What constitutes a good movie? In my opinion it simply includes imagery, characters, situations, conflicts and thoughts, all woven into the basic fabric of the art of movie making. Please note that among all these elements I do not mention any kind of moral agenda a film should propagate to its viewers. To me if moral agenda is not the tertiary then only a secondary element of a movie which may or may not complement the movie itself.
In the case of Zinda Bhaag the moral agenda it offers to its viewers does not complement the movie as a whole; in fact it ruins a large part because it creates a split in the story. Part of the story covers the imagery and diversity; Lahoris, Lahore itself and as a city in terms of the extension of the exuberant lives of its people. And the other part wanted to make this movie worthwhile for its viewers by portraying moral issues of the people who badly want to emigrate their bodies and souls out of Pakistan. It gets even worse when the movie takes a detour and start exploring the evils of gambling as well.
This kind of creative split happens and will keep happening for another few years in this recent wave of Pakistani cinema, not because we don’t have good artists, storytellers and directors but because we as a society are not yet ready to take movies as a pure form of art. So, if our artists don’t have any specific moral agenda coherent with their artistic expression, they’ll try to push its way in it, simply to provide serviceable and welfare grounds for the social consumption of their art. For me, however, movies are not great because they give good moral messages, movies are great because they make people happy or sad and they train their viewer’s visual and listening experience, their emotions and feelings. And essentially movies (just like any other artistic expression) humanize different living conditions and its interaction with the society and nature and provide an opportunity to comprehend a part of this mad and messy world.
Zinda Bhaag falls short of greatness in many respects; I’ll highlight a couple of them. First of all Naseeruddin Shah’s character and place in the film was very disappointing. But still his amazing acting keeps the character interesting. For reasons unknown his character, called Pehalvan was created out of the boundary line of the main story. Like a set pattern his character remains on the clock throughout the film. Somebody figured out a formula to utilize his acting talents i.e. whenever the director thinks there’s a need for the screen presence of Naseer Sahib they put some tidbits from the past of Pehalvaan. Although these flashbacks were bit interesting but very soon this whole exercise becomes redundant.
Secondly, the subject of the film was unable to create a proper drama or conflict throughout the film. The conflict was there but just like many other things it played out mostly in the background. The climax was abrupt and announced in the Sufi number of Rahet Fateh Ali Khan as if it could hold all the emotional imbalance the climax has tried to create. All these things basically relate with how clear the director and script writer are about their own film before making the film. But a lot of it is understandable when you read about the challenging condition this film has been made in. There is a long way ahead for Pakistani film industry and Zinda Bhaag actually shows that we have an amazing potential to make memorable films.