In a day and age where even the mere mention of Lollywood elicits shudders of contempt, it is a relief to watch a resurrected classic Zinda Laash. Horror film buff and filmmaker Omar Khan decided to bring this desi gothic classic to life to show what Pakistani cinema was once capable of – and this effort culminated in the film being screened recently at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.
Boasting an impressive cast of the stars of yesteryears such as Nasreen, Deeba, Habib and our own answer to Christopher Lee – the exceedingly handsome Rehan – it also has the infamous Rangeela doing a cameo. Unfortunately these names may not strike a bell to the new generation, but they are icons of an industry that was once creative, successful and vibrant and garnered widespread respect and popularity. Zinda Laash belongs to an age where films and going to the cinema were very much the norm and diverse subjects from romance to humour to even horror were explored. Zinda Laash is a testimony to such creative expression and was an experiment of boldly delving into an unchartered genre of gothic cinema.
The term Desi Gothic implies blood, gore, women in burqas spinning spears out of control (akin to Omar’s debut Zibahkhana), yet despite being a horror classic, the 1967 Zinda Laash lacks all of the above. A remake of Bram Stoker’s renowned Dracula, this Pakistani version is an understated film that creates horror through actions and facial expression, since cinema in the 1960s was still in black and white. It may not appeal or compete with the technical effects that contemporary films of the same genre have but it certainly, to quote Omar Khan, ‘would have caused a few sleepless nights in its day’. It is also the first Dracula tale to have been modernized, where the vampire is seen to drive a car and offer a baby as fodder (a highly contentious issue) to his fellow vampire friend.
It must have been quite the challenge to create terror without gore, but Khwaja M Sarfaraz’s direction and the actors’ meticulously delivered expressions, lend this film that aura of mystery, murder and horror.
And it was clearly quite effective since Omar recalls a memorable moment of the film’s release back in the 60s – “a woman died of fright of watching Zinda Laash at a cinema in Gujranwala!” The film relies entirely upon the quiet menace that Rehan creates with an unparalleled finesse through his superbly nuanced acting skills and the dignified manner in which he walks in that long black stylishly donned overcoat. He certainly makes a most impressive Dracula. The film also boasts elaborate stylized sets that showcase the swinging 1960s and 1970s, grand bungalows and mansions, sprawling lawns, immaculate suits, boisterous singing, drinking and dancing. These were all characteristics of a fabulously fashionable and indulgently decadent era long gone.
However, Zinda Laash does have a few amusing features, like scenes of women luring men, that are a necessary evil of all films produced in the subcontinent. But these can be discounted for the seamless flow of the story, melodious score and the coherence in the direction. The finesse with which this film has been made leads one to automatically assume that it must have been pictured in Germany or Prague than in Murree or Lahore and a critical mind can detect very clear and tangible elements of German expressionism.
Zinda Laash also has the distinction of being the first ever horror film to be screened at two major film festivals abroad; the Sitges Fantastic Film Festival in Spain and the Neuchatel International Festival of Fantastic Films in Switzerland.
The film has been available abroad since 2003 and was mentioned in the ten best DVDs of the year in three American publications. The DVD is a definite collector’s item, which features newly filmed interviews with the cast and crew of the film, as well as a documentary on South Asian horror films.
Part of our lost filmi heritage, Zinda Laash is needed now more than ever to provide us with a sense of pride. It is a definite must watch, particularly for those studying film or gothic literature, or those without “irrational or persistent fears of ghosts and demons!” – Hani Taha Salim (Rating – 4 OUT OF 5)
Cast and Production Credits
Year – 1967, Genre – Horror, Country – Pakistan, Language – Urdu, Producer – Abdul Baqi Director – Sarfaraz, Music Director – Tassaduq Hussain, Cast – Rehan, Habib, Deeba, Nasreen, Yasmin, Asad Bokhari, Chham Chham, Allaudin