The term “revival of Pakistani cinema” is as clichéd as it is relevant for the survival of Pakistani industry, especially when independent-minded, young-blood filmmakers are facing off against an over-abundance of international releases, limited screens and a lack of marketing support. Although, a true revival did look bleak a few years back, today, the term is literally “owned” by people who may become this industry’s “new wave”.
Case in point: the people behind Zinda Bhaag, an indie drama with an overlaid layer of comedy whose theatrical trailer and hand-painted poster was unveiled at a ceremony in Cinepax, Karachi last week. The film, as it happens, will be released by Footprint Entertainment, whose chief imports include Hollywood blockbusters by Universal and Paramount (Battleship, Iron Man, Star Trek), and whose last Pakistani release was the horror film Siyaah.
Zinda Bhaag is the directorial debut of filmmakers Meenu and Farjad, and headlines Naseeruddin Shah with fashion model Amna Ilyas, Khurram Patras, Salman Ahmad Khan, Zohaib and Manzar Sehbai. The film features music by Sahir Ali Bagga, with playback by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Arif Lohar, Abrar ul Haq and Amanat Ali (the music used actual instruments, rather than midis and synths we were told).
While the songs were predominantly — and intentionally — missing at the theatrical trailer launch (it would be separate event, we were told), the film, from its first look, had a strange vibrancy to itself.
Focusing on lower middle class locals who dream of going abroad, Zinda Bhaag is shot digitally on Red Epics (and maybe a shot or two on Red One). The resulting, crisp on-screen presentation glowed with the look of “feature film” and not a telefilm (the cinematography is by Satya Rai Nagpaul, a cinematographer from India). Humour and drama went side by side — a few clips of kaleidoscopic background and intentionally badly choreographed dance moves, helped with the idiosyncratic attitude of the filmmakers. And Shah’s presence didn’t overrun the trailer or the film’s cast (even though he was the narrator of the trailer).
However, there is a small hiccup in the overall design of the film: the film’s chief language is Punjabi. The filmmakers insist that the film speaks Punjabi “slang”, and a few characters do speak Urdu, but for people in the metropolis (like me), who aren’t prone to decipher the language at a breakneck speed, Zinda Bhaag could prove to be a challenge when released Pakistan-wide.
The trailer was shown twice during the event, and Meenu, Farjad and producer Mazhar Zaidi were hospitable to even the most disdainful of questions during the post screening Q&A. At one point, someone from the audience questioned the logic of casting Naseeruddin Shah in the film, to which the filmmakers genially reminded them of the actor’s role in Khuda Kay Liye — supposedly the first of the “revivalists” — and that our singers are consistently staring in Bollywood albums.
Meenu, Farjad and Mazhar also pointed out that Shah even helped conduct a small acting class for the film’s actors to help them get into the role. The audition process of the remaining cast was a grueling experience, Mazhar points out, where the cast was short listed from over 500 people.
Also presented at the event was the hand painted poster art of the film by S. Iqbal, who is “Lollywood’s last remaining traditional poster artist”.
Still young in the release campaign, the film is set to release sometime in August — which I believe would be post the heavy rush of Eid releases.