Zinda Bhaag: This deserves an Oscar nod

Published: September 19, 2013
The movie beautifully captures the essence of Lahore, in ways that other productions have not. PHOTO: FILE

The movie beautifully captures the essence of Lahore, in ways that other productions have not. PHOTO: FILE


In one scene of the film, an illegal ‘immigration expert’ is surgically recreating a passport for a man who is desperate to get out. He meticulously uses tweezers to peel off one passport picture and then replaces it with another. His hands are steady; after all, the consequences of getting caught are too frightening. This single act encapsulates the theme of Zinda Bhaag — a depiction of the essence of the ‘Pakistani dream’ as we know it today.

In the heart of a lower-middle class neighbourhood in Lahore, friends Khaldi (Khurram Patras), Taambi (Zohib) and Chitta (Salman Ahmed Khan) are living life to the fullest; they eat, drink and make merry. They look for love, get their hearts broken, and tease each other like any tightly-knit group of old friends would. Naseerudin Shah as Pehlvan is less of the mohalla’s ‘social worker’, and more the Godfather figure. He is introduced to us when he walks into the funeral of Booba, one of the residents of the area, who had managed to escape to France by hiding in a container. He eventually started his own restaurant called La Booba, so he became an inspiration to youngsters in the mohalla. The scene shows the obsession the residents of the neighbourhood have with finding success in foreign lands.

In Zinda Bhaag, the film’s directors Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi manage to create a culturally accurate story world, while taking a limited amount of screen time. The naturally raw Lahori accent; the corny humour; a family’s obsession with Urdu soaps and the yearning of the boys to make an appearance at a funeral just to get a taste of free mutton qorma are examples of an apt cultural representation that Pakistani films fail to achieve.

A pleasant combination of traditional cinema shots and snappy cinematography captures both, the soul of Lahore and the essence of a neorealist saga.

The visuals are supported by a light hearted yet unsettling story with back to back powerful one-liners that keep you glued to your seats and leave you craving for more.

Shah as Pehlvan has a larger-than-life persona, but also relates the ghosts of his past. Despite donning funky pink kurtas and wearing multi-coloured rings, there is a menacing darkness to Pehlvan, without whose blessings, it seems you cannot make it big in the mohalla. His proficiency in Punjabi is as immaculate as his fluency in Urdu. Khaldi, Taambi and Chitta are newcomers turned method actors. Their comfort in the atmosphere created by ZB plays a seminal role in making them believable. Bringing in non-actors was a smart choice, and an even smarter one to edit their shots well-enough to prevent their naivety from being translated on screen. That shouldn’t, however, take away from the well-performed long takes. Editing is the backbone of any film but very few (especially in Pakistan) have used it effectively, and it’s the clever cutting of the shots, along with tight pacing that keeps the audience of ZB wanting more.

The songs are good, but they sometimes become a needless deviation from a very precise plot, preventing Zinda Bhaag from being considered perfect. One wonders whether the powerful words penned by Mohammad Hanif in Dekhainge deserved something better than a half-hearted retaliation and a whole-hearted celebratory dance by a bunch of socially suppressed waiters.

The problems for Zinda Bhaag start as soon as Khaldi meets his love interest Rubina (Amna Ilyas), a petite, animated girl who sells a homemade soap called Facelook. While the humour surrounding her character is refreshing, it has hardly any contribution to the narrative. She doesn’t serve the purpose of eye candy, nor is she a good actor. More than that, her dialogue delivery is monotonous and she has a limited range of expressions on screen. Shoots and the ramp, it seems, are better places for Amna.

All in all, Zinda Bhaag stylistically highlights one of the most central social issues faced by Pakistanis — the issue of survival. Those who can run away will, but only after accumulating adequate resources. Others dream of running away, even if it means putting all their resources at stake.

Verdict: Zinda Bhaag is a must watch. In its modest, yet ingenious approach towards storytelling, Zinda Bhaag easily becomes the best film to have come out of modern day Pakistani cinema.

Score: 4/5

Published in The Express Tribune, September 20th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (25)

  • Sep 19, 2013 - 9:41PM

    Cinema is a big part of a country’s identity. The once thriving Pakistani film industry has been struggling to survive, in the last few decades. It is great to see the revival of cinema in recent times, and some good movies are seen hitting the silver screen lately. We would like to congratulate the “Zinda Bhag” team on their being nominated for Oscars form Pakistan; first in the last fifty years. We hope to see more good movies produced by Pakistani film makers.

    Abdul Quddus
    DET-United States Central Command


  • np
    Sep 19, 2013 - 11:14PM

    @US CENTCOM: The movie has NOT been nominated for Oscar. The nomination process is owned by the Oscar committee not the country and it has not even begun since ths submission deadline is not yet over. The film has simply been submitted as Pakistan’s entry to the Oscars. If your comment represents US centcom, then it shows a woeful ignorance of the country it represents. If this is your personal opinion, you should write with a different monicker – not US CENTCOM.Recommend

  • Dr. Bill
    Sep 20, 2013 - 12:33AM

    Dear Aman ki Asha & Indians are exactly similar to us walay log

    Why don’t you ask your Indian friends to put Pakistani films in Indian cinema theaters…or this is kind of topic like Kashmir you are afraid to discuss with them…as it might create a bad image for you ….as they understand whoever takes the name of Kashmir is a Jihadi …


  • Saba
    Sep 20, 2013 - 12:55AM

    So heartening to see this film get positive reviews. I can’t wait till I get to watch this film. Well done, Pakistani cinema!


  • vande mataram
    Sep 20, 2013 - 1:22AM

    best of luck to pakistan for SO called oscar , if india aur china never won oscar how pakistan dream of oscars


  • zaman
    Sep 20, 2013 - 2:37AM

    this craze of going abroad started in 1890s in mirpur azad kashmir because of the extreme poverty in the area, later this craze spread to gujrat, punjab. I always thought of lahore as pretty prosperous place, i wonder why they want to go abroad.


  • Talha Rizvi
    Sep 20, 2013 - 3:33AM

    @vande mataram:
    And why are you feeling so jealous huh? Isn’t it shameful that you Indians come on Pakistani sites to troll but still have the audacity to criticize us. Mind your own business.
    @np: If this comment represents the country of origin i.e. India it shows how much the Indians hate us and leave no opportunity in heaping venom on Pakistan.


  • Leena Lanari@
    Sep 20, 2013 - 3:57AM

    @US CENTCON & np spare us the explaining of nomination & submission who cares? Celebrate the masking of a great film and stop wasting our time over idiotic terms.


  • RHS
    Sep 20, 2013 - 4:02AM

    A special word of thanks to Naseeruddin Shah the highly talented Aligarh Muslim University graduate for continuing to work to improve Pakistani cinema.


  • Omar Khan
    Sep 20, 2013 - 4:06AM

    ohhh i smell something burning hahaha @ the haters …Hatss off to “Zinda Bhag” team and congratulations for NOMINATING the movie to oscars :)


  • Movie Fan
    Sep 20, 2013 - 4:58AM

    Gosh, some people like “np” here need to lighten up a bit instead of acting all holier-than-thou.

    CENTCOM, thank you for your encouraging comment! Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s “Saving Face” won an Oscar last year for the best documentary. Hopefully we will see more Pakistani movies that are good quality, perhaps even Oscar-worthy ones in future!


  • Plaintalk
    Sep 20, 2013 - 7:29AM

    It is a great honor to be submitted to be nominated to be awarded the Oscar fellow award and I congratulate all Pakistanis for this honor. I urge the Government to declare the film’s release date to be the Zinda Bhaag day. It is indeed a great honor that Pakistan achieved this at its very first attempt in 50 years. This is probably a world if not a universal record which is why the Indians are so jealous. Take that India – get used to Pakistan’s winning ways.


  • Another Pakistani
    Sep 20, 2013 - 10:00AM

    @vande mataram…..we have already won an Oscar! you can google “Shermeen Obaid-Chinoy” for enlightment.


  • Laila Dharamsey
    Sep 20, 2013 - 12:02PM

    Can’t wait to watch it!!


  • Faiz
    Sep 20, 2013 - 1:53PM

    @vande mataram:

    Just to remind you that the so called Bollywood 99.9999999 percent movies are copied from Hollywood, European, Iranian and other quality movies. This shows your class of ideas, that is why you never won an Oscar.


  • kalaaa
    Sep 20, 2013 - 2:47PM

    @Faiz: Would have been happy if Indians were not involved…right from Director Actor editing….technicians are we any less
    ?? would Indians invite us??


  • nononsense
    Sep 20, 2013 - 2:49PM

    common fellow countrymen appreciate them..have u got international distributor?


  • nononsense
    Sep 20, 2013 - 3:09PM

    will it release in india..any distributor they got


  • Rashid Siddiqui
    Sep 20, 2013 - 7:23PM

    What an amazing film. It’s fun and its not Bollywood masala. Lahori accent is kamal.


  • Beema Naizi Chicago USA
    Sep 20, 2013 - 8:54PM

    A message to my Pakistani friends please refrain on across the border insults let us show our class & not indulge in insults. India has their good points & negatives and so do we in Pakistan. This film Zonda Baag is a brilliant start to hopeful new chapter. Let us give praise to these young film makers who have defeated the Lollywood Mafia and pulled themselves away from the tired tasteless crapola they presented as films. The seedy tired actors & actresses that appeared in pathetic editing sequences, the graphics of zooming in & out that was popular in the 1960’s the gaudy sets while they failed to capture the essence that is Pakistan, the ugly wardrobe & makeup with zero imagination do we want a repeat? Lets move forward and celebrate with this new fusion of talented film makers!


  • Sep 21, 2013 - 3:07AM

    Here is my Movie Review for Zinda Bhaag – would love your feedback on it :) http://samramuslim.com/movie-review-zinda-bhaag/


  • Waqar
    Sep 21, 2013 - 11:21AM

    Its great to see pakistan film makers realized the need of making movies with some message required to address the basic issues in pakistan. Whether it will be nominated or just a submission to oscar, one thing we must appreciate that pak film industry is establishing its direction now which can lead to nomination beyond submission one day.


  • BCCI
    Sep 21, 2013 - 12:43PM

    @ Pakistanis:

    Please correct me if I’m wrong but I read that some of the film’s key technical crew is Indian. The film’s post-production was also done at the Prasad Film Lab in Mumbai. The film’s editor is Shan Mohammed who will be editing Farah Khan’s upcoming Shah Rukh-Deepika-starrer Happy New Year. The cinematographer is Satya Rai Nagpaul who bagged a National Award for Best Cinematography for the Punjabi film Anhe Ghorey Da Daan last year. The film’s sound designer is Vipin Bhatti who has worked on several of Nagesh Kukunoor’s films.


  • Ali Ahmed Awan
    Sep 27, 2013 - 3:40AM

    @vande mataram:
    Mir Zafar Ali and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy have won oscar for Pakistan.


  • asma mahmood
    Oct 4, 2013 - 6:30AM

    Zinda Bhag is a healthy trend that was created with Pakistan and Indian collaboration. Indian Film industry is far bigger and superior to Pakistans but then India is a bigger and more diverse country. Pakistnis some how have lost their sense of balance in their animosity with India. A good film does not need to have a message..sometime it can be good just by the virtue of a well made film and captivating story. This film is reflecting all that is the best and the worst in Pakistan. I disagree with the writer about the girl;s role as in the end she is the hero in this film who sticks to her dream and makes it a success. The simplicity is the most refreshing feature of this film and you should have seen people dancing to those songs in the theatre at the world premiere in Mississauga during Mosaic Film festival..
    Let us get out of our petty thinking and move on to better interaction on such forums…


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