Bhai log: Unintentional self-parody
Bhai Log either made one of the worst movies ever to grace the silver screen, or is a piece of satirical genius.
Director Syed Faisal Bukhari, in Bhai Log (which literally translates to ‘Brother People’), has either made one of the worst movies ever to grace the silver screen, or a piece of satirical genius. I have trouble deciding, because I refuse to believe a director could be so blissfully unaware of his work diving to such depths in the pool of unintended self-parody.
My interest in the film actually began after a friend invited me to join them for a viewing at Karachi’s premium movie theater, Atrium Cinemas. At first I was reluctant, but the feeling quickly dissipated after the trailer made me laugh hard enough for tea to come out of my nose (oddly enough, it was coffee I was consuming at the time).
But, I wasn’t interested in going to Bhai Log for the viewing pleasure alone. For years, I had heard wondrous stories about the crowds that grace Urdu language features. Years back, an elder cousin, after watching the Urdu dubbed version of Terminator 2 at Capri Cinemas at Karachi, told me that during the opening scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger is sporting only his birthday suit, men in the audience started making cat sounds, while a gentlemen wondered out loud:
“Oye, iska chudda kahan hein?”
(Yo! Where are his shorts?)
So, my anticipation for Bhai Log wasn’t just limited to the film, but the overall sights and smells of the event. Unfortunately, after generating my interest in the movie, my friend ditched me for ‘family commitments’ (likely story), and I was left trying to find someone else to coax into joining me. Unfortunately, most of my buddies laughed at the idea of watching Bhai Log, with one actually telling me that he’d rather watch something as dull as animals procreating on the Discovery Channel.
In the end, it was my poor mother that I persuaded into joining me. And while I do take her to at least one movie a week – it gives us a chance to bond – I wasn’t quite sure if Bhai Log would be conducive to family viewing. Regardless, I was looking forward to a jam packed theater, full of an energetic crowd, ready for a hilariously good – or bad – time. Unfortunately, upon entering the cinema, I was bitterly disappointed to see it to be nearly empty!
However, as we took our seats, to my happiness, I observed two more people enter the theatre. They were both men, and both clad in shalwar kameez. The first was of average height, sporting a long oiled moustache, with its ends pointed enough to take his significant other’s eye out whilst sleeping at night. The other was quite short, with thick forearms, a midsection large enough for me to wonder if he was hiding a giant balloon under his kameez, and a huge red beard, that stood out magnificently on his white kameez. With excitement, I realized the shorter of the two looked like Gimli, the dwarf warrior from Lord of the Rings, and half expected to see him carrying a battle- axe with his popcorn. As luck would have it, the odd couple took their seat right in front of us.
“What’s that smell?” I whispered to my mother, as the movie began.
“It smells like paan,” my mother replied, her nose crinkling.
I nodded in the darkness of the theater, realizing that the Pakistani version of Gimli was a fan of the stinky chewing leaf.
The opening scene of Bhai Log set the precedent for the entire film in hilarity and preposterousness. It showed the villain, Israr David (Shafqat Cheema), giving a speech to his gang of subordinates, about how they were yahoodi agents, trying to infiltrate Pakistan.
“Doesn’t yahoodi mean Jewish?” I whispered to my mother laughing, as she nodded.
I couldn’t believe it; either the film was working as a satire of ridiculous Pakistani conspiracy theories, or was simply taking advantage of such sentiments.
Then, things went from loony to loonier.
Apparently, Israr David and his followers had all been through extensive plastic surgery in order to look Pakistani. What the film didn’t add, but I assumed, was that they also had had speech therapy, and were dedicated method actors, which would explain why they didn’t break character in each other’s company, and even spoke English with such thick Pakistani accents.
Like all evil geniuses seen in film, Israr David had taken great care to explain the film’s entire plot iin his opening monolog. As a Jewish agent, his plan was to start a war between two of Karachi’s most powerful mobs, and revel in the ensuing chaos. David’s master plan was to trigger a battle between Abba Bhai (Nadeem Baig) and Aslam Bhai (Javed Sheikh), two mob heads with a history of bad blood.
The next few hours were full of amusing sequences, many of which had me stifling my laughter; for fear that Gimli would jump at me with his paan breath.
Amongst poorly acted action sequences, peppered with random music - some of which was clearly inspired by The Matrix - we were introduced to the film’s hero, Inspector Nagra (Shamoon Abbasi), who snarled at every chance he had with his crooked teeth. In one scene, while chasing a terrorist, Nagra unzipped his top in super slow-motion, only to have it suddenly open completely, revealing a chest with enough hair to make a grizzly bear proud.
We were also introduced to Raja (Moammar Rana), the other hero of the film, and Abba Bhai’s right hand man. In his opening scene, we saw him brandish some street justice to a bunch of warehouse thugs, in a manner more amusing than heroic. One goon, after being punched by Raja, rather than flying into an object, actually ran into it (I assumed that Raja had telepathic abilities to control another man’s legs, though he only exercised the skill in this scene).
Then there were the scantily clad actresses, who appeared more comical than alluring, clearly oblivious to the rolls of cellulite hanging from their midriffs. When the first one came on screen with a walk more creepy than seductive, and a face that looked like it had been marinated for a few hours in makeup, Gimli stood up suddenly, clapping and shouting, “MEERA!” in uncontained excitement
Later, during a dance sequence, where one of the large actresses slipped in between a rock crevice, my mother wondered out loud how the Lollywood pinup would find her way back out, without the sharp edges leaving their mark. The sequence ended on a lush green farm, where the couple made out in motions so exaggerated that instead of appearing to be lovers caught up in passion, they looked more like vampires engaged in bloodl ust.
A lot of these scenes were quite uncomfortable to watch and I could spot my mother playing Angry Birds instead. Even Gimli seemed uneasy, and during one dance number, bemoaned out loud the fact that he missed his evening prayers, to the ironic laughter of those around him.
Something interesting was how one dramatic scene was scored with music clearly ripped off of Hans Zimmer’s Gladiator soundtrack. And while I am not sure if DreamWorks Pictures are in financial trouble, I highly doubt that they gave Bhai Log licensing privileges.
Eventually, Dr. Israr David introduced himself to both Aslam Bhai and Abba Bhai, and in typical bad-guy fashion proceeded to admit that he was behind everything, thus uniting the two mobsters. For his motives he explained that he did everything to destroy Pakistan– like something out of the show South Park – because he was a Jew, and couldn’t help his Jewish ways. Earlier, we had seen Abba Bhai kill Aslam Bhai’s wife as well as his son, while we had also seen Aslam Bhai make mincemeat of Abba Bhai’s daughter, so it was good to see the two mobsters put aside such trivial bits of history for the greater good of the country.
Things eventually ended with all the mobsters – and one rouge police inspector – united, and battling against the Jewish forces of Dr. Israr David. Powered by special effects out of the 1960's, the finale saw both Abba Bhai and Aslam Bhai soak each other in fuel, set themselves on fire, and run alit for a good five minutes, dragging Israr David into a warehouse conveniently labeled ‘danger, explosives’, and saving Pakistan.
My mother, who clearly did not think the film was a satire of any sort, had the following take on the film:
“I was surprised that two actors I have watched for ages, Nadeem, and Javed Sheikh, were involved in a movie so bad. Also, I was very disappointed with the way the actresses were dressed, and it wasn’t at all representative of our culture. These one dimensional women aren’t a good depiction of our Pakistan, and Lollywood should be ashamed.”
Story in numbers:
One is the number of Pakistani movies I had seen before this, with the other one being Bol – a significantly better film.
Two were the number of weapons seen in the film clearly labeled “Made in USA”, further shoving down our throats the idea that everything is a Jewish/American conspiracy.
Three inches only separated the lips of the two alpha male heroes of the film, as they faced off lustily for a whole uncomfortable minute, before an obligatory fight scene.
Four were the number of times Israr David introduced himself as a Muslim hating Jew.
Four were the number of scantily clad actresses in the film, who clearly spent more time at McDonalds, than at the gym.
Five times I got glaring looks from Gimli, for laughing out loud.
Six is how many times during the viewing my mother asked me when the film would end.
Seven people were left sitting in the theater at the end of the movie, from a total of seventeen when it started.
Ten are the number of people who tried to get refunds half-way through the film.