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Dunki,Bullets & Borders

Pakistan’s official entry into the Oscars after 50 years is a take on illegal immigration and hits the spot with its Lahori wit

Written by Somya Lakhani |
October 1, 2013 3:20:14 am

About four years ago,like most families,this one too sat down for a meal and shared gossip almost every day. Lahore-based Meenu Gaur was a part of these discussions on daily routines,politics and even some entertaining,half-true urban legends.

A recurring topic was the escapades of young boys trying to settle abroad. “These were boys who tried immigrating illegally after all legitimate doors were shut. Some beat the system and settled outside,some got deported while others ruined their lives. In Lahore,it’s called dunki,” says Gaur,who heard stories of 20-year-olds sitting in sealed cargo containers for hours or dodging bullets to cross borders. She was so intrigued by these stories that she had to write them down. Meanwhile,in Karachi,Farjad Nabi too had the same desire,and the two began working towards their first feature film.

About two weeks ago,their film titled Zinda Bhaag released in Pakistan to rave reviews with people queuing up outside cinema halls to watch the movie that portrays present-day Lahore through the eyes of three young and ambitious boys — Khaldi,Taambi and Chitta — with the background of the infamous dunki. “Two years ago when we began working on the script,we had a few fundamental questions,such as ‘what makes them take this risk?’ The answer was poverty,but the more we researched the more complex it got. There is honour attached and this is also considered a rite of passage for these young boys,” says Nabi,43.

Zinda Bhaag is a social comedy which also narrates the struggles,failures and the sense of desperation that plagues the youth there. It brings to the screen the famous Lahori wit and gives the audience a glimpse into the city’s culture. “It’s hard to think of a Pakistani film that’s about everyday life here. Zinda Bhaag is our attempt at showcasing just that,so we have incorporated Lahori music and language,” says Gaur,37. The duo visited mohallas and met a number of boys who attempted dunki,and this research helped them in etching out realistic characters. Zinda Bhaag is in Lahori Punjabi and will release in India this month.

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There is a certain jump,a sense of excitement in their voices that one can identify with even over the phone. It’s not just because of the remarkable reviews the film generated. It’s because Zinda Bhaag is Pakistan’s official entry into the prestigious Academy Awards in the Foreign Language Film category. “The last Pakistani film that was sent for this category was in 1963. We are first-timers. And this is the first feature film for 99 per cent of the cast and crew,so it is extremely encouraging,” says Gaur.

The film is also the directors’ tribute to the glory days of Lollywood and even Hindi films. “The films in the ’70s and the ’80s had a huge influence on us and we have taken references from that,” says Gaur. This tribute is evident in the colourful hand-painted posters done by F Iqbal,Pakistan’s last surviving artist of the poster industry. The music too,is filmy,reminiscent of the two decades that shaped Nabi and Gaur’s cinematic sensibilities. “We have poetic renditions for things that can’t be said. There is a dialogue duet between the hero and the heroine,just like in the ’80s. We recorded live music with old violinists,cello players and singers,” says Nabi. Popular Pakistani author Mohammed Hanif has written Dekhenge,one of the songs in the film.

When the two finalised the script,they emailed it to veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah,not expecting a reply. But few days later,an email from Shah popped up,agreeing to play Pulwan,a Lahori goon,and also willing to conduct a week-long acting workshop in Lahore with the cast. “The audience here is so amazed at how an Indian actor has just slipped into the role of this typical Lahori goonda,with henna in his hair and long kurtas. He made this character his own,” says Nabi.

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