‘Khuda Kay Liye’ is a rare testament to our troubled times

April 16th, 2008 - 8:57 am ICT by admin  

By Subhash K. Jha
Nothing you say or do can exonerate you from the sin of missing “Khuda Kay Liye”, written and directed by Pakistan’s Shoaib Mansoor. No review on either side of the border, or the ones by our learned critics elsewhere have done justice to the film’s thematic power and enrapturing, almost mesmeric, execution of a plot that takes the director through three geopolitical zones without stumbling during the historic journey. “Khuda Kay Liye” is that rare historical testament to our troubled times that puts forward groundbreaking rousing and disturbing ideas on religious and cultural identity as defined by western imperialism.

The brilliantly structured plot takes the Pakistani characters through three continents. In Lahore, writer-director Shoaib Mansoor introduces us to a liberal Pakistani family where the two sons, both musicians, follow separate paths.

While the younger son, played by Fawad Afzal Khan, is brainwashed by a charismatic mullah (Rasheed Naz) into embracing fundamentalism, the elder son (played by Pakistani superstar Shan) sets off for Chicago to study music.

In the US, another kind of music awaits Shan. As he gets falsely implicated on charges of terrorism and is tortured in jail, the director cuts back into the younger brother’s life and his Pakistani-British wife (model Iman Ali) who’s tricked by her father into abandoning her British boyfriend to marry Fawad Khan who first tries to be a gentle and patient husband (a la Manoj Bajpai in Chandraprakash Diwedi’s “Pinjar”) and then gets harsh with his woman, like all ’strong’ men are expected to.

The narrative builds so many layers and levels of socio-political relevance you wonder how the pyramid of pronounced significations underlining the emotionally and physically tortured characters doesn’t collapse under the weight of messages and meanings.

If the plot in “Khuda Kay Liye” doesn’t do a 9/11 in the narrative, it’s because the director yokes his thought processes to a vision that goes beyond aggressive propaganda. We get swept into the culturally and religiously challenged world of these derelict misbegotten characters not because they have political statements to make but because their politics and religious identity emerge from their individual conflicts and conscientiousness rather than their ability to assume emblematic shapes.

First and foremost, “Khuda Kay Liye” is a human-interest story. We watch the distant yet unified destinies of the two brothers acquire colour and motivation through a skilled and seamless weaving of three cultures and myriad strands of impulses emerging from the dichotomies that manoeuvre the characters from their roots to their ricocheting destinies in worlds that are torn apart by emotional and political strife.

Do not make the mistake of presuming this to be a message-mongering piece of propagandist cinema. What director Shoaib Mansoor has to say about Islamic radicalism and western liberalism has a direct bearing on how we Indians live our lives.

The film is surprisingly skilled in technique. The camera stalks the three continents with the reverence of a pilgrimage but without the accompanying subservience. Some portions of the narrative involving Shan’s interrogation in prison get too explicit for comfort.

But then this film hasn’t been made to lull you into a false all-is-well-in-the-world sense of bonhomie. There’s an irrevocable sickness at the heart of humanity and this film has no qualms in admitting it with a stunning simplicity of movement that leaves the narrative completely liberated of gimmicks and affectations.

The performances are all first-rate and I’m happy to see such talented actors in Pakistan (the ones who have come here so far are laughably meagre in their abilities). Yes Iman Ali as the British girl who goes through the gruelling process of being conned into visiting and marrying at home (remember Vipul Shah’s “Namaste London”?) does seem somewhat affected at times.

The affectations, if and when they occur, are far too rare in this film to affect its innate power and energy to alter, if not transform, the way we look at life in a closed society. When Naseeruddin Shah in an all-pervasive cameo opens the windows of the mind and tells us that music can never be haraam, we actually hear the sound of music wafting out of a hidden corner of our wounded hearts.

“Khuda Kay Liye” isn’t just music to our ears. It’s an eminently welcome departure from the namby-pamby depiction of religious and cultural fundamentalism we’ve seen so far.

This one tells it like it is. No punches pulled, no paunches sucked in.

(Subhash K. Jha is a well-known writer on cinema. He can be contacted at jhasubh@gmail.com)

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