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.