KARACHI: Shamoon Abbasi has gone and attempted something completely different with his feature-length directorial debut Durj – a film about cannibalism in Pakistan. Whether or not he knocks it out of the ballpark remains to be seen when the film releases in 2019 but the trailer has certainly managed to create a buzz.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Abbasi shared the inspiration behind the storyline, stating it is based on not one but three real-life incidents that happened in Pakistan. “Two of them happened in Punjab. One was about these two brothers (Arif and Farman) that dug over 100 graves and ate corpses. Somehow they were getting away with the crime,” he said.
Sharing the horrific details of such crimes, Abbasi shared the main problem resides in the fact that there is no law against cannibalism in our constitution.
“Even the police officer in charge was confused as to what they would make a case out of. They ended up with charging the brothers for ‘stealing from the graves’ and imprisoned them for two years. But they continued their crimes after being freed in two years.”
He shared the second case was of a family of cannibals that lived near a graveyard and were caught while cooking a body. “The third one was in Karachi where a guy would dig out young girls’ bodies and rape them,” Abbasi said.
“All these horrific stories became a nightmare for me. And no one was talking about it. No one was concerned about this certain type of people who were doing it. So for me, the fact that there were no laws to handle this zombie-like phenomenon became a question. It made me want to make a film on this.”
But the Waar star understands the crimes might be too shocking for people to witness onscreen. “When I started writing the story, I knew I wasn’t going to show all these horrendous crimes. Personally, I hated it. I didn’t even want to think about it. But being a film-maker, it became a question that I had to think about. The point was to touch this subject and question why we didn’t have laws to punish these people in the constitution,” he added, confirming the film won’t include gruesome depictions of the cannibal acts.
“It was a big challenge not to show it on screen because I understand it isn’t very wise to make a gory film in Pakistan with a lot of blood and flesh as our audience is not ready for it. Therefore, the idea was not to make a horror film, but a film that highlights this phenomenon to make people understand how dangerous this can become without laws,” continued Abbasi.
It took a lot of research for Abbasi to find a way to tell the story and understand his stance on cannibalism. He revealed the film has a lighter side and isn’t only an intense thriller.
“We must try to understand what made them do this to be able to punish them, or have their medical records to understand what made them start in the first place. I did a lot of research and the most difficult part of this was to keep it balanced and not very violent. I think people in Pakistan would appreciate the other side of the film. As surprising as it sounds, Durj will also take you to a romantic side of the story. There can’t be just singing and dancing nor only violence. So we had to figure out how far we could go with our elements to balance them.”
In the trailer, we do see some glimpses of it with co-producer and actor Sherry Shah and Abbasi romancing in the mountains. On the other hand, we have the story of Myra Khan, who plays a psychiatrist whose husband has gone missing. The actor-director mentioned they have approached the material as not to make it flashy and glorifying, whether it’s the romantic aspect or the violence. “But it’s intriguing and will hook you in from the first scene. And you will want to see how the story unfolds,” said Abbasi.
However, he found the behind-the-scenes journey extremely challenging. Besides Abbasi and Sherry’s physical transformation for the characters, the whole team had to “drive around 500kms a day just to shoot two or three scenes in the mountain.”
While the veteran actor is happy with the response to the trailer so far, he clarifies the film is made with limited resources and “a small but enthusiastic team”. He remains confident that Durj will attract moviegoers.
“I know that in the international film community, Durj can go very far. People are curious about this subject because it’s a global phenomenon that’s been around for a long time. Cannibalism has a long history. How people take it in Pakistan depends on how distributors and other elements are going to work with it. We are all set for Netflix release but before that, we want it to be distributed and experienced in cinemas around the world.”
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