Recreating Karachi

Express June 02, 2010

KARACHI: In the days of yore, Karachi was fascinating enough for people from all over Pakistan to visit and experience a slice of its urbane lifestyle. While it is now home to 20 million people, Karachi is also infamous for being a recreation spot for militants, a party stop for those sick of the social scene in Lahore and Islamabad and a hub of fashion, art and culture.

Karachi - a city which was once a central stop for most international flights to Asia - is also a favourite with filmmakers. A Mighty Heart, Immaculate Conception, Jinnah and the upcoming Tere Bin Laden have all depicted the coastal city.

According to a report by the Indo Asian News Service (IANS) agency, Tere Bin Laden director Abhishek Sharma sent the film’s costume designer to Pakistan to research on clothes.

“The costumes were brought in from Pakistan. The costume designer went to markets in Pakistan just to source authentic clothes for the film. Typical radio sets, hoardings and products were also brought to the location,” a source in the production unit told IANS.

The film stars Pakistani musician Ali Zafar and Indian theatre actors Barry John and Piyush Mishra.

For a specific scene in Tere Bin Laden, a truck with typical artwork was required in the film. When the Sharma and the director of photography, Santosh Thundyil, spotted one such truck at a traffic light in the Indian city of Hyderabad, they jumped with joy.

“The truck driver refused to lend his truck. It was a funny scene as Abhishek and Santosh jumped out of their car in the middle of the road just to convince him. They finally managed to do so,” added the source.

While Sharma shot the film in Hyderabad and Mumbai and tried to recreate Karachi there, the filmmakers of A Mighty Heart, the real-life story of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping and eventual murder in Karachi, were reportedly denied permission to shoot in Karachi and then shot the film in the Indian city of Pune. According to the film’s production notes, the director was able to shoot in some locations including Karachi’s Village restaurant, the Citizens Police Liaison Committee office and the Hotel Akbar.

The 1998 film Jinnah, made by Jamil Dehlavi, was shot in Karachi and includes footage of the beach as well as Kothari Parade. Dehlavi, who also made Immaculate Conception (which starred Zia Mohyeddin and Shabana Azmi) that was set in Karachi, was able to film in the city. However he ran into problems as well. According to, Dehlavi said, “The production was not without its own difficulties as the Gulf War had just begun and anti-Western feeling in Pakistan was at its height.”

“I had a British crew and American actors and their consulates were advising them not to venture into the streets of Karachi. Needless to say that made shooting very difficult. Four of my technicians panicked and left on the next available flight.”

While the films that depict Karachi are few and far in between (Hollywood and Bollywood filmmakers have mostly depicted Lahore, Peshawar and Islamabad), even James Bond planned a dinner trip to Karachi.

In the 1987 film The Living Daylights, 007 finds himself at the Pakistan border and says, “I know a great restaurant in Karachi - we can just make dinner.”

Published in the Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2010.

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