By Nadeem Farooq Paracha
Last weekend I finally managed to get my hands on the DVD versions of two Pakistani films that I had once seen on the big screen many years ago, and was looking to do the same again, but this time in the privacy of my TV lounge. I went looking for them after a friend and I discussed the possibility of finding the cultural roots of what grew into mainstream socio-political extremism and myopia in Pakistan.
One can pin-point almost all of Ziaul Haq’s cynical, Machiavellian farce in the name of Islam as containing the main roots of the social and political extremism that now plagues the nation. But I believe it is in the cultural legacy of such reactionary farce in the 1990s where one can clearly locate the derivatives of the Zia era’s insensitive Islamist charade; off-shoots of a destructive legacy that eventually mutated into the kind of socio-political fanaticism that has become a troubling mainstay of Pakistani society ever since 9/11.
I will not go into the academic and scholarly details of this observation, but rather discuss the issue by reviewing the two Pakistan films that I rediscovered. Both were made and released in the 1990s and are interesting examples of the kind of mindset that many common Pakistanis started to develop at the conclusion of the anti-Soviet ‘Afghan jihad’ in the late 1980s. The first film is 1990’s ‘International Gorrilay’ (Gorrilay meaning guerillas).
The film is a remarkable celebration of a post-Afghan-jihad resurgence of Pakistan’s convoluted belief of being a ‘fortress of Islam.’It was a huge hit when it was released in mid-1990 and has become a cult classic amongst oddball Lollywood affectionados. Directed by eccentric Pakistani film director, Jan Muhammad (who went on to direct delicious Lollywood rom-coms such as ‘Kuriyoon koh dalay dana‘ – direct translation: Feed women seed), the farce was also one of the first Pakistani films to be banned (on video) in Britain. ‘International Gorrilay’ lampoons author Salman Rushdie as the film’s main villain, but the ban on the video was lifted when Rushdie himself stepped in and asked the British censor board to allow its release.
Since the film is a masterpiece of tacky demagogic cinema, one can understand why Rushdie didn’t feel threatened or offended by the content. Through his direction, Jan Muhammad was simply cashing in on the (delusional) high Pakistan as a country was experiencing at the retreat of the battered Soviet forces in Afghanistan and the ‘victory of jihad’ (albeit CIA-aided). But according to some Lollywood insiders, Jan’s original plot of the film was a lot wider, revolving around a group of Pakistani mujahideen fighting in Afghanistan. But the story suddenly took a sharp turn when Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ controversy erupted in 1989, and Jan decided to make Rushdie the film’s main villain.
Thus, instead of seeing mujahids returning from fighting a successful ‘jihad’ against atheists, the film kicks off by presenting Pakistan and the Muslim world gripped by a grave crisis and being swallowed by the evil schemes of a sinister lobby of diabolic men. This lobby includes Salman Rushdie (played by veteran TV and film actor, Afzal Ahmed), who inexplicably stops writing books and starts leading a menacing social and political onslaught on Pakistan. With him are some very subcontinental looking men in curly blonde wigs whom we are told are Jews/Zionists working for a secret Israeli agency (Zaid Hamid, please take note).
Since Pakistan is the leading defender of Islam – never mind the rising cases of rampant corruption, sectarian and communal riots, gang rapes, etc. – the film suggests that if Pakistan falls to Rushdie’s menacing schemes, so shall the rest of the Islamic world. Interestingly, Rushdie’s assault on Islam includes the inexplicable opening of a chain of casinos and discotheques in Pakistan – yes, he should have opened madrassahs and TV news channels instead.
There is soon a heroic reaction to such conspiratorial debauchery. In a jarring scene involving terrible acting and worn out rhetorical dialogue, veteran Punjabi film actor, Mustafa Qureshi, playing an ex-cop, decides to create a ‘mujahid fauj’ (the proto-Taliban?) whose sole aim is to destroy Rushdie and ’save Islam and Pakistan’ from Jewish/Christian/Hindu conspiracies and, of course, from obscenity too. The latter is a vital plot tool, giving the director the opportunity to show some lecherous disco and dance scenes without the danger of himself (and the audience) being labeled as a soft-porn revelers.
(By the way, apart from being an Israeli agent and an advocate of gambling, alcohol and free sex, Rushdie is also a master torturer. He torments captive Muslims by making them listen to the blasphemous sections of his book, ‘The Satanic Verses’!)
To counter Rushdie, ex-cop Qureshi inducts three of his younger brothers who are unemployed in his mujahid force – maybe because there are now only casinos, pubs and night clubs to work in? After getting combat training from their elder brother, the three-man ‘jihadi’ army decides to infiltrate Rushdie’s baleful gang by going undercover. And no, they don’t adorn blonde wigs, but slip into Batman costumes instead! Obviously, who would notice three men in 1960s Batman costumes, right? Right.
Two of the brothers are played by known film actors, Javed Shaikh and Ghulam Mohiuddin, both of whom were well into their forties at the time, a fact underlined by the wobbly size of their bellies protruding forward from their limp Batman costumes.
After making their way into the conspiring gang of anti-Islam thugs, the three brothers – with the help of zany reactionary one-liners, karate chops, expert gun slinging and a few American SAM missiles – make a meal of Rushdie and Co. and save Pakistan (and thus Islam). What’s more, while still in their oh-so-elusive Batman suits, they even manage to convert Salman Rushdie’s equally evil mistress called Dolly (played by the lovely Barbara Sharif). Voluptuous, wicked, scheming, obscene to the hilt (and drunk), Dolly finally sees the light (quite literally), after watching the wrath of God (attired in Batman suits) obliterate Rushdie.
Her conversion is quite a scene, really. Lights flicker, clouds thunder, the room whirls round and round, and the music peaks as she weeps, sweats and shakes – it’s as if she’s just consumed a highly potent concoction of liquid LSD, magic mushrooms and bhang! The above most certainly is my favorite scene in the film.
‘International Gorrilay’ is a stroke of genius when it comes to campy demagogic cinema, and only an idiot can take it seriously as anything beyond being a highly enjoyable cinematic farce. But then, since extremists too are idiots, I was wondering if, due to its bombastically chauvinist antics, whether it actually ended up inspiring any future suicide bombers? The film was such a big hit that a sequel of sorts arrived in Pakistani cinemas sometime in the mid 1990s.
It was called ‘Alamy Ghuday’ (International Scoundrels). Though directed and plotted by a different director and having different performers, the film more than alludes to the happenings of its predecessor, ‘International Gorrilay.’ Many years after Pakistan (and thus Islam) were saved from Rushdie and his gang of obscene blonde-wigged Zionist thugs, yet another anti-Pakistan (and thus anti-Islam) villain has risen (played by the malevolent Shaukat Cheema). His mission too is to harm Pakistan (and thus Islam) with the help of diabolical schemes and voluptuous disco dancing and binge drinking.
A group of passionate ‘young men’ (in their mid- and late-forties) and a damsel in distress take on the evil Cheema but are arrested by the cops along with the damsel’s weakling old father. Yes, the government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has sold out to the greedy ways of the villain’s sinister empire, and the frail father is dragged to the Supreme Court.
Here begins a terrific court scene. In it the damsel – in a red dress that is a freaky cross between a Wonder Woman costume and a Bedouin desert tent – is seen fervently arguing with a lawyer who wants the old man to be hanged. She shouts away, condemning the spread of obscenity and alcohol (but, of course), in a country made in the name of Islam, and passionately lamenting the practice of dishing out the law according to ‘ghair mulki‘ (non-Pakistani and thus non-Islamic) law books. Incidentally a pile of such infidel books lay neatly stacked in front of the bewildered judge (played by the great Munawar Saeed).
The damsel then runs forward, picks up the books and flings them high into the air (in slow-motion), pleading that the prisoner’s case should be heard according to ‘Islami qanoon‘ (Islamic law). Well, the sort of qanoon she was pleading for would have first and foremost booked her for her delicious sense of fashion, but that’s besides the point.
The judge suddenly sees the light and he flings away whatever books left sitting on his desk and decides to hear the case according to Islamic law. After a lot of shouting and flinging, the old man is released, and the group is given the green signal by the suddenly reformed state of Pakistan to go forth and demolish the wicked whisky drinking villain. The scene is a classic example of a populist medium glorifying exactly the kind of self-righteous, isolationist, convoluted, racist and contradicting mindset we so seriously have to move away from. The thought that such films are made for the ‘masses’ made me shudder.
Even though I didn’t take this piece of cinematic nonsense seriously, I had to wonder whether some people had taken it seriously? Or worse, were there those who actually decided to act upon the message that the film was delivering, which, in a nutshell, was everyone or everything that is not according to a squarely narrow, literalist understanding of the faith is up for spontaneous destruction, never mind the lavish, belly-button-showing Wonder Woman costume, mate!
Well, the mujahids – this time in Robin Hood costumes – blow the evil man’s empire to smithereens and once again save Pakistan (and thus Islam) from the evils of Zionism and, of course, alcohol and disco dancing.
The Dawn Blog 20/08/09
18 responses to “The Films before the Fanaticism”
I have been looking for a copy of International Gorillay for sometime now. Its heartening to know copies of the film do exist, on DVD noless. I do remember when the film initially came out in 89/90 and some folk fervently stalking videostores for the film, possibly in the hope of rejuveninating their gung ho spirits. The premise of the film, with the trailor, seemed silly then and has continued to grow in sillymeter.
Though its heartbreaking in equal measures that the ridiculous will be taken in a dead serious stride by some.
Do check out Omar Khan’s review of the film. It also has the incentive picture of the aforementioned Mujahid force in batsuits.
Ha ha. Extraordinary NFP as usual.
Jamaat e islami types must be foaming at the mouth like a bunch of kutay that they are.
Hint hint Kashifiat and company 😉
Zia ji, if you can manage some time, could u please review dev d and kaminey on pth? I have been ur fan ever since i ve read your gandasa film article.
I dont understand what is the problem with a movie maker making profit out of his movie by showing to the public what they want to watch.
The Americans want to watch Amrika saved from evil Islamic terrorists/soviet evils/german Nazis etc etc.
So why is it such a big pain for our enlightened moderates when a Pakistani movie directory saved Pakistan from hindu/zionists/christian conspirators?
Makes me wonder whether you guys are enlightened moderates OR moderately enlightened.
Wink Wink cough cough
“So why is it such a big pain for our enlightened moderates when a Pakistani movie directory saved Pakistan from hindu/zionists/christian conspirators?”
Oh my, I thought that watching batman suited 40-something Mujahids (shown as 20 something young fellas), fighting the evil Hindu-Jewish-Christian (HJC) cabal spearheaded by Salman Rushdie, who was assisted by his able bodied Dolly, with blonde wigged MOSSAD agents, who wanted to spread obscenity in Pakistan (shown quite remarkably through various suggestive dance numbers), was quite painful.
Even more remarkable was the fact that the director really wanted nothing but to make money of it, feeding it to a population beset with the frantic ideology post Afghan Jihad.
Of course our director could have made a more nuanced movie that may have shown how a side effect of Afghan Jihad was a far more weaponized and drug infested Pakistani society, and how it played havoc with individual families.
But then, where would the Hindu-Jewish-Christian (HJC) nexus play part in our more serious movie; a nexus that many intelligent people completely believe in. Our dear director is ever so happy to feed them what they like to see; The Jihadi struggle against the HJC (led by Rushdie), alongwith a little bit of sexy dance numbers on the side makes so much more sense.
My bad, why should I ever been pained by that movie?
This Paracha fellow is rather remarkable. I read his huge pieces on Maududi and Zaid Hamid and thought he would be a very, very serious guy. Then he does this! 🙂 This is a fantastic and hilarious look at a weird film and I loved it when he hints that maybe such films may have ended up inspiring future extremists.
This guy’s got sharp wit. I am now a solid fan of Paracha. We need more journalists like him.
Yes Mr Junaid, you are a clever witty man who seems to enjoy his own dense jokes. There’s nothing wrong with a filmmaker delivering something that people want to watch. People rather tilt towards the ridiculous rather than the sublime so maybe thats why there was never a Fellini blockbuster.
The gung ho Nazi/communist/muslim bashing films can be very ridiculous at times. And why go as far as Hollywood to make your point. Right next door Bollywood has its share of paki-bashing jingoistic films which dont command universal acclaim.
But you see there is room beneath the ridiculous where films like International Gorrilay so cosily exist. It is an uber ridiculous film and you got to have a significant part of your mind turned off to not see the sheer inadequecy of the film to be taken serious in anyway. What’s worse it’s a misplaced sense of patriotism channeled horridly.
“So why is it such a big pain for our enlightened moderates when a Pakistani movie directory saved Pakistan from hindu/zionists/christian conspirators?”
In your unabbetted enthusiasm were you trying to say the film directly (rather than directory) saved Pakistan from hzc conspirators?
Did I just use the word uber ridiculous somewhere above? Are you, in all honesty, trying to say this excuse of an exploitation movie saved an entire nation from the brink of destruction???
Thank you for the compliments. I’m afraid I havn’t seen Kameenay though I’m returning to Pakistan in sometime and will get my share of Indian films easily, so might get down to it. As for Dev Das (I hope that’s what you were refering to) I had the misfortune of co-habiting with a roommate some years ago who had a rather unhealthy fixation with the film and would atleast watch the entire film once everyday. If I were to write something on it, the piece would be heavily opinionated but cant make any promises on that.
Seems I have just hit lots of raw nerves.
At the end of the day, most Pakis, from both ends of the political/religious spectrum are full of shit.
They disguise their liberal/progressive/religious bullshit under the garb of free speech,demo-crazy blah blah.
Where as the real purpose is to satisfy their overly inflated egos which normally involves stigmatizing, insulting and humiliating those whose opinion they cannot stomach.
I have yet to come across a Pakistani think tank which really believes in free speech and can put forward their ideas without ridiculing the other party.
@ Zia Ahmed….Junaid…
I wasnt aware this was a think tank!!!!!..??
I’m kinda wondering myself, whats with the think tank?
My mobile fone malfunctioned in the above posts, sorry.
Zia ji,i am not talking bout dev das but dev d , the 2008 highly acclsimed film of anurag kashyap,the tarantino of india.Dev d is more of a satire than a rona dhona melodrama that bhansalis devdas was.
Many people say that vishal bhardwaj’s kaminay and kashyap’s dev d have brought the new wave ,again, in indian cinema.Anurag kashyap blogs at passionforcinema dot com. His next film is Bombay Velvet
Pardon my ignorance. Just wiki’d Dev D up and it looks impressive. Will definetly check it out.
Speaking of new wave Indian cinema I havnt seen much but Raghu Romeo really stuck out. Wasn’t impressed with the Rajat Kapoor’s follow up feature though.
Trust you militaristic Pakistanis to turn even the act of thinking into an Armoured Corps activity.
What next, fly-by film reviews by the PAF?
Quite right you really must experience thinking ‘inside the tank’ to know what we are referring to …. 🙂
and not fly-by Sir….they’ll be ON the fly 😉
what with film reviews being an essential OLQ and all…
Mr. Kashif Hafeez Siddiqui:
Since you used my post in your article, I have taken liberty to address the use of indecent language, and a few more groundless accusations that you never cease to throw at PTH.
Hello can I post this here?
A useful tip