Khuda ke Liye, a film from Pakistan that was released in India earlier this month, has received rave reviews and some critical acclaim. It’s an attempt by Pakistani writer-director Shoaib Mansoor to resolve two basic issues—those of religious extremism and racial profiling—which have besieged the West, Pakistan and India.
Stereotyping people based on their beliefs and race is an “off-the-shelf” entrapment, to which the subcontinental twins and the West gullibly succumb. Just as one can’t imagine a wolf in a lamb’s body, one can’t imagine a terror-struck desperado, well steeped in religion, to indulge in suicidal jihad. Yet, ironically, this is exactly what the world is witness to with 9/11 presenting a graphic and defining illustration of this.
The film has a philosophical appeal in India where, historically, the Bhakti movement had stalwarts such as Kabir and Nanak who lambasted people indulging in religious hypocrisy, ritual and dogma-subscribing cult leaders.
The two main characters in the movie are brothers. They are a study in stark contrasts: While one is a liberal, the other gets over-obsessed by jihadi indoctrination. While the Western-oriented, music-loving liberal brother finds acceptance, and even marries a white American, the other brother gets influenced by puritanical extremism.
Post-9/11, Muslims in the US come under an investigative scanner and are looked down upon by society as likely terror suspects. Some of these suspects have to face seemingly merciless investigators, under humiliating and nauseating conditions. After viewing the movie, however, I feel that the portrayal of American bias towards Muslims and Pakistanis lacks credibility. I am not making an argument for American xenophobia against Muslims. The overdramatization of the visuals makes it less credible.
Other than the issues of religious extremism and racial profiling, the movie very forcefully puts into focus the condition of women under the Taliban regime and theological issues pertaining to the cultural contextualization of Islam. Even though the influence of the Taliban may have waned, the orthodox code prescribing the dos and don’ts is zealously guarded by the opinion makers of such thought.
Whatever the critics may say about the hype and melodrama of the movie, Naseeruddin Shah as the liberal cleric, who is invited to give an interpretation of the Islamic injunctions, is at his fiery best. “Meri ibadat ko exercise kahne wali ya bahut pahunchi hai, ya bahut dukhi hai” (My worship is no ritualistic exercise, and one who thinks so is either very erudite or very sad), he tells Maryam, a character in the film who goes to him to enlist his support. In another exhortation to those with clashing views, he says “Deen mein dadhi hai, dadhi mein deen nahin” (one’s beard, synonymous with outer manifestation, does not make a person a man of God.) There were dissenting voices which, if allowed to prevail, would have brought about an abortive end to the movie, even prior to its release.
Even Shaan, who was cast as the liberal-minded brother, was initially averse to the idea of making this film. “Before the release of the film, maulvis of 25 madrasas had brought out fatwas against him,” Mansoor said in an interview with journalists. After its premiere, he had to go underground for a few days to escape the wrath of those hounding him.
The movie had the blessings of President Pervez Musharraf (who had seen it prior to its release). It is heartening to note that New Delhi and Islamabad spared no efforts to ensure that?the?film?got?a fitting welcome in both countries. About a year back, writing in these columns, I emphasized the importance of greater people-to- people contact between the two nations. Acquaintances in Islamabad and friends in India endorse my view without any reservation.
V.B.N. Ram retired as a senior executive from the corporate sector. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org