in tackling religion, exposing religious extremism and US necons’ hypocrisy, manipulation besides projecting the real, peaceful and loving values of Islam. In fact, correct me if I am wrong but such a film has never been made before. However clichéd it may sound, it is an absolute turning point in not only Pakistani cinema but our society as well.
Khuda Ke Liye (KKL) takes us back to the much-discussed and oft-quoted glory of Islam. Sarmad (Fawad Khan of the Lahore-based band EP) and Mansoor (Shaan) are two brothers living on a farmhouse, sailing through life with effortless ease on the wings of their musical band. But vice enters their peaceful world in the form of extremism when Sarmad, the younger brother, visits a religious hardliner and gets influenced by his convoluted, misinterpreted, Taliban-like version of Islamic teachings. While Mansoor remains happy-go-lucky, Sarmad becomes a target of confusion and inner conflict (and perfect prey for extremist elements) by shunning music, asking his mother to wear the hijab and eventually becoming a bearded, born-again Muslim.
The other track of storyline revolves around Maryam (Iman Ali) a British-born girl of Pakistani origin. Her father Hussain Shah cannot tolerate the fact that his daughter is dating a white boy (Dave) who is outside their faith despite spending his own life seeing Christian white women (one of whom lives with him out of wedlock). He disapproves of Maryam’s relationship and tries to stop her. In doing so, Hussain Shah is hypocrisy personified. He also hasn’t seen his family in over 30 years, and is nowhere near being a practicing Muslim but wants the opposite for his daughter. He tricks her into visiting Pakistan after discovering that Sarmad and Mansoor are his nephews.
In Pakistan, he pleads with his elder brother (Naeem Tahir) to save him and his daughter from the disgrace of a Christian son-in-law. His request is turned down by Shaan who has left for the Chicago Music School. It is then that he hatches an evil plan by appealing to the so-called Muslim honour of Sarmad who agrees to be a party to it.
Shaan had to be given some importance in the film. Therefore, he falls in love with a fellow musician at the college and romance blooms. After a brief argument over marriage citing cultural differences, he agrees to marry his gori girlfriend. Now the film takes a very interesting turn. In Pakistan, at the same time when Hussain Shah is acting out his plan, in the US, 9/11 happens. It is then that hardships for Maryam and Mansoor begin. The weak-spined Sarmad’s inner conflict that has been plaguing him begins surfacing in spurts as he is dragged to take part in jihad in Afghanistan.
When it comes to acting performances, Iman Ali and Fawad Khan steal the show from right under the experienced noses of every other actor, save Naseerddin Shah. Shaan simply pales in comparison. Iman Ali turns in a convincing performance as a girl brought up with western values but catapulted to the remote tribal areas of Pakistan. She successfully emotes through her eyes the feelings of anger, helplessness and occasional delight. In one scene where hope and disillusionment follow each other within a span of five minutes, her character shines like that of a seasoned actor. Subtle, strong and highly sensitive, she takes viewers on an emotional rollercoaster ride.
Fawad Khan’s character as a weak-willed Sarmad was also extremely difficult to portray but he manages to bring out his character’s inner conflict on to the screen with effortless ease. He gives a vibrant touch to the shades of grey of Sarmad’s persona. On the contrary, Shaan remains a prisoner of his own cinematic image… mediocre, loud and completely out of depth of his character. He becomes the weakest link in the film when he remains energetic and six-pack sculpted under severe torture by the US authorities.
Shoaib Mansoor has handled the subject brilliantly. The script of KKL is splendid as it has many thought-provoking moments as well as glimpses of his subtle sense of humour. His effort to bring out the contemporary issues that are gnawing at the foundations of both our religion and society is commendable. As the writer, producer and director of the film, Shoaib Mansoor shows that that the only way to take on religious extremism is by the horns, as any effort to skirt around the issue will always lead to futility. He seems afraid of no one — be it the militant mullah or the confused people. He also dexterously handles multiple issues such as women’s rights, militant Islam, deliberate suppression of moderate Islam and its values of love and peace. Also, while he reveals the ignorance of the US neocon imperialistic agenda in a very balanced manner, nowhere does he lose sight of the goodness of the American people.
I would go to the extent of saying that this is the real jihad as he spreads awareness and enlightenment in the face of harsh opposition and ferocity. The script stuns the viewer with its well-researched content regarding Islam when Shoaib Mansoor quotes Prophet Mohammed’s (Peace be upon him) words in hadith books like Bukhari Sharif. And the choice of the actor to deliver this part couldn’t have been better. Naseeruddin Shah plays the moderate, enlightened Islamic scholar who steps out of his reclusive lifestyle to save a woman’s honour and life. No other actor could have delivered the highly sensitive (read explosive to the religious extreme) script. He is absolutely brilliant and effective.
Naseer’s script is laden with pearls of wisdom such as ‘Darhi mein mazhab nahin, mazhab mein darhi hai’. The way he leads the powerful arguments in favour of music by quoting that it was Hazrat Dawood’s miracle just as the rest of the three prophets had their own upon who the three holy books were bestowed.
Like any other intelligent piece of cinema, Mansoor uses the musical score of KKL to further the storyline. My favourite numbers are Neer Bharan picturised on Shaan and Sain Zahoor’s Allah. In fact, an intelligently composed and utilised background score also plays an actor’s role in any film. In a scene when Iman Ali tries to run away from her detention, the suspense-laden music leads viewers further towards the edge of their seats.I would not say the film does not have flaws. It does. First of all, the cinematic grandeur is found lacking. It’s been shot like a telefilm. But then in Mansoor’s defense, one could say that the era and generation he belongs to — PTV’s glorious plays — had a feel of much celebrated sub-continental art house, alternative cinema. And the two often overlapped in terms of stylistics, grammar and subjects.
The most glaring flaw in KKL is the lighting jump. It shows through when the director of photography changes from a desi to a gora. But again, here the issue is not Mansoor’s inability but severe lack of talent in Pakistan. Also it seems that he paid heavy attention to the character development of Naseer, Iman Ali and Fawad and overlooked the smaller ones like the boys’ parents (Naeem Tahir and Simi Raheal) and Iman’s father, Hussain Shah.
At times, Mansoor seems to have taken viewers’ understanding of the script for granted when the legitimate concern about Iman Ali’s missing status, Shaan’s detention in a US prison and Fawad’s absence is lacking on the parents’ part. However, the subject of the film and its beautiful handling by him is so engaging that such minor things almost go unnoticed.
Frankly speaking, I though I would never live to see the day when I could watch a film in Pakistan which openly and boldly takes on the rising religious extremism and mutilation of Islam. And the best thing about KKL is that it does not propagate greatness of Islam in a loud, boastful manner like Musa Khan — again a highly distorted piece of work. The final message of the film is love, truth and peace, and of course humility — the basic tenets of the religion. I only wonder how Junaid Jamshed and Ali Zafar will ever be able to live down the regret. By opting out of the film, the two lost an historic chance to be a part of a potential turning point in Pakistani cinema and society alike – Mohsin Sayeed (Dawn – Leading English Newspaper of Pakistan)
Year –2007, Genre – Drama, Country – Pakistan, Language – Urdu, Producer – N/A, Director – Shoaib Mansoor, Music Director – N/A, Cast – Shaan, Iman Ali, Fawad Khan , Naseerddin Shah