He came, he raised his gandasa and he conquered. With every woman’s izzat he saved, every bereaved mother he consoled and every village he reclaimed from the clutches of the evil feudal lord, Sultan Rahi proved that he was the quintessential superhero in his Punjabi flicks. Rahi as the intrepid Jatt, rode horses across lush fields in a flash, abishma-ed villainous landlords into pulp and even hurled cows at marauding goons. And the Punjabi “loin” accomplished all this with his wild wig and faux mustache intact. What a remarkable feat.
A generation ago Punjabi movies about the Herculean exploits of the mighty Jatts and Gujjars in rural Punjab drew the masses to cinemas in hordes. Since ordinary Pakistanis didn’t have any local animated figures like Superman and Batman to entertain them, the characters on the silver screen were in fact their local superheroes. Lollywood movies allowed common people to escape into an incredible world where the good protagonist with his superhuman combat skill, defeated evil miscreants and saved the villagers.
And while comic books and animated series inspired Hollywood flicks like Batman and Spiderman, it’s the other way round in Pakistan. The ferocious superheroes who dominated the silver screen in the 80s and 90s, have inspired “Chota Jatt” — Pakistan’s first anime series.
Daniyal Noorani, currently working for a biotech firm in Boston, is the man behind the new series. He is collaborating with a team of people in Pakistan and Boston — Maria Khan and Ryan are handling character design, Abdullah Saeed is composing the music, Zahid Gill and Shahjehan Khan are responsible for animation and narration respectively.
Since the project follows the format of Japanese anime, Noorani also collaborated with a Chinese animator. “I tried to recruiting people from Pakistan but found that nobody had 2D capabilities and the only company that did was working on their own project.”
The recently released 40-second trailer of the series clearly depicts that the hirsute junior Jatt, who apparently battles feudalism and extremism, is inspired by Punjabi film characters portrayed by Rahi.
“Characters like Maula Jatt or Shera Jatt are really the only icons we have ever had in Lollywood,” said Noorani, who expects the series to be released in upcoming months. “We are using Lollywood films as an inspiration, but we are creating our own original narrative that will contain a lot of neat plot twists.”
When asked about the absence of local animation for entertainment purposes in Pakistan, the young producer says, “An animation project has not been produced in Pakistan because people do not believe they will be able to make a profit on the project. Animation is a very labour intensive and expensive medium.”
Noorani’s brainchild, which he is financing himself, will be first aired on the internet as webisodes. He said that he had been talking with several television channels, but was disappointed when the people there did not really grasp the concept of the project and tried to infringe on its creativity. However, he hopes that once the series beings screening, he will be able to strike a deal with mainstream television channels for airing the show.
But will “Chota Jatt”, based on Punjabi films dominated by sexist, macho men, really have widespread appeal?
“I have consciously made the decision that the show’s language is Urdu. There are certainly references to Punjabi cinema but we have made sure that they do not merely have provincial appeal,” explained Noorani.
The anime creator actually claims that female characters in his series will be more than just embellishments.
“Punjabi movies often feature very fiery women. Rarely are they the damsels in distress. The hero’s mother is completely dominating. So I think there are a number of elements of female empowerment within the films,” explained Noorani.
“In the ‘Chota Jatt’ series, I see women playing a very important, as strong as an ‘atom bomb’ in fact,” he said, making a reference to cult Pakistani movie, Haseena Atom Bomb.
Another interesting aspect of the show is its innovative music, directed by the talented DJ Abdullah Saeed. The music features remixes of old Lollywood tracks and punk rock from Karachi’s once vibrant night club scene.
The teaser of “Chota Jatt” is currently making impressive rounds on the net, evoking curiosity whether the animated version of the village superstar will have the same thundering impact on entertainment as did characters in Punjabi movies.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2011.