Movie review

Pakistani film 'Zinda Bhaag' tackles illegal immigration

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The Silk Screen Film Festival will showcase "Zinda Bhaag" ("Get Out If You Can"), a Pakistani Punjabi-language film that unravels against the theme of illegal immigration.

The film, directed by Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi, was selected as the Pakistani entry -- the first in more than 50 years -- for the best foreign language film at the 2014 Academy Awards.

The movie stars famed Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah as Puhlwan, a Lahori goon; Amna Ilyas as Rubina; Khurram Patras as Khaldi; Salman Ahmad Khan as Chitta; and Zohaib Asghar as Taambi.

It is a comedy-thriller about three young working-class Pakistanis -- Khaldi, Chitta and Taambi -- from Lahore in the eastern province of Punjab trying to escape their everyday lives through unconventional means. They do not want to miss any chance to go abroad to make their lives better because of limited opportunities, unlimited problems and a poor law-and-order situation in the country.

Co-director Nabi, talking to the Post-Gazette by phone from Pakistan, said "Zinda Bhaag" highlights the international issue of illegal immigration and human trafficking in a light tone created through funny dialogue and trendy costumes.

"Our primary motivation to make this film came from the stories of our young male friends who had crossed borders illegally and had found their lives destroyed in more ways than one," he said.

"Is fleeing abroad illegally the perfect shortcut to success? Beset with uncertainties, is the throw of dice the only way to play life? It is with these questions that we set out to write the script," the director said.

Talking about the actors of "Zinda Bhaag," Mr. Nabi said they chose to cast as their main leads young men whose own everyday lives and personalities were similar to those of the characters in the film.

Khaldi, Taambi and Chitta, along with other boys and girls for supporting roles, were chosen from auditions that took place in several neighborhoods of Lahore. Lead actor Mr. Shah (who plays Puhlwan) trained the young men, who had never acted before.

Based on real-life events, this film is a dialogue with not only the characters but also with the Pakistani audience, giving moviegoers an opportunity to reflect on the choices the characters make and the reasons and pressures behind them.

The film's co-directors, inspired by the South Asian cinema of the '60s, '70s and '80s, selected songs for the film with the theme of building poetic atmosphere and expressing unspeakable feelings.

Mr. Nabi said as filmmakers, they wanted the story to determine the use of music.

" 'Zinda Bhaag' explores Lahori popular culture, so we knew that it had to have great music," he added. Sahir Ali Bagga is the music director while Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Arif Lohar, Abrar-ul-Haq, Amanat Ali, Jabar Abbas, Iqra, Saleema and Sahir Ali Bagga himself sung seven songs.

As the industry in Pakistan is in a rebuilding stage, the co-directors had to not only plan for the film but also build some of the infrastructure.

"It's great to have made the long list of the Oscars. The news has generated an interest in cinema in Pakistan," Mr. Nabi said, adding that the Pakistani film industry can further expand by maintaining quality.

Talking about the success of the movie, Mr. Nabi claimed that even without any publicist, their film has generated great buzz in the U.S. media. The film also has been screened in famous film festivals in Canada, India and the United Arab Emirates.

The film will be shown at the Regent Square Theater at 7 p.m. Thursday and 2 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $10 for adults or $5 for students with ID. Information:

Arshad Dogar, a reporter from Pakistan, is an Alfred Friendly Press Partner fellow at the Post-Gazette:

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