It's a brave, outspoken, film on the state of Islam. Surprisingly, the film has been embraced even by conservative sections of the global audience.
It’s common knowledge that the Pakistani film has been feted at numerous festivals. It’s news, though, that the ticket sales have picked up considerably at the Mumbai multiplexes where it was released five days ago. At some of the auditoria, there’s a large turn-out of women in burkas.
Surprisingly, too, it seems that Khuda Kay Liye was possible only because it had the de facto sanction of Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf.
The film’s director Shoaib Mansoor discusses the obstacles that were in an interview with Khalid Mohamed
Initially, the 50-year-old writer-director is reluctant. He looks the other way when you want to know about what-happened and what-didn’t in the course of completing a project that raises quite a few uncomfortable questions.
Speaking in an Urdu laheza, lost to the Mumbaiya, he says, “I just dropped by after reading your review, socha milna munasib hai before I leave for Lahore.” It takes some doing, then, to get him clicked. A mug of tea later, he gets talking:
<b1>Did you need hausla? Did you have to steel yourself.. before starting on Khuda Kay Liye?
Before starting, I did tell myself, “Shoaib you don’t have too many friends.” The few friends I have did dissuade me from going ahead. So without making much of a noise, I did my research for six months. I knew I had to make my film after spending 30 years in television. I’ve done serials like Ankahee and Alpha Bravo Charlie..
Oh, Ankahee’s videos were pretty popular here. In the context of the religious complexities depicted in your film, can you tell me about your own upbringing?
(Wryly) Samajhiye parvarish na hone ke barabar thi. My mother is from Ajmer, my father from Ghazni, he worked at the Lahore high court, handling documents. My entire childhood went by in reading history, fiction..and sketching.
We were soft, madham people. My mother had this one big ambition.. that I should become a railway guard!
But wasn’t taking to entertainment criticised by your orthodox family?
Actually, we were 13 brothers in the family, we could all sing in
.. yes, 13 because
had married again. I have sung
on radio, read the news, anchored programmes. I had to complete my MA in economics, before landing a job in television.
I believe you have made a TV feature on
Yes, Unilever wanted me to do a TV series on
. One was about a Sufi romance, then I did one on Anarkali. It’s still debated whether she existed or not.. but Lahore’s
has her shrine. Believe it or not, this
is located in an inconspicuous corner of the Punjab secretariat building. Next, Unilever offered to finance a feature film.
Aisa laga ki Id ho gayee. But when it came to approving the script, it took them six months to even get back tome. Being a multi-national company, they didn’t want to get into any kind of controversy. After a while, I looked for finance from a sarkari source, a loan helped.
I’m sure you must have had to contend with problems.
Beshumar problems. After a photo-shoot and even that picturisation of the courtroom scene with Naseer saab (Naseeruddin Shah), the two lead actors had to be dropped.. I’m accustomed to working with mainly newcomers.
Weren’t there political problems?
The script was kept under complete secrecy. Even the actors and technicians would be only shown a few scenes at a time. The film was shot in 45 days.. but spread over two years.
<b3>Why didn’t your film’s main lead, Shan —said to be the Shah Rukh Khan of Pakistan — attend the Bombay premiere?
He didn’t want to come.. that was conveyed to me. But please, let’s talk about good things. At this point, to be honest, I would say the film wouldn’t have been possible without Pervez Musharraf saab. He saw it in the President’s House and backed me to the hilt.
Before the release of Khuda Kay Liye, maulvis of 20-25 madrasas had brought out fatwas against me, running into three pages. I was to be excommunicated. Yet, the reality is that fundamentalists are in a very small minority in Pakistan. Their presence is much more pronounced elsewhere.
How did the mullas react to your film?
(Laughs) But they don’t go to see films, it’s against their beliefs. But I felt so, so vindicated that after the film’s release in Pakistan (20 July, 2007), it was said that it should be shown in every college. See so many misconceptions continue.
It is the boy who is supposed to get the dahej (dowry) but with all sorts of influences, particularly in India, the onus is put on the girl’s family. Shouldn’t such points be brought up for debate?
Which misconceptions about Islam concern you most?
I truly believe that if more Muslims don’t go further in education and science, there will be little or no progress. My film is not about fundamentalism at all. That’s why I included the track about the American attitude after 9/11. It’s about, let’s forget US, Europe or India. Let’s go to the root cause of fundamentalism.. and terrorism. No one has bothered to say, the death of one terrorist gives birth to another hundred.
How does one go to the root cause?
By not turning away from it. From sitting across the table, at the highest level, and discussing its presence.
Are you thinking of a sequel to
Khuda Kay Liye?
Yes. I left the film at a certain point with a sequel in mind. But it won’t be possible may be.. because I’ll need the same actors.. and some actors can be irresponsible.
Is the reference to your hero Shan?
He’s done nine-to-ten Punjabi films. For reasons best known to him, he doesn’t want to be associated with this film. In an interview, he had even stated, “Shoaib has made the film for himself and his friend. Who else will see it?” Now, he must be embarrassed of that statement.
But he did give an edge to your film.
Certainly. (Laughs) He’s a born actor. A bit too healthy.. chubby. Nasamajh hai, he should have come here with us.
Is a truce possible?
No, not even if it means abandoning the sequel. Shan believes he has given something to the film.. but the film has given him nothing. How do you argue with such a person?
<b5>Are you satisfied with the way your film was publicised in Mumbai?
Things seemed to be low-key. I couldn’t expect the film to be promoted on the scale of Om Shanti Om, could I? Percept Pictures has moved cautiously.. I think it’s been okay.
So are you directing a film for them?
I’ve been offered a film by them and two other producers. But let’s see, I don’t know what they would expect of me. I haven’t been seeing too many Hindi films of late.. I did see Jodhaa-Akbar but thought it was cast all wrong.. and its script trivialised history.. it said it was fiction.. it claimed to be researched history.. kuchh samajh mein nahin aaya.
Stop.. do you want to get into another controversy?
Jaise aapki marzi.