PolEcReMo. My Take

Movie Review: Khamosh Pani (2003)

Posted in Movies, Religion by Ali Athar on July 18, 2008

I pray too, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think.

Zubeida’s disappointment with her ex-lover Saleem described the essence of the film Khamosh Pani, or Silent Waters. The unending struggle between literalist interpretation of religion and a more moderate approach to it has been captured beautifully in the 1979 Charkhi village in the province of Punjab. The year also marked the advent of the Zia’s Islamic value system imposed on the country, which we saw being implicated in the small dusty Punjabi village. We see the simple lifestyle of the villagers being transformed by the politically-oriented city boys of Lahore.

Certainly, Lahori influence on the Charkhi village is not unprecedented. Islamic history is replete with such examples where the conservative literalists that advocated imitation of the Islamic jurisprudence clashed with the liberal reformers who supported broadening of the sources of understanding by reconciling Western philosophies with their Islamic counterparts. Where the Abbasid caliph Al-Ma’mun’s reign of religious and cultural open-mindedness catapulted Islamic arts and sciences and ushered the Islamic Golden Age, the later Abbasid Al-Qadir’s outlawing of Mu’tazili school effectively ended the philosophy in Islamic thought. The great philosopher Ibn-Sina’s (Avicenna) reconciling of Western thought with Islamic overtone was later challenged by Al-Ghazali (Algazel) who rejected Hellenic philosophy as mere heresy. Moorish Spain saw similar trends as Abd-ar-Rahman III’s reign featured freedom of religion, but the later invasions of the conservative Almohad Berbers saw Jew and Christians being persecuted and expelled from Iberian peninsula. Khamosh Pani portrays this classical scuffle in a Punjabi flavor in the modern post-partition era where Charkhi’s way of live is under siege.

Khamosh Pani, directed by Sabiha Sumer, a filmmaker of Pakistani descent, is a story of middle-aged woman named Ayesha who lives with her son Saleem in the village in central Punjab. After her husband’s death, she is left with her only son, who in turn is in love with the local girl, Zubeida. All is well until two religio-political students enter the village. With their sugar-coated message of spiritual rejuvenation, these two set in motion the process of religious partisanship based on their rigid interpretation of piousness. Later, these devouts storm the Sikh yatrees, who came to the village for their annual pilgrimage

One can easily denounce the methods of those two boys as self-serving and agenda-oriented, but seeing the locals turning into marauding machines (in one part, we see the local villagers armed with bamboo sticks charging through the market to threaten the Sikh pilgrims) can terrify just about anybody. May be this could help explain Veero’s loss of hope for his son towards the end of the movie as he too has crossed the Rubicon and she does the unthinkable.

The film is wedded with so many explicit and implicit incidents, that to interpret them in a single article is not possible. The local barber’s outburst at the mullah that “Do I need a kid like you to tell me what Allah has or hasn’t decreed,” the mullah’s raising of girl school’s walls so that “they could be confined to their homes, ” and the mullah’s rendering of VCR as “an American machine” speak volume of narrow-mindedness of the religio-political inclined mullah.

The film ends on an interesting, but cynical note. We see two advertisements; one says “crescent” and the other “liberty.” The former being the part of the national flag of Pakistan and its Islamic character and the latter being its true intention behind its founding. But, this idealism was crushed early on at the hands of inept rulers paving the way for more organized clergy to step in. Now, these two adverts could very well be the classical dichotomy undermining the existence of the country.