By Maliha Rehman
The fall of Dhaka took place in 1971 and East Pakistan escaped the dominance of West Pakistan. It became an independent nation called Bangladesh.
50 years later, a Pakistani movie is about to release, putting forward the tagline:
“Ek jaisa hi pyaar niklay ga,
Dil ke lelay talashiyan dono!
Ek ghalti huee, kisi say bhee,
Maang letay hain maafiyan dono!”
The trailer of Filmwala Pictures’ ‘Khel Khel Mein’ clearly indicates a story that addresses the pain and agitation that resulted when Pakistan bifurcated into two. Shifting from present day to throwbacks to the past, it also puts forward a message for peace. There are glimpses of war planes flying over the horizon, frenzied crowds carrying trunks upon their heads and a decisive, fatalistic statement right at the beginning of the trailer: ‘Tumhara desh toot gaya hai, abh tum Pakistan mein nahi, Bangladesh mein ho’. And yet, it is clear that the plot will not be indulging in war-mongering. Rather, it appears to be a cinematic attempt at making amends for past grievances between Pakistan and Bangladesh.
With director Nabeel Qureshi at the helm, the visuals are clear-cut and appealing. The cast wields its own star-power, with Bilal Abbas and Sajal Aly as the main leads, along with Manzar Sehbai, Marina Khan, Javed Sheikh and Samina Ahmed, among others. A snappy, youthful song – ‘Naye Soch’ – released a few days ago shows college students dancing and having a good time. The trailer shows the same students flying off for a theatre competition in Bangladesh where they have opted to stage the story of the 1971 war.
Zara, played by Sajal Aly, is shown exploring the streets of Dhaka, delving into the emotions and circumstances that prevailed during 1971. It is likely that she will unearth sad tragedies that tore families apart and brought ruin to many. It is very likely that the movie will conclude on a poignant note, emphasizing on regardless of who is at fault, war is always at the cost of human lives, tarnishing generations with its consequences.
It’s certainly a unique topic considering that most movies traversing Indo-Pak history tend to focus on the 1947 partition. One can count on Nabeel Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza to do it justice. However, I can’t help but wonder if the trailer is revealing a bit too much of the story, making it predictable for audiences who want to watch it in cinemas.
“The basic storyline focuses on the fall of Dhaka but there is a lot more to the story that isn’t visible in the trailer,” says director Nabeel Qureshi. “It’s the sort of plot that has nuances and emotions and in some cases, it is driven by them.”
He adds, “Yes, the conclusive message is that what happened in the past, happened and now we need to move on.”
This is, incidentally, the first time that Filmwala Pictures has diverted from actor Fahad Mustafa, who has hitherto always been the hero of their movies. Did they consider Fahad at all for the lead role in ‘Khel Khel Mein’? “No, we thought that Bilal Abbas would be a great choice as a young college boy,” says Nabeel. “He was our first choice as was Sajal, for the female lead.”
Both actors are, of course, two of Pakistan’s very finest and there is hardly any doubt that they will be able to do justice to the script. They also dance quiet well – something that many local actors are unable to master on the cinema screen. Will we be seeing Nabeel shake a leg in the movie too, considering that the director does tend to make small, blink and you miss it appearances in his projects? “You’ll have to see the movie to find out!” laughs Nabeel.
At the trailer’s release event, both Bilal and Sajal said that it had been their dream to work with Nabeel ‘since they were children’ – a comment that had Nabeel quipping right back! The camaraderie between the team looks pretty good which is just as well since they are now proceeding to tour different key locations across Pakistan as part of promotions, talking to university students, trooping through malls and shaking a leg quite often!
Shortly after the trailer’s release, ‘Khel Khel Mein’ began trending on Twitter in Bangladesh. Nabeel says that it came as a surprise. “It was completely organic and since then, we have had a lot of publications from Bangladesh reach out to us,” says the director. “Over the years, our movies have collated a fan following in Bangladesh and Bilal and Sajal have their own fans. I think it helped in building curiosity about the movie.”
There’s plenty of hype surrounding ‘Khel Khel Mein’ in the home-ground, Pakistan, as well. Of course, a Filmwala project served out by the Nabeel Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza double act is preceded by high expectations. The producer-director-scriptwriter duo have always penned their own stories, ensuring that their movies remain honest, original, with a dash of wit thrown in. There have been comments, though, that ‘Khel Khel Mein’ may turn out to be similar to ‘Rang De Basanti’, a Bollywood movie that released in 2006, starring Aamir Khan which also brought focus on the war with Bangladesh.
“It’s not similar at all,” says Nabeel, “but I actually don’t mind that ‘Khel Khel Mein’ is getting compared to ‘Rang De Basanti’ which was a very good movie.”
Also building up excitement is that ‘Khel Khel Mein’ will be the first Pakistani movie to release in cinemas following the coronavirus lockdown. Considering that most filmmakers are still biding their time, afraid that their movies may end up plummeting should a Covid wave resurface, what prompted Nabeel and Fizza to take this first brave plunge? “We want to release this movie and then, maybe a month later, our next one, QuaideAzam Zindabad,” says Nabeel. “Both movies are complete so why shouldn’t we release them? We want to move on to making more movies!”
‘Khel Khel Mein’, propelled by its star caste and with two of the country’s most successful filmmakers in its credentials, is also special because the story that it means to tell may not be known to many amongst today’s youth. It appears to be a history lesson, revisiting the tragedy of 1971. The title, to my mind, implies that even the lead protagonists aren’t well aware of it, until they stumble upon it ‘khel khel mein’, unearthing the raw emotions and wounds left behind by the Pak-Bangladesh partition.
That’s reason enough to buy a ticket to head out to the cinema – based on the trailer, there’s a good chance that it is going to be paisa vasool!