The Films before the Fanaticism

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 End.

The Dawn Blog   20/08/09

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