Khuda Ke Liye strikes a chord

Saw Khuda Ke Liye last night. A Lollywood movie with a Bollywood connection in Naseeruddin Shah. Very impressive, chronologically and socially relevant, and a film that tackles very important issues that South Asian Muslims are confronted with. I know because I am an Indian American who was raised in South Asia.

In a nutshell, the film is about the internal and external struggles of South Asian Muslims. It is about the battle of those who follow the extremist, perverted and unjust ideologies under the banner of Islam, and those like me who are moderate Muslims. Those who appreciate the religion for its goodness and its teachings related to treating humanity with utmost respect and love. But rather than discuss merely what the film is about, I would like to note some of the issues that are brought up in the film and why I think they are very well portrayed on screen.

1. Initially set in Pakistan, the film starts out with a rehearsal on a new year concert stage which is destroyed by group of religious extremists. A very real-world scenario.

2. A musician (Sarmad, played by Fawad Afzal Khan) is taken under the wing of an extremist pastor. The musician quits his profession to join the group of extremists.

3. A female British citizen (Mary/Maryum, played by Iman Ali) with a Pakistani father is tricked into marrying this newly-turned-extremist, because of her desire to wed a non-Muslim in England. The father cannot bear to see her daughter with someone of another faith, although he is living with a non-Muslim woman from England. The newly-married couple is placed in Afghanistan so the woman cannot run away. This is where she witnesses the atrocities committed on women. Eventually, she returns after divorcing her husband, to teach young women how to read and write.

4. The second musician (Shaan, played by Mansoor) who studies music in Chicago, plays his part very well. This part of the film is perhaps most interesting. His love interest (Janey, played by Austin Sayre, who I think does a tremendous job) and he combine to give us the best song in the film in my opinion, Bandeya Ho, which is a very catchy tune that is extremely well choreographed (watch it below).

5. The relationship between Mansoor and Janey is very well developed. The discussions on interracial marriages and the challenges they foresee are very constructive. These are discussions those of us who have migrated to the West have often had, so they're very easy to relate to.

6. The bits at the beginning, when Sarmad is shown being influenced by Maulana Tahiri, are well done. As Sarmad refuses to perform with his brother at a concert, when he takes down paintings because they show people, and when he insists his mother and grandmother wear the hijab. Again, these are tangible issues that are interpreted very differently by moderates and extremists.

7. One of the most well-executed moments in the movie is when Mansoor's taaweez is dissected, revealing Quranic verses and numbers from what is a 'naqsh'. When he is asked what the verses mean, he says that he can read them but not understand them. That is the story of most of us South Asian Muslims, who can read Arabic because we are taught to read the Quran. But we do not understand it and rely on the English translations to help us better comprehend the meanings behind the scriptures. If only people would understand!

8. Two portions in the movie that I think are most touching are: a) when Maryam is forced into marriage; and b) the last five minutes that show Janie reading Mansoor's note after he suffered a mental illness having spent a significant amount of time in jail for no fault of his own, and as he was being deported back to Pakistan. You might need to keep a tissue paper handy.

9. Naseeruddin Shah, who plays a cameo in a special appearance as Maulana Wali, is great as always. Remember listening to his interview on BBC specifically on this movie. Apparently, some extremist clergymen in Pakistan labeled him as a 'kaafir' after discovering of his moderate views and the portrayal of a moderate pastor in the film. Ridiculous, in my opinion. But sadly true.

Overall, Khuda Ke Liye has to be one of the finest movies to come out of Lollywood (i.e. the Pakistani film industry). In fact, I would go as far as to say that the quality of the film, in terms of its production, is somewhat comparable to a Bollywood flick.

The issues addressed in the film are very real, as are the situations portrayed. The dialogs are perhaps the biggest strength of the film. The songs fit in well. Bandeya Ho is truly a fantastic composition. The piece toward the end, when Sarmad sees the light and returns to being a moderate Muslim and a musician, is well done, although it is somewhat hard to imagine that he would not pay for leaving the extremist group.

Besides the plot, dialog, and music, the actresses make this movie click. Iman Ali and Austin Sayre are both gorgeous. Ms. Ali does very well. But Ms. Sayre steals the show with her acting. She does extremely well in the love affair she shares with Shaan. I have several friends from both India and Pakistan who are involved in interracial relationships, and I could totally see them in Ms. Sayre and Shaan. Kudos to that!

As you can probably assess from my comments above, I think Khuda Ke Liye is an excellent film. As it forces one to assess one's own viewpoints and be grateful for our fellow moderates, it is a controversial movie, no doubt. But therein lies its value. I am specifically going to recommend this to my friends in academia, for it belongs in the classroom as a case study of the Islamic divide, illustrating that there is a choice, and that most Muslims are indeed moderates. For sincerely addressing a topic that is easy to shy away from, and for executing it with what comes across as a genuine belief in the subject matter, I am going with four stars for Khuda Ke Liye.

Movie rating: **** (Excellent)

Music rating: *** (good -- Rohail Hayat has a couple of very catchy tunes in this one, at least one that I am absolutely hooked to).

My Classification: NC-17 (for plot, language)

Official website:


salek said...

I could not agree more with you on this review. Khuda Kay Liye is such a beautiful film, a film of the sort that comes only once in a lifetime. Besides making a bold statement on Muslims and the state of Islam today, Khuda Kay Liye was also heavily promoted as the “Revival of Cinema in Pakistan.”

The film was released the weekend I landed in Lahore. I remember watching promos of the film at the airport while waiting for the connecting flight to Rawalpindi. The film quickly became a national sensation in Pakistan. The newspapers carried glowing, rave reviews, full of hope for the future of Pakistani cinema. Bandya blared from the music shops and cars, becoming the anthem of the summer. After many years, families and intelligent film enthusiasts flocked to the cinema halls (long dominated by the urban rabble) and did not come away disappointed. After Lollywood's golden era in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, Pakistan finally had a film of which it could be proud.

I didn’t get to see Khuda Kay Liye until a few months ago. I watched it with some Pakistani-Americans who normally don’t watch such serious cinema. Frankly I was taken aback when I saw them so riveted and so moved by the film. We were all a little surprised to see such a quality production coming out of Pakistan. It truly was a profound experience.

I wouldn't categorize Khuda Kay Liye as a "Lollywood" film because Lollywood today churns out almost exclusively trashy Punjabi films with shoddy production values. Khuda Kay Liye is in a unique category of intelligent, relevant, meaningful cinema, more of which is sorely needed in Pakistan. The same company that produced KKL, Geo Films, will soon be releasing another Pakistani film, Ramchand Pakistani, starring Nandita Das. It recently premiered at New York's Tribeca Film Festival.

Lastly, I wanted to tell you about a Pakistani music video featuring some of the cast and crew of KKL made before the film. It tells the classic story of Prince Salim and Anarkali. Shoaib Mansoor is again the director, Iman Ali plays Anarkali, and guess who plays Akbar…Rasheed Naz (aka Maulana Tahiri!). You can see the song on YouTube, search for the video by the song’s name, “Ishq Muhabat Apna Pan” Be sure to check it out. Both the song and the video are of top quality.

theBollywoodFan said...

Salek: Thank you for your insight. Glad you enjoyed the review. And yes, this is one film Pakistan and her people can and should be proud of! Agree with your assessment of Lollywood, and that Pakistani film starring Nandita Das should be very interesting.

My experience watching Khuda Ke Liye with friends and family was interesting too. The room was quiet. QUIET. And that last scene, where Sarmad goes to the mosque to deliver a stunningly beautiful 'adhaan' (call to prayer) was amazing too. I do hope more people watch it. It has an interesting and challenging perspective to offer, and one I am certain is at least a bit different from the Islam that is portrayed by the majority in the Western media.

Of course, the beauty of all such films is the value in diversity appreciation they provide. Here is to unity and peace on earth!

PS: I shall be checking out the video recommendation soon.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm coming to this party a bit late, but, what the hell.

Ofcourse its not "Lollywood", because apart from Shaan, there was no link to the film(if-you-can-call-it)industry. The financiers weren't filmi, the director wasn't filmy (Shoaib Mansoor was responsible for many classic PTV dramas of 1980s, the Alpha Bravo Charlie drama in 1990s, the guy who kick started Vital Signs, among other endeavors), and most of the cast were not filmi.

I saw the movie in theatre, in Lahore.. a weekday evening show in the second week of the release, and with advanced booking we got the second row from the front! It was a craze! You could sense how the crowd were reacting differently to different situation in the film, and that was the beauty of that film. It was not the best movie, technically, but we could relate to it. We laughed, we cried, we cringed.

I have seen it four time since, but thats a personal bias.

(Also, the print we saw early on was a bit longer than the print that was released on DVD)

Anyways... as for the songs, I loved the "Allah Hu" music when Mary is running away from the village, with the glorious background. The urgency of the chase, combined with the supplication was simply magical for me, atleast, on the big screen...

Also, Tiluk Kamud song (When Mansoor is at the art school, and playing it on the piano, and everyone joins in) was also a treat.. for me, atleast... but then im biased..

Also, tidbit about Sarmad (Fawad A Khan). He is an actual musician/singer, and he kind of used his musical technique to keep in-tune/timing right during the azaan sequence (apparently that was the reason of those finger movements when he was giving azaan)..(Though you wouldn't imagine what kind of music he does)

And Ali Zafar was supposed to be playing the part of Sarmad, and he even shot some scenes (Apparently Sarmad dies in that early script), but then he opted out..

And personally, Iman wasn't THAT great (with a horrible accent) *that was the cringing part, i suppose* Though we felt for the character..


Updates are: Shoaib Mansoor second movie stars Atif Aslam!

Anonymous said...

... and oh, yeah Ramchand Pakistani was good, but it was more like a TV serial (as the director actually is a TV director).. You can watch it online on Youtube, the whole movie.. search "Ramchand Pakistani" and in "advanced options" sort by length of the video clip..

Cheers mate!