Zinda Bhaag Ranks High on Budget-to-Entertainment-Value-Scale
By A.H. Cemendtaur
A screening of ‘Zinda Bhaag’, a 2013 Punjabi-with-English-subtitles feature film out of Pakistan, took place at CineArts Theater in Palo Alto, on November 15. The show was a part of Third I’s Twelfth South Asian Film Festival. The annual festival normally takes place in San Francisco; this year a Palo Alto venue was added to woo the South Asian crowd living in the South Bay. At the CineArts Theater Zinda Bhaag was introduced by Third I’s Saqib Mausoof (director of ‘Kala Pul’ and ‘In Search of Meluhha’).
Set in a working class neighborhood of Lahore—Samanabad, to be precise—Zinda Bhaag is the story of three marginally educated young men— Khaldi played by Khurram Patras, Chitta played by Salman Ahmad Khan, and Taambi played by Zohaib Asghar--in their twenties looking for ways to get out of the country.
Spirited Rubina (played by Amna Ilyas), Khaldi’s lover, is an entrepreneur determined to stay in Lahore selling her organic ‘Face Look’ beauty soap. Besides the main theme of three young men’s desire to migrate to the greener pastures in Europe, Zinda Bhaag touches upon a number of Pakistani oddities: poems of Marxist poets are only appreciated by the privileged class; Islamic Republic of Pakistan provides ample opportunities for making out, tippling, and gambling; and that in official business and in romance Punjabis prefer using Urdu.
Zinda Bhaag, dotted with upbeat songs shot against garish backgrounds, beautifully captures the comedic conversational style that is the hallmark of the Punjabi language. On a budget-to-entertainment-value-scale Zinda Bhaag ranks very high.
Any movie coming out of Pakistan is expected to feature elements international audience associates Pakistan with: terrorism, suicide bombings, lynch mobs chasing perceived heretics, madrassas preaching extremism, Taliban, and the War on Terror. In order to keep it light, Zinda Bhaag’s filmmakers have stayed away from these uncomfortable topics—Zinda Bhaag is a pun on Zinda-bad, a common South Asian chant of encouragement and well wishes. But then doesn’t this deliberate avoidance of the Pakistani realities nullifies the title of the film? In the movie, if people staying in Pakistan are living well (save for some financial hardship, common everywhere in the world), and the ones who try to run away to other countries are being killed, then instead of ‘Zinda Bhaag’ (Run Away Alive), shouldn’t the film be tilted differently to correctly portray the contrary theme of the movie?
The Twelfth South Asian Film Festival was supported by a large number of sponsors including The Center for South Asia, Stanford, and the Pakistani American Culture Center (PACC). The screening was followed by a Q&A session with Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi—the two were introduced by Dr Sangeeta Mediratta, the Associate Director of the Center for South Asia. The filmmakers explained how they succeeded in recruiting superstar Naseeruddin Shah to act in his first Punjabi film and how most of the actors in Zinda Bhaag were common people chosen from the locality the film was shot in.