By Sheharyar Rizwan
The much-awaited and much-hyped offering from Pakistani cinema, Zinda Bhaag, was released to packed houses less than a week ago. The film got extra attention when it was announced as Pakistan’s official entry to the Oscars in the Best Foreign film category. While some celebrated the decision, others lashed out at the selection committee for promoting the film as an Oscar nominee when it had just been considered to represent Pakistan at the awards.
The film was a breath of fresh air following recent Lollywood projects aiming to “revive” local cinema, including Chambaili, Mein Hoon Shahid Afridi and Josh.
Zinda Bhaag is set in a low-income neighbourhood of Lahore. It is a story of three young friends enjoying their youth to the fullest, yet dreaming of settling and making it big abroad – a common Pakistani’s dream. The film follows the shortcuts the boys attempt to take while they wait for their passports and visas is a fun-filled yet awakening journey. It also shows how poverty and family pressure to earn makes boys hailing from less-privileged background desperate and compels them to forget everything else in life: friendship, death, sorrow or love.
The three male leads – all non-actors – do full justice to their roles and live the characters. Supermodel Amna Ilyas plays a budding entrepreneur and the love interest of one of the male leads, selling home-made soap to earn a meagre living her own way instead of running after a career abroad. She plays a strong, independent girl who lets nothing stand in the way of her prospects of one day making it big, not even her idle boyfriend’s taunts.
Bollywood legend Naseeruddin Shah was expected to be the star of the film, however, he is given a role anybody could have essayed or one that could just as easily have been completely dispensed with. Struggling with speaking Punjabi, Shah plays some local don, who is there in most part of the film, yet in the end one is left confused as to why an actor of his stature was given such a lame part. The remaining cast members also do justice to their parts considering all were non-actors.
Directed by the duo of Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi and produced by Mazhar Zaidi, the film is mostly in Punjabi and if you don’t know the language you cannot understand or enjoy the jokes the way a Lahori can. The film is an ode to Lahore with the way it captures landmarks of the city, the life of people, the food, the music, households. The music by Sahir Ali Bagga is a mix of qawwali, dance and tragic melodies and supports the script and story. The cinematography is very natural as it captures the essence of the city.
Kudos to the directors and producer for attempting to highlight what our lower middle class goes through. Full marks for attempting what it does, and for the fact that the dying local cinema needs such breathers. More power to the team of Zinda Bhaag and hope to see more from them.
The writer is a journalist and tweets at @sheharyarizwan