Zinda Bhaag — ushering in a new era for Pakistani cinema
Zinda Bhaag will not win the Oscar. Not because it is not good enough, but because it is impossible for its nuance, humour and wit to be translated into English. The very thing that will make it a sensation in Pakistan and India will work against it at the Academy: its authentic voice that speaks loud and clear to and for the people that it represents.
When asked about the movie, co-director Meenu Gaur said, “We wanted to make a movie that we ourselves would like to go and watch in the theatre.” Zinda Bhaag is a very distinct film that employs cinema verite along with Lollywood kitsch to create a strong narrative that is both entertaining and conscientious. It is a Punjabi film that takes pride in its heritage without compromising its integrity. With Zinda Bhaag, the Pakistani film industry embarks on its nouvelle vague while setting an entirely new standard for South Asian cinema. It is the quintessential representation of the existential crisis facing young Pakistanis. However, most importantly, the film addresses the dwindling middle class and the working poor. The film recounts the story of three friends trying to get out of Pakistan as narrated by Naseeruddin Shah’s character Pehlwan, who happens to be the area godfather. In a country where gambling is prohibited by law but still quite rampant, young men are willing to gamble with their own lives in order to realise their ‘American Dream’. Zinda Bhaag is a cautionary tale that somehow avoids being preachy.
Pakistani cinema has revived due to the lifting of restrictions against Indian films. As film is one of the most collaborative forms of art, without cross-border cooperation, nothing would have been possible. Art house cinema actor Naseeruddin Shah invested in the industry with his participation in several hit films. With his patronage and performance in Zinda Bhaag, the industry is indebted to Shah.
Farjad and Meenu derive stellar performances. Amna Ilyas plays the true ‘hero’ Rubina — a young, ambitious woman trying to earn an honest living in a corrupt nation. She sees the potential in Khaldi (played flawlessly by Khurram Patras) and tries to help him. In a brilliant tete-a-tete, which involves proverbs, hilarious Punjabi sayings and play on words, the entire structure of their relationship is revealed. The filmmakers pay a tribute to the industry by offering Naghma Begum the memorable role of a selfish mother pushing her children’s buttons while consuming trash television.
Sahir Ali Bhagga’s music is an essential element in the construction of the ebbs and flows in the film. Every song is deliberately woven and moves the narrative while layering it. How would the Oscar voters understand the foreshadowing of events and the multiple associations of “Par Chana De” where the conversation between Sohni and her ghara (clay pot) are not translatable? Punjabis, however, will be delightfully reintroduced to the kinship between cinema and literature, and enjoy the language of cinema once again.
Zinda Bhaag is the most beautiful and complex film to come from Pakistan in decades and proves that great storytelling does not need massive budgets or a Bollywood repertoire. This year Zinda Bhaag will run for a spot on the Oscar shortlist with the likes of other remarkable films like Omar, La Passe, Child’s Pose, Cannibal, and Gloria. However, in the hearts of Pakistanis everywhere, when they see Zinda Bhaag, they already know it’s a winner.