Lollywood Flashback

Sound of Lollywood: Salman Rushdie versus defenders of Islam (and a song for the Prophet)

In the middle of the unbelievably outlandish ‘International Gorillay’, there is one spot of musical hope.

International Gorillay (International Guerrillas) is a Punjabi movie released in 1990. One of Pakistani cinema’s great cult pictures, it was a huge hit with local audiences but got the kibosh from shocked British authorities who temporarily banned it. Without a doubt, the movie ranks as one of the most bizarre entertainments in world cinema. Ever.

The film takes its inspiration from the rage that greeted the release of Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses across the Muslim world. An international cabal of Hindus and Jews led by Rushdie (Afzal Ahmad) is determined to wipe Islam off the face of the planet. Every Muslim must be murdered according to Rushdie’s right hand man Commander Batu Batu (Humayun Qureshi) who, along with siblings Commander Jason aka JC (Jahanzeb) and Dolly (Babra Sharif) form the evil novelist’s inner security council.

Ex-cops Mustafa (Mustafa Qureishi) and Shagutta (Neeli) join up with Mustafa’s unemployed goonda brothers Javed (Javed Shiekh) and Ghulam (Ghulam Mohiudeen) and jet off to Rushdie’s private island (that looks suspiciously like Manila) to sever the writer’s head from his body. For the next 165 minutes, the international guerrillas do battle with Rushdie’s forces and engage in a frenzied series of gun battles, bomb explosions, disguises (at one point the three pot-bellied heroes fool Batu Batu by crashing a dance party dressed up as a trio of Batmen), heroic escapes, fist fights, rocket launchers, severed heads, spurting blood, hangings, multiple narrow escapes and high speed chases in cars, dirtbikes and motor boats.

The Pakistani homeys never speak except to scream down the wrath of Allah on Rushdie and other kafirs. But eventually the resourceful Rushdie, who personally beheads several assassins and tortures one prisoner by forcing her to listen to an audio book of The Satanic Verses, appears to completely outmanoeuvre them. But a desperate prayer leads to the conversion of Dolly and Jason, who turn their guns on Rushdie. The heavens open, lightning breaks the chains of the guerrillas and after slaughtering every one of Rushdie’s soldiers they finally have the little Satan in their grasp. But before they can behead him three drones in the form of the Holy Quran float down from heaven and attack Rushdie with lasers until he explodes in a ball of fire.

As can be imagined, music takes a distant second place to the action this time. The songs, such as they are, are nothing more than opportunities to demonstrate the moral depravity of Rushdie and the enemies of Islam. Not surprisingly, M Ashraf, the most raucous of Pakistani music directors, gets the gig to compose the music. Assisted by his son Arshad, he comes up with one of the worst set of songs ever put to film.

Dhamaal Saale Ala.

It is only in the final musical interlude in which the guerrillas appear to be conclusively trapped by Rushdie that the mood switches. Chained to crosses, the defenders of Islam begin singing a naat in praise of Allah, the Prophet, and the truth of Islam.

For the first time, the music speaks. The singing is in tune, the music is majestic and appropriate to the occasion (the sky is filled with Arabic injunctions to praise God and Mohammad). In what to this point has been a ridiculous, bloody farce of a film, the song manages to introduce a modicum of respect for its purported subject, Islam.

But not for long.

When Dolly is overcome by the power of the singing and converts to Islam, she can’s help but jiggle and prance with joy. Ashraf injects that most famous dhamal beat of all, Dama Dam Mast Qalandar, into the proceedings at this point. The solemnity and dignity of the moment are shattered as Dolly sings and the four mujahideen bob and shake their heads in the weirdest sort of cross dance since Monty Python’s Life of Brian crucifixion scene.

Nate Rabe’s novel, The Shah of Chicago, is out now from Speaking Tiger.

A version of this story appeared on the blog and has been reproduced here with permission.

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