A Movie All Pakistani-Americans MUST See
By Ras H. Siddiqui
Austin Marie Sayre and Shan
Last Saturday, I had the privilege to view Shoaib Mansoor’s widely acclaimed Pakistani movie “Khuda Kay Liye” or “In The Name Of God” on a full screen at NAZ8 Cinemas in Fremont , California. I call the viewing a privilege because Pakistani movies being shown to the wider public on a full screen in Northern California are something quite rare, even when the theaters screening them like NAZ8 are known for showing Indian (Bollywood) blockbusters. Since this was a 1PM show on a Saturday, we hurried to the venue to get a good seat. There were five of us and when we stepped into the theatre we were surprised that there was plenty of room. Either word about this movie has not circulated or the impact of pirated DVD’s had already been felt. But after seeing it I can write that this movie should not be missed by Pakistanis, Americans or other South Asians. We saw it with English subtitles but a great deal of this movie is already in the English language. South Asian films have overcome many barriers in the United States over the past few years. Most of them have been made by the Indian-Pakistani Diaspora resident in Britain, Canada and the US. Mira Nair, Hanif Kureishi and now Tariq Ali have entered into filmmaking for Western audiences. Mira’s “The Namesake” is being released on DVD and is being considered Oscar material. And indigenous Indian movies such as Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Saawariya are getting international funding. But where does this movie fit in? Khuda Kay Liye is a remarkable film that can compete with any movie coming out of either Hollywood or Bollywood these days. Unfortunately, it will not penetrate the mainstream US movie market because it is going to be very controversial on both sides of “the divide”.
This is not fun entertainment (except for a wonderful soundtrack). It is a must see for those interested in the Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” model for the immediate future of the West’s relationships with Islam and the rest of the world. This movie tears that model to shambles. It brilliantly exposes the shortcomings of bearded fanatics or “Islamic” warriors” involved in false Jihad while at the same time revealing hypocritical truths of overeager warriors on the other side who in the process of fighting this menace might actually be creating it. This movie is about the moderate middle being attacked by two extremes. That moderate middle is represented by an educated and relatively affluent liberal Pakistani family living in the city of Lahore, The parents and two sons are interested in playing music (the duo somehow reminded me of two Pakistani Pop/Rock stars that we know). Like all creative young people searching for something more, one son Mansoor brilliantly played by actor Shan reaches the shores of America to find his calling in music. The other son Sarmad played by Fawad Khan is pulled into religious extremism by fanatics with their own vicious agenda and ends up fighting in Afghanistan. The two are allowed to develop their own ways by their liberal parents but their initial falling out deserves the viewer’s attention. One son happily pursues music in America till 9/11 horribly intervenes. The other gives up music “Cold Turkey” because he is told that it is against Islam. It is this struggle that forms half of the core of the Khuda Kay Liye/In the Name of God. And here I just have to write that Shan, the son of Pakistani actress Neelo and one of my favorite Pakistani movie directors of all time the late Riaz Shahid, has made them proud in this movie. The other half-core in this film is the story of Mary or Maryam, wonderfully played by Pakistani model Iman Ali.
Iman Ali, and Naseeruddin Shah
Mary is the daughter of a Pakistani father and a British mother. Her father, a beer drinker who lives with a woman who he is not married to suddenly develops “morals” and executes a devious plan to lure his daughter to Pakistan to get her married even against her will, because she wants to marry a white boy named Dave in Britain. Mary is the cousin of the other two young men (Mansoor and Sarmad the musicians) mentioned here earlier. She is deceived into traveling to Pakistan’s Pashtun tribal areas and forced to marry Sarmad, the young man who has given up music for what he thinks is religion and “for saving her soul.” It is the moving story of Mary and her futile attempts to escape from the remote village after her forced “marriage” that gives Khuda Kay Liye a truly sensitive side and paints a portrait of a part of Pakistan and the lives of women there. The twin issues of whether music is allowed in Islam and if a woman has the freedom to marry of her own free will, both end up in a Pakistani court. Here a religious expert is called. Maulana Wali, brilliantly played by Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah, in his best (ten odd minute) performance that I have ever seen since his portrayal of Urdu’s greatest poet Mirza Ghalib. This character will certainly make the Muslim viewers think. For those that have the pirated DVD in circulation that have somehow cut out Naseeruddin Shah’s role in the movie, please throw it in the trash. It is this role that brings the main message of Khuda Kay Liye/In the Name of God to us. The gruesome and detailed segment of torture and humiliation via extraordinary rendition of Mansoor, the Pakistani music student who is now married to an American, Janie (played by Austin Marie Sayre) by security officials’ post 9/11, is bound to raise many eyebrows. Shan’s acting and that of his torturers makes it all so believable that this movie is not suitable for people under 17 years of age. Khuda Kay Liye/In the Name of God is a story of a family (and a country?) caught in the clutches of a war not of its making. Two young men here face extreme disappointment in their pursuits. It is all about young people who dream of finding salvation in today’s world, but the reality they face is quite brutal. All one can say when Khuda Kay Liye ends is; “Thank god there is the music”. A special thanks to Shoaib Mansoor for making us all look into the mirror of our times via this superb film. One can only hope that the world beyond Pakistan will get its message.