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    Monday, 10 October 2011

    Dracula in Pakistan: ‘Whattay scary’


    Cut to the mise en scene of a dusky chamber — replete with all the trappings of a 60s boudoir and a haunted castle. A buxom woman in white, dances, gyrates and thrusts her hips suggestively at Dr Aqil Harker (played by Asad Bukhari). Eventually, and after what feels like an eternity of dancing, she creeps up behind the good doctor and bares thick, white fangs. That is Pakistan’s very own vampire bride.
    The scene from the 1967 classic Zinda Laash (also dubbed as Dracula in Pakistan and The Living Corpse, directed by Khwaja Sarfraz) points to the quintessential flaw of desi horror cinema: the element of ‘horror’ is acutely dulled by a litany of manic song and dance routines.
    “It’s the staple diet of boredom,” says owner of Hot Spot, horror film buff and director Omar Khan. “The same old themes of romance and seduction coupled with too many songs make for a monotonous viewing experience.”
    As far as Khan is concerned, the horror genre in Pakistan remains sequestered to the 60s and 70s. “Lollywood is stuck in a rut. It’s still doing very old-school horror stuff.” He adds that India managed to remain current in this regard, with better effects to boot, appropriating and localising international horror trends (“recently, Bollywood did the whole ‘Japanese Trend,’ adapting films like The Grudge”).
    Other than cornerstone classics like Zinda LaashSar Kata Insaan, and retro Zibahkhana (2007, directed by Khan) he finds it hard to pinpoint the last impact-heavy scary film in Pakistan. He does name a few Pashto titles like Da Vino Jaam (“It’s a Pashto vampire movie”) and Loord Bala (“Classic Pashto horror — very graphic, very sexual”).
    Even the Pashto titles follow a basic, age-old formula for horror flicks in the subcontinent. Khan defines it adequately: woman is raped, left for dead, brought back to life by a freakish incident of fate or thejadhoo (magic) of a passing Tantric, and returns for vengeance with a full monty of seductive dance and song numbers. The influence of the 1978 cult classic I Spit on Your Grave, which follows a similar plot trajectory of the ‘wronged woman’, is heavy in the region.
    To remedy this dearth of cogent film-making in Lollywood, Khan turned to contacts in the UK to help him produce his gloriously campy opus Zibakhana, as a tribute to the genre of slasher and zombie-apocalypse films. “It was a very exciting project and a major learning experience,” comments Khan. “We casted fresh faces as well as old hands like Rehan (who plays the vampire in Zinda Laash), who has been acting since the 50s.”
    Still, Khan remarks that putting the film together was tough, especially considering the tight budget they worked on and the difficult conditions (heat, security, etc).
    Internationally, and on the internet, the movie met with mostly positive reviews, even making it to international film festivals: “We won two best film awards and one for special effects (blood and gore).” In Pakistan, where adequate film make-up and special effects are sorely lacking, this can be seen as a major achievement. “We were really proud of the award,” adds Khan.
    Yet the Pakistani horror industry’s true state of affairs really came to the fore after Zibakhana’s release when Khan dealt with — and was severely disillusioned by — the lack of market interest and shoddy representation from local media conglomerates.
    “Again, seduction, vengeance and romance are popular themes,” adds Khan. More often than not, these themes tend to override the seriousness of horror substituting them with topics and issues that are more commercially viable.
    Published in The Express Tribune, October 10th, 2011.

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