As police play the silent spectator, Tariq guns Yusuf down. Having finished the job, he kneels down (sajda) while the entire jail staff salute him amid cries of Allah-o-Akbar. Thus ends the film!
First an anecdote. Friend and colleague Moeen Azhar was president of the Lahore Press Club. In his office at the Lahore Press Club, we were chit-chatting on a fine autumn evening back in 2003. A young man drops by and wants to have a word with Moeen Azhar in private. Moeen insists upon my presence. ‘I will seek Farooq’s advice in your case anyhow,’ he tells the caller. The conversation between the two goes on for about ten minutes before the visitor leaves. The visitor was generously swearing at Zia Shahid all along. As he leaves, I ask Moeen about the dispute. “This guy was a reporter at the Khabrain. He smuggled the pistol inside the jail that was used to kill Yusuf, the blasphemy accused. Now he has been fired by the Khabrain after he was named in the FIR [First Investigation Report],’ Moeen replies.
This conversation was still fresh in my mind when I went to Shabistan cinema at Lahore’s famous Abbott Road to watch ‘Aik Aur Ghazi’ (Yet Another Conqueror). Since the film, according to director Syed Noor’s claim, is based on a ‘True story from Lahore 2002’ (Lahore shehar ka sacha waqi’a), I was curious to find the Khabrain-link. To be honest, I was not surprised. It is one [and easy] thing to glorify, justify and validate the cold-blooded murder of unprotected, vulnerable and defenseless people accused of blasphemy. To name Khabrain in a ‘True story from Lahore,’ is quite another affair. Hence, Syed Noor’s ‘Ghazi’ in the film receives the weapon from a strange source as nature lends a helping hand too.
It is indeed strange to see nature (qudrat) intervening only when ‘Tariq’, Syed Noor’s ‘Ghazi’, wants to decapitate a blasphemer. However, nature remains nonchalantly aloof when his God-fearing, pious family was gruesomely ruined by his rivals. Himself a loafer and gambler, Tariq (played by an actor I did not recognize) has a religious bent of mind too. His father, Haji Saab runs a small business and is widely respected in the neighborhood for his piety. He is ignorant of Tariq’s waywardness as Tariq lives a double life: gambler in reality, practicing Muslim in front of his father. Since a Lollywood production is no masterpiece unless peppered with song-and-dance sequels, hence, Tariq is also seduced by Mohni (Saima) living next door. Saima dancing atop a chobara (rooftop), presumably in Lahore’s Walled City, does not offend Syed Noor’s religious sensibilities. Tasteless and vulgar dances simply does not bother a director advertising a film with a chilling tagline: Gustak-e-Rasool ki saza, sir tan say juda (Punishment for the blasphemer: decapitation).
Nature does not intervene either when Tariq, over a gambling dispute, murders a rival. In revenge, rivals kill Tariq’s young brother. This leads to more revenge: Tariq kills two more rivals to avenge his brother’s murder. Unable to bear the loss of a young son, Tariq’s father also dies of a heart-attack Lollywood-style. He himself lands in jail where he develops a dispute with ‘Zulfi’, another killer. However, the blood-thirsty killers are transformed when Yusuf ‘Kazab’ (impressively played by Shafqat Javed Cheema) arrives. The jail inmates hurl abuses at him while Zulfi hatches a plan to murder Yusuf ‘Kazab’. A calm and composed Yusuf, every time insulted by jail mates, politely replies, ‘You are ignorant. I will pray for you.’
An aside: ‘Kazab’, or liar, is a term with religious connotations. It was daily Khabrain that not merely highlighted the case but also added the affix ‘Kazab’ to the late Yusuf’s name, every time the case was reported in this rag. Other broadsheets avoided the suffix ‘Kazab’. If one goes by the hearsay, Zia Shahid had a property dispute with Mr. Yusuf whose followers included zealots like Zaid Hamid. Bait (allegiance) at Mr. Yusuf’s hands later cost Zaid Hamid his jingoistic career as youth leader-cum-anchorperson and would-be-conqueror-of-India.
While jail mates were aggressive, authorities were showing respect to Yusuf who does not claim to be a prophet. Instead, he claims to have been blessed with Khilaphet-e-Uzma (Supreme Caliphate). In the court, witnesses accuse him of declaring himself a prophet during a Friday sermon at a Lahore mosque, however, Yusuf himself insists upon his faith in Prophet Muhammad who bestowed Khilaphet-e-Uzma upon him. The court nonetheless finds him guilty of blasphemy.
Meantime, Zulfi managed through his uncle to smuggle in a pistol. However, Zulfi is transferred to another jail and he passes the pistol on to Tariq. Both want to decapitate the ‘Kazab’ in a bid to seek redemption. The jail authorities smell the murder conspiracy. Hence, a search is conducted. Tariq hides the pistol in his ration-box. During the search, a jail official empties the ration-box by dangling it upside down. The nature intervenes mysteriously as everything falls out except the pistol. Despite a search, authorities were not sure about Yusuf’s safety. It was decided to transfer him to Rawalpindi jail. This would have thwarted Tariq’s plan. But a couple of low-rank corrupt jail officials, who know Tariq’s intentions, have their conscience transformed. They decide to connive with Tariq. Hence, when Yusuf is brought to jail compound, an official brings Tariq to the spot. As police play the silent spectator, Tariq guns Yusuf down. Having finished the job, he kneels down (sajda) while the entire jail staff salute him amid cries of Allah-o-Akbar. Thus ends the film!
At this moment, I was expecting the audience in the cinema to breakdown in similar chants. But no chants. The half-filled theatre silently goes empty. Those familiar with Abbott Road’s cinematic culture would know that the audiences here are not passive. Unable to draw any conclusions, I left too.
Next day, I met Moeen and asked him about the Khabrain reporter: ‘What happened to him.’
Our reporter became very religious, went to Dubai and sat up a business. ‘Recently, he contacted me,’ Moeen said. ‘He went bankrupt when the economic crisis hit Dubai and is back in Pakistan.’ Well, it seems Ghazis, Qadris, their abettors and eulogizers got all the freedoms. They got freedom of movement, from Pakistan to Dubai. They got freedom of expression. Syed Noors can’t be banned by any censor board. Qadris can’t be sentenced by any court.
(From Viewpoint Online)