The story behind Zinda Bhaag
The story of Zinda Bhaag unravels against the theme of illegal immigration. Called ‘dunky’ in local jargon, this involves inhuman and dangerous methods of crossing borders into foreign lands. Our primary motivation to make this film came from the stories of our young male friends who had crossed borders illegally and had found their lives destroyed in more ways than one. Despite mental health issues, lost limbs, acquired illnesses, debts incurred, emotional estrangement from their families, these young men always answered in the affirmative when asked whether they’d do the ‘dunky’ again. A desperation to prove themselves made taking extreme risks such as the ‘dunky’ almost an essential ingredient of being a ‘man’. But is ‘dunky’ the perfect shortcut to success? Beset with uncertainties, is the throw of dice the only way to play life? It is with these questions that we set out to write the script, which was, constructed out of stories, anecdotes and events that we encountered during a collaborative and intensive research for this film.
The Actors of Zinda Bhaag
As writer-directors, we want the audiences to experience the story as we had experienced it – the story of our friend, our cousin, and our neighbour. We therefore chose to cast as our main leads, young men whose own everyday lives and personalities were similar to those of the characters depicted in the film. Khaldi, Taambi and Chitta, along with other boys and girls for supporting roles were chosen from auditions that took place in several neighbourhoods of Lahore. Since most of these young men had never ‘acted’ before, a process of workshops followed, one of which was conducted by the acclaimed Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah (who plays Puhlwan in the film). This process of developing the script and working with actors has led to the film being imbued with a certain intimacy, a sense of the real and the familiar that the audiences will relate with as the story unfolds on screen. In the film studios, amongst crew, recording studio and preview audiences of the rough cut, the film always led to people relating the characters on screen to people in their own families. Based on real-life events, this film is a dialogue with not only the characters who feature in the story but those young men and women in the audience for whom the film will be an opportunity to to reflect on the choices they make and the reasons and pressures behind it.
The Music of Zinda Bhaag
Since both of us are big fans of South Asian cinema of the 1960s/70s/80s, one of our favourite lament is about the not so creative transformation made by the ‘film song’ in contemporary cinema. In the films from a previous era, songs were a space for expressing that which could not be expressed through dialogue, it was a moment that needed a poetic expression. Therefore situations of romance, mocking the rich & powerful, suffering, existential angst, a spiritual or moral dilemma, desires and fantasy – all were relegated to the space of the song. However, in the late 80s, one saw the song being reduced to a ritual of seduction in Pakistani cinema- the mujra (a ritual of seduction through dance, in which the female performer dances for the male viewer on and off screen). This song routine also found its space in Bollywood films through the quintessential ‘item’ number. But in earlier times songs in South Asian films were never an item (as if an element of a variety show – an item!) but rather central to the narrative of the film itself. If you cut out a song, you lost a part of the story as well!
In Pakistan, the arrival of the new Punjabi hero of the 1980s-90s was marked by the disappearance of the male playback singer. After all, singing and dancing was no longer a sign of being a man! His language was now that of Guns, Gandasas and ‘Bharaks’ (a loud war cry used in Punjabi cinema). Zinda Bhaag is thus an attempt to redefine the Punjabi ‘hero’ – with his everyday frustrations and failures but also with the ability to sing and dance like a man.
The Poster of Zinda Bhaag
S.Iqbal is the last of the traditional poster artists of Lahore. Our motivation for having traditional hand-painted poster for Zinda Bhaag is a paean to the erstwhile Pakistan film industry aka Lollywood. The industry has all but collapsed producing less than 4 films a year.
Meenu Gaur completed her PhD in Film and Media Studies from the University of London in 2010. She received the Felix scholarship and Charles Wallace Scholarship for the same. She is the co-editor of the book ‘Indian Mass Media and the Politics of Change’, published by Routledge 2011 and distributed by OUP Pakistan. She has been associated as Faculty of the Institute of Womens Studies Lahore (IWSL) under the aegis of Feminist Institute and Publishing House ASR (Applied Social Research Resource Centre). She is also the co-director of the award winning documentary film, ‘Paradise On a River of Hell’.Presently, she is working on a documentary film on Karachi and has received the ‘Jan Vrijman Fund’ and ‘Göteborg Film Fund’ for the same.
Farjad Nabi has directed award-winning documentaries including ‘Nusrat has Left the Building… But When?’ and ‘No One Believes the Professor’. He has also documented the work of Lahore film industry’s last poster artist in ‘The Final Touch’. He has produced and presented a musical documentary on interior Sindh called ‘Aaj ka Beejal’ for BBC Urdu. Since then he has been recording the dying breed of gavantris (story singers) in the Lahore region. His Punjabi stage plays ‘Annhi Chunni di Tikki’ (Bread of Chaff & Husk) and ‘Jeebho Jani di Kahani’ (The Story of Jeebho Jani) has been recently staged and published. He is presently working on a documentary film and monograph along with Meenu Gaur on the Lahore film industry aka Lollywood.