For the Urdu-speaking audience in Pakistan, Arth – The Destination is decidedly a unique yet strange title, for its Sanskrit and English blend. But, for a generation that grew up on Bollywood of the 1980s, it rings a bell. The Pakistani film is an adaptation of Indian director Mahesh Bhatt’s semi-autobiographical movie, Arth (1982), about a failed filmmaker who cheats on his wife with a starlet, who is obsessed with him. The film boasted of stellar performances by Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, and Kulbhushan Kharbanda. There was another important character in the film — a small-time club singer— played by Raj Kiran. The Pakistani version builds the narrative around him.
Director Shaan Shahid, who scripted the remake and acts in it, admits to tweaking the original plot. “The idea was to contemporise it,” he says, “But the emotional core of Bhatt saheb’s Arth hasn’t been harmed.” Humaima Malik (of Bol and Raja Natwarlal) steps into the shoes of Patil, a task she considers “too big for my capacity”, while well-known theatre and TV actress Uzma Hasan essays the role played by Azmi. “It’s a huge responsibility, but it’s also an honour,” she says.
Arth – The Destination is set in present-day Karachi and London. Its characters are all upper-middle class, modern Muslims. They converse mostly in English, and clearly betray a great taste in clothing. Mohib Mirza’s reprisal of Inder Malhotra, for instance, is a package of designer wardrobe and trendy hairdos. Even Shahid’s out-of-work singer is a tad too glamorous to prompt a comparison with Kiran. Malik’s schizophrenic film actress is more of a diva, while Hasan’s housewife has a prospective career in novel writing. Mohib Mirza explains, “As a nation, we are loud in our expression, we indulge in exaggerated action and emotion, hence the high emotional quotient in our film.”
It’s a stylised film that stands in sharp contrast to Bhatt’s simple but intense story. It was made on a shoestring budget, while Shahid’s is mounted lavishly, even by Pakistan film standards. The songs by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and composer Sahir Ali Bagga in the film – Sanwar de khudaya; Ronay de; Kabhi mein sochta hoon and Murshed ji won praise from Bhatt as well.
Shahid laments that the film may not show in India. “We retained the title so that India would feel a sense of apnaiyyat. For trade, even in these tough times, I thought this was the right film. But Indian companies don’t seem to agree, so we offered it to Bhatt saheb. But even he was reluctant, given the current state of affairs. Unfortunately, creative people have become hostage to politicians. I want a space for artists; we should have something like the White Helmets or the UN. Our musicians and cricketers can be friends, so why can’t filmmakers? Why can’t we join hands to expand our business?”