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: http://www.inthenameofgod.com/