Interestingly, the most significant happenings today at the ongoing 7th edition of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival are Irrfan Khan’s Qissa (also screened during the recent Mumbai Film Festival) from India and Pakistan’s Run For Your Life or Zinda Bhaag, helmed by Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi that has Naseeruddin Shah playing a key role.
Qissa or Fable is piece set during India’s traumatic partition, and Khan’s Umber Singh is one among those thousands of people uprooted from either side of the border who loses his very sense of belonging. Forced to flee his village with his young wife and little daughters as well as the others, Singh settles down in India, and is determined not only to better his life than what it was in Pakistan, but also to have a son.
However, when his wife gives birth to a fourth child, also a girl like his earlier three children, Singh slips into a make-believe world. He decides to raise this fourth daughter of his as a son, teaches her to live like a man. But when she has to get married to a gypsy, pushed as she in into a sticky situation, the storm is not far in coming.
While Khan is absolutely superb as Singh, enacting a very difficult part with flawlessly natural ease – with Tisca Chopra as his screen wife and Tillotama Shome (of Monsoon Wedding) as the fourth daughter, Kanwar – Qissa, helmed by Anup Singh gets into a kind of fantasy that is hard to digest. Post the first half of the movie, it takes off into a plot line that is rather convoluted and confusing. Singh, who wrote the script along with Madhuja Mukherjee, cannot, it seems, decide where he would like to take his story to. Is it a ghost story or is it a figment of Kanwar’s imagination which runs riot? Scenes like the completely burnt down house of Umber Singh verge on the point narrative exaggeration.
What is of course interesting, about Qissa is that it is one of those rare Punjabi films travelling today outside India. I really wonder whether there has been another at all.
But it sure appears like a Punjabi Autumn in Abu Dhabi. For, Run For Your Life is also in Punjabi, more precisely the language is Lahori, with the dialect’s wit and nuances in place.
One of the very, very few Pakistani movies made today, Run For Your Life is also being celebrated as the first ever work sent up by the country in 50 years for a possible Oscar nomination in the foreign language category. The movie premiers here this evening, and the buzz surrounding it is just big.
Run For Your Life has three young men who laugh at the famous saying that “He who has not seen Lahore, cannot claim to be born”. For them, life lies elsewhere, and the film is a critical look at the extent men and women go to get across a border (we have seen several instances on screen of how people escape into the USA from Mexico and other regions of the world). With Shah enacting a don, mouthing his lines in chase Lahori Punjabi, Run For Your Life seems an exciting bet.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Abu Dhabi Film Festival)