I picked up a DVD of Khuda Ke Liye on a friends recommendation; a recommendation quite out of the ordinary since it came from an Indian, but for a movie made in Pakistan! Indians are a proud people, especially when it comes to their film industry popularly called Bollywood which apparently is competition in the reckoning for Hollywood due to Bollywood's mega earnings both in India and abroad. With a movie-crazy Indian diaspora, and an ever growing foreign fan following in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt and more, the Indian movie industry is coming of age on the world stage. However, the same is not true about Pakistan, India's neighbor and arch enemy since the partition in the late 1940s. Pakistani movies are still fledgling ventures and so Khuda Ke Liye is quite the surprise packet. Written and directed by Shoaib Mansoor, the movie has been highly acclaimed in Pakistan , and it also won the Best Picture at the 31st Cairo International film Festival in 2007.
The movie does not have the most original theme as it deals with the much furiously debated and discussed topic of modern day Islam and its role in defining social norms both within and outside of the Islamic world. The story unfolds across three countries, Pakistan, England, and the USA, and it takes the viewer on three separate journeys undertaken by the three protagonists in the movie: Sarmad, the younger of two siblings living in Lahore, Pakistan, undertakes a spiritual journey guided by a popular local Maulvi and has a complete physical and social makeover where he grows a beard, discards his western attire, and also gives up music an art form that he has ardently loved the past twenty years of his life; there's Mansoor, the older sibling, who besides being an ideal son and a caring and responsible brother, is also a music lover, and he travels to the USA in 2001 to study music at the University of Chicago; Maryam, their cousin and the third protagonist in the movie, is born and brought up in England, but she is now sent to Pakistan by her ex expatriate father under false pretenses to get her away from her British, non-Muslim boyfriend. The three journeys are embarked upon simultaneously, but it is the culmination of each of these three journeys that is a sort of a revelation for the audience; one which leads to a deeper understanding of what it means to be Muslim in the twenty first century.
The film is not a technical marvel, and neither does the photography or the music make an impression, but it is not a movie you can walk away from; the questions that the movie raises and even answers at times makes this movie a 'must watch'. Khuda Ke Liye makes for a restless and uncomfortable viewing and it is this quality of the movie that sets it apart from others made along similar themes and subjects. Khuda Ke Liye provides for three different perspectives on an Islamophobic world: where people lack the ability to interpret their faith (like Sarmad and the father of Maryam), where adults fear to take a stand on what they value and uphold in their religion ( like the boys' parents), and where the intelligentsia despairs over the ignorance of the masses and chooses to live in isolation (like Maulana Wali).
The movie deals with some fiery issues that are affecting Pakistan today and also the rest of the world such as racial profiling in the western world post 9/11, the effects of religious fundamentalism on the youth in Pakistan, and women's rights in Islam and in Pakistan. Shoaib Mansoor as writer director has captured a nation in the grip of turmoil trying to eke out an identity for itself amid a tempest of religious fundamentalism that it's trying to fight and control. The identity that is struggling to take shape is rather unique in that it's Islamic alright, but it's set in a liberal mold.
Pakistani cinema appears to have arrived and Shoaib Mansoor could be it's very first voice!