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Anima State: No country for (any) men

Updated January 18, 2015


Anima State is the story of Pakistan and its people. Directed, produced and written by Hammad Khan (Slackistan, 2010), it stars Uns Mufti (director and songwriter, musician, founding member of Rushk) as the nameless protagonist and Malaika Zafar (who plays three characters depicting the various archetypes of women) in the more ‘prominent’ roles.

At times the manner in which the film is made and the events depicted in it appear so close to reality that it comes across as a beautifully-produced documentary where we’re following the protagonist as he encounters different people and situations, his instinct to kill with impunity — an impunity that he doesn’t want, but those that should, don’t seem to care.

The film is about the collective psyche of Pakistan. And for lack of a better description, the madness is visible.

We’re introduced to all of the usual suspects: the affluent but innocent that are murdered for no reason, the policemen who turn a blind eye to crime in front of them but gladly take bribes, the keyboard jihadis who bully a filmmaker (perhaps a depiction of Hammad himself when his first film Slackistan came out and he got a lot of flak for it?), the mother too desperate and poor to feed her own children, youth political activists, the abused housewife and the husband that justifies the abuse, the exploitative media person, the prostitute etc.

Anima State, Hammad Khan’s latest film, is about the collective psyche of Pakistan’s people. And for lack of a better description, the madness is visible

This isn’t the kind of film whose plot you touch upon without giving the whole story away.

Shot in Islamabad sometime in January 2013, the film flows with a continuous series of events the protagonist goes through. Halfway through the film, at a turn of events in which the protagonist goes from shooting with a gun to shooting with a camera, it almost appears as if he’s snapped out of his dreamlike state into another existence.

He goes from being a morbidly-disturbed yet ‘sensitive’ murderer, seemingly a product of the mad, morally bankrupt society he is a part of and targets, into a wide-eyed innocent soul, untouched by any hardship or evil who, at first, sees beauty in everything around him — and the subsequent ‘loss of innocence’ that he is forced to experience.

Interestingly, it is the latter alter ego that is depicted entirely in black and white. A scene that really hit home was one in which Omar Khalid Butt, who plays a television host, asks the protagonist, “Aap mulk kay liye marney kay liye tayyar hain?” The protagonist had confessed earlier that he wanted to kill himself on live television.

The host then proceeds to ask him all manners of unrelated questions such as, his point of view regarding India, how many times a day he prayed, whether he knew the kalima or not instead of asking him what he really needed to: why does the protagonist want to kill himself? Or get him help. But broadcasting a live suicide makes for great TV and is better than reporting on any number of people killed in the country that day, and so the protagonist is asked, “Are you ready to die for the country?”

The cinematography by Shahbaz Shigri is simplistically beautiful. Uns Mufti’s flip of characters is quite interesting and makes you question whether the masked murderer he played in the first half was really him vs the ‘bundle of innocence’ he depicted in the second. Malaika Zafar shows versatility and immense potential as an actor.

There is some nudity, some ‘adult’ content, some language to watch out for. This isn’t a film for children, and it certainly isn’t ‘mindless’ entertainment. It’s the kind of film that makes you think, shift in your seat uncomfortably when it gets too ‘real’ for comfort, and laugh at the ironies depicted in it.

Will it find a commercial release in Pakistan? It seems highly unlikely but if it does then more power to the filmmakers and distributors. Anima State is currently doing rounds of the international festival circuit and the filmmakers will be holding select screenings across the country. Keep an eye out and attend one.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 18th, 2015

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