Pak, Salman and international gorilay!
Three Punjabi men get into the Pacific mansion of the world’s deadliest Dr Dang, Salman Rushdie, who sprays bullets at them from his machine gun. If I hadn’t seen this film, I couldn’t have vouched for the fact that it really does exist.
International Gorilay (1990)
Director: Jan Mohamed
Actors: Javed Sheikh, Afzal Ahmad
Bottles of Chivas and champagne crack open as sinful drinks get poured into wine glasses, stirred with teaspoons. Everyone clinks their glasses. Light skinned, light eyed women join in.
Chief Batu Batu in a red trilby hat exults, “All the greatest crooks of the world have gathered here today to destroy Islam… If this doesn’t happen, all small Muslim states will merge into a superpower.” Pakistan is the fortress of this Islamic world. Commander JC is supposed to head this operation to destroy Pakistan. What the other portly Lahori men speaking in Punjabi at this long table are meant to do, we don’t know at this point. Neither are we sure what the mission is likely to be. How would we know?
So far we’ve been horsing around with the film’s two Robin Hood heroes, blood-brothers in cowboy hats – look-alikes of Feroz Khan and Anil Kapoor – who gate-crash into rich people’s parties, spray tear gas and raid on all the wealth. Their current target is one Mr Ganpat Gupta. Their third brother’s a cop, who finally brings them home. They promise to never mess with the law again. Our announcement will appear in the papers tomorrow, they mysteriously declare. The sister-in-law they admire the most is glad.
The film starts next morning. It’s February 14, 1989, quite obviously: a day of shared love in the western world. Newspaper reports scream: “A new Rajpal is born. Salman Rushdie calls Koranic verses, satanic verses. Ayatollah Khomeini issues fatwa.” A table globe spins with the headlines.
The sister-in-law, deeply offended, praying to God, demands the head of the offender of Mohammed. Her beloved brothers-in-law show her the kind of respect hardly reserved for other women in the film. The husband joins in too. A riot breaks out, or as the film suggests, gets orchestrated on the streets of Pakistan, where the police mercilessly attack the mobs. This is a supposed recreation of an actual riot that took place in Islamabad in protest of Satanic Verses. The family in the film loses lives.
The trio, Brothers Kalshnikov becomes, as they’d later call themselves, raising their guns over their heads, the “intaarnational gorilay” on a mission to kill Salman Rushdie. This should be easy as movie missions go. If only you knew who Salman Rushdie is: a Booker prize winning writer, naah. An international fighter? Yes.
Rushdie’s mansion is on a secluded private island in the Pacific.
Commandos protect his every move. Debauched Dubai sheikhs fraternise with this devil who proclaims, “I am that Satan who caused a storm in the Islamic world.” Rushdie could be Dr Dang from Subhash Ghai’s Karma (1986). In real life, he could’ve been picked for that villain’s role, if the great director Ghai had met the novelist before casting Anupam Kher: their body types and bald pates are similar; they wear rimmed glasses, and a beard that thickens at the goatee.
The Rushdie we finally see in this film looks nothing like the writer: actor Afzal Ahmad has full hair, wears slick double-breasted suits and designer loafers, talks in crisp Urdu-Punjabi, and generally loves spraying bullets from his machine gun, when he’s not slitting throats of the faithful. Censors have rarely been favorable to Rushdie. They skip his lines (at least on YouTube) even in a film that professes to kill him! The international gorilay infiltrate Rushdie’s den dressed as Arab sheikhs. This, they would’ve learnt from countless Hindi films, particularly from the ‘70s.
Pakistan’s film industry for long and especially after the late ‘70s, has lived under the wonderfully long shadow of the deliciously worst of Bollywood. This film I had picked up with greater hope. I had first read about it in the British Film Institute’s list of the 10 best Pakistani films, ever. International Gorilay ranks fourth on that list, its Indian equivalent, on the same spot in the Indian chart, being Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957). Pyaasa may be a dark, romantic masterpiece. The deathly violence of this film comes with fair dose of romance as well.
The international gorilay aren’t averse to love while they’re on their mission of hate. The doe-eyed beauty, a “yahudi” (Jewish) girl fancies the demented hero, quite suddenly, claims to be in love with him. Out of the blue, in a sequence that should put Saawan Kumar Tak to shame, she asks him to shoot her, since religion won’t allow their union. The hero (Javed Sheikh) picks up the pistol, starts firing at her, presumably missing his target each time as she keeps dancing to, “Chal gayi, ishq ki goli chal gayi (Fired, love’s bullets have been fired),” set to the opening riffs of the Madhuri Dixit song, “I love you Raja.” This is, I suppose, poetry for the proletariat. One of the advantages of being Afghanistan’s neighbour, I suppose, is the freely available quantities of fine drugs that can inspire great art.
I could do with some as well, as I take in, with horrendously long breaks, the picture in 13 equal parts on YouTube. The film’s essentially a series of climax sequences as boats race each other, squeaky bazookas fire away, and enough bombs go off to shut down an explosives factory in Peshawar. Surely there must be a sequence that stands out.
Hell, yeah, clearly the second most memorable moment from this movie (the first, as you an tell, is yet to come). Rushdie gets invited to inaugurate the “world’s biggest disco cum casino.” The event is highly publicised. Rushdie would like it that way. All the detractors know of the villain’s presence. The gambling den opens, item girls starts their performance, in walks Rushdie, joined by two other look-alikes. International gorillay finally know where to find him. There is but one way to ensure nobody knows they’re the gorilay after all.
The three of them turn up in Batman suit, cape and a machine gun; casually enter, instead of flying in, where Rushdie is, to realise, his look-alikes keep multiplying. None of the Rushdies is real. “If everyone in the world looked like you, we’d kill all of them,” says Batman. The trio had already killed one of the villain’s decoys at the interval. Magical realism is complete. So is the black comedy. Writer Rushdie or his fans may have enjoyed both, if it wasn’t so close to a farcical reality.
A similar scene plays out at the Jaipur Literary Festival, about 24 years after the publication of Satanic Verses. Salman Rushdie, critically acclaimed essayist and novelist of Indian origin, free to express himself in his adopted country, writer of 15 books besides the Satanic Verses, isn’t allowed to step into a literary meet in India merely because some men don’t like his face. A mirror image of that face has to be streamed live on video instead.
Merely a dozen or so beardos land up at the lawns, where those gathered, thousands of them, are quietly listening to Tom Stoppard describing the art of playwriting. The beardos suggest they can’t have Rushdie come on video after. They have no weapons, no crowds supporting them, no constitution to back them, only a bunch of cameramen and reporters recording their serious statements. The video link is cancelled. Rushdie’s interviews plays on national television after. No one cares. A few bad men, or Bat Men, could silence the voice of a majority in a minute, with merely a glance, and a supposed threat. They had to be super-heroes.
However, Rushdie does get his final say in this film. The sister-in-law who’d sent off the international gorilay is captured. He orders for her a punishment worse than death: that she be made to listen to his book Satanic Verses all night! This is the ultimate sin, she cries, my prophet, make me deaf, or kill me, or send me a follower of Mohammed! You feel for her. It’s the sort of desperately delivered plea only actor Rakhee could match in Karan Arjun (1995): “Mere Karan Arjun aayenge. Dharti ka seena cheerkar ayenge!” Karan Arjun, the international gorilay, do return.
Instead of killing them all, Rushdie ties them up, sits on a chair, waiting to watch a miracle happen while they sing in praise of God, letters in Arabic flash in the cloudy sky. “Salman can reach America in a minute, talk to Israel in two minutes, when will God hear your voice?” Chief Batu Batu taunts them.
Finally, in a scene that movies are made for, multiple copies of the Koran fly in to surround Rushdie as lightning strikes. He can’t bear the noise, covers his ears, bullets pierce through the lightning to strike at his fingers and hands: Rushdie goes up in flames.
Producer Sajjad Gul told the New York Times he’d invested $500,000, huge Bollywood budget by ‘90s standards, to make this film. The picture, by some accounts a commercial success in Pakistan, was temporarily banned from the video circuit in Britain, fearing criminal libel issues arising out of the “inflammable” (pun unintended) material. The ban was overturned at the personal insistence of Rushdie himself.
The author had argued he was confident that viewers, non-Muslim as well as Muslim, would recognise the film ”for the distorted, incompetent piece of trash that it is.” He later reasoned, “If that film had been banned, it would have become the hottest video in town: everybody would’ve seen it.” Clearly Rushdie knew a thing or two about hot underground material. A third of his life has been centred on a fuss over a book that no one’s read. If they did, I suspect, they wouldn’t have got it either. He remains best known for it still, the world’s deadliest villain ever.
Watch International Gorilay here.
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