February 20, 2008 / 12:21 AM / in 10 years

Pakistan films tackle issues with children's tales

BERLIN (Reuters) - Two new films shed light on Pakistan’s deep-rooted social and political problems by looking at them through the eyes of a child.

Based on a true story, “Ramchand Pakistani” follows the young Hindu boy of the title as he accidentally steps over the ill-defined border between old rivals Pakistan and India, triggering a nightmare that drags on for years.

“Son of a Lion,” set in the North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan, tells the story of Niaz, who must overcome the odds to get an education despite his stern father’s desire that he follows him into the gun-making trade.

Javed Jabbar, whose daughter Mehreen directed “Ramchand” and who came up with the idea of the film when he heard about families who underwent similar ordeals, said Pakistani cinema may at last be emerging from decades in the doldrums.

“There was another film last year called ‘In the Name of God’ which helped revive public interest in cinema and in good films,” he told Reuters in Berlin, where the two movies were showcased at the annual film festival that has just finished.

“That was a very topical film and now this movie has come along. I think there is more interest among young people now.”

Pakistan’s film industry has been starved of a natural audience in neighboring India due to political differences and overshadowed by the dominant Bollywood industry based in Mumbai.

What Pakistani films there have been have tended to be low-budget imitations of Bollywood, dubbed “Lollywood” because they were made in the eastern city of Lahore.

BOY LOST FOREVER?

When Indian troops find the boy Ramchand and his father who comes looking for him, they discover they are poor peasants from Pakistan’s tiny Hindu community and suspect them of being spies.

For the same reason, the authorities in overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan do little to help them.

Set partly in 2002, when tensions between the South Asian rivals brought them close to war, the pair end up in a grim jail where Ramchand spends his boyhood. His mother, meanwhile, has no way of knowing where her son and husband have gone.

Jabbar said Pakistan allowed filming to take place close to sensitive border areas in the southern Sindh province and India let the crew visit a real prison in Gujarat so they could reconstruct it accurately.

The action is shot against the arid backdrop of the Nagar Parkar hills in southeastern Pakistan, home to a crumbling ancient temple.

“Son of a Lion,” made by Australian director Benjamin Gilmour, is a fictional tale about a boy called Niaz who lives at the opposite end of the country in the North West Frontier Province near the Afghan border.

Hailed by critics in Berlin, it offers insight into the aspirational gap between generations in Pakistan and how wars in the region continue to shape people’s thinking today.

Niaz’s father, a conservative Pashtun, prides himself on having fought with the “mujahideen” in Afghanistan against Soviet invaders, and cannot understand why Niaz wants anything more than the life he is offered making rifles in a shack.

The film also includes plenty of humor, as when a group of men ask each other whether they would shelter al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, as tribal tradition dictates, or hand him over for the huge bounty still on his head.

Reuters/Nielsen

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