The Second Floor (T2F) bustled with young people on Thursday evening, who eagerly waited to watch short film Haal, co-written and directed by London-based film-maker Assad Zulfiqar Khan. As Khan arrived, the lights were dimmed and all eyes were on the screen, waiting for Haal to begin.
The opening scene saw famous classical dancer Nighat Chaudhry, dancing to a melodious song as General Ziaul Haq’s voice rang in the background. Khan used authentic clips of Zia’s speeches, and this particular speech was the one in which he stated that martial law had been imposed in the country where he wanted the strict laws and philosophies of Islamisation. The excerpt was taken from his address to the people of Pakistan on July 5, 1977 when he imposed martial law.
The 22-minute short film then depicted the effects Islamisation had on two people in Pakistan — a journalist who was tortured at the famous Shahi Qila in Lahore for writing a pamphlet based on anti-military sentiments and a dance teacher (Nighat Chaudhry) who persisted with her lessons despite threats to her life. Haal brings to light the dark reality of the seeds of intolerance sown in Zia’s era, and reminds its audience that moderation is the ultimate goal for a free-thinking society. The film articulately depicts how the liberal-minded society of Pakistan was cornered and how artistic minds were shunned to breed the idea of an “Islam compliant” society.
“The general is now dead but he (his ideologies and proposed way of life) still lives on,” Khan said, as the film ended with great applause from the audience. “We need to re-visit our past,” he said, adding that he is “anti-army”. Khan told The Express Tribune that Zia’s practises still have a subliminal effect on Pakistanis today.
He explained that the film was an assignment he did while at the London Film School, and that it was inspired by true stories from the Islamisation era. “From Nighat Chaudhry, whose house was attacked, to Bashir Riaz (a journalist) from whom I have heard countless tales of the terror and horror that people went through — this is all archival,” he said.
One member of the audience questioned Khan’s ideology, claiming that Zia aspired for Pakistan to be like Saudi Arabia. “Saudi Arabia is nothing to aspire to,” Khan responded flatly, as the audience applauded his statement, lead by lawyer and TV show host Ayesha Tammy Haq. “Women don’t have rights there, they can’t even drive. Today, whatever freedom we have in Pakistan, I think we should cherish it,” Khan added.
When asked if the film had been publicly screened, Khan said: “The censor board will never pass it. Censorship is a big issue in this country.”
The crowd appreciated the music and poetry used in the film, but Khan said that he did not know who had written the verses that were recited in the last scene.
David James, a foreigner who studied politics of South Asia at Oxford and is now working with Pakistan’s water industry, raved about the film. “It’s a fantastic film. It helps people understand Pakistan historically and the troubles that it is going through now.”
While the film was written by Khan and co-writer Mehreen Kasana, it was produced by Ali Mohsin Shaheed Gardezi with original music by Walter Miar.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2012.
Correction: An earlier version of the article incorrectly stated that Zia took up presidency in 1977. The error is regretted.
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@Mani The opening lines of this article refer to the director as 'London based'; that does not indicate that he has repatriated to Pakistan. Just a curious question; has he really repatriated for good or is he just 'visiting' Pakistan for his projects.
I personally see this movie as a pointless peek into the past. I think we need to analyse our present and focus on the future cos by the time we get to understand our follies of the past; the world would have moved ahead by a zillion years.
As you mentioned that he's working on some more movie projects in Pakistan; I would humbly suggest that he tries to portray a positive image of our country. We've had enough of negative documentaries about our dear motherland; we need a change.
Thank you @ mani for being my knight in shining armour. And since someone else was wondering about the funding of the film, it was part funded by the film school and the rest divided between friends and family and crowd funding on twitter and facebook
@Haven't lost my sanity: the director WAS based in London when he came up with the concept, script, and did most of his production there too, due to access to better facilities. The film was shot entirely in pakistan. He's currently in Pakistan too, working on more scripts. as for @Khan saying this guy doesn't even speak Urdu...I'd like to know what basis he claims that on, as the director speaks pushto, punjabi (and it's various strains) besides being an avid Urdu poetry enthusiast. Please don't spout of assumptions as fact; someone who will know better will always catch you out.
@ Zaid Hamid
we will make a film on you. It will be named Be-Haal.
First of all a correction in the text of this article, Zia took up presidency in September 1978 not on 5th July 1977. Its a good effort indeed to enlighten people about the real history of Pakistan and who is responsible for the current mess that we are living in. Similarly, People such as the Assad Khan should also make short films about the darkness that prevails in Balochistan for last 64 years
If your house is on fire, run out and get some help to douse the fire from outside.
Staying inside and fighting with fire is foolish, unless you don't have another option.
Yup you are right sir, after reading the comments above i also agree that the seeds sown in Zia's era still heavily influence our society.
This Guy Don't Even Speak Urdu Or Any Local Language. I Wonder Who Funded This " Short " Movie?. Since he is living in UK he should have made" Short Movie " On UK, Who is harbouring corrupt Pakistani politicians.
@Awans, it was one man (Zia, his name is an irony), one institution (army) and one party (Jamaat-i-Islami) that asphyxiated the whole society. .
It must have been an excellent piece. i wish we all could watch it.
I hate it when people settled abroad come and tell us our flaws! If they are so righteous and love the country they abandoned so much; why don't they just come back and join us to put our house in order. This director seems a brainwashed pseudo liberal; nothing more! And people who applauded him lack intellectual depth to see right from wrong. Am not supporting Zia regime, but this documentary is no historical archive.
What about Bhutto and previous leaders then??. Blaming one person is the easiest thing. The Objective resolution of 1949 was the foundation stone of Extremism in Pakistan and afterwards Islam became a tool for every politician. Who was Inviting all leaders of Islamic countries to make Pakistan a Fortess of Islam?. Bhutto or Zia??. So in my view everyone used Islam and extremism is an obvious outcome of these events of history.
When will they make a movie on me :(