Cast: Naghma, Sudhir, Haider, Afzal Khan, Nabeela, Aslam Parvez
Director: Riaz Ahmed
Writer: Nasir Adeeb (debut)
Synopsis: Zerqa’s poor cousin is also a spectacularly blatant rip off and miserable successor to an established classic.
In 1969 Producer Director Riaz Shahid scored one of the biggest successes in Pakistani cinema history with potent story of a struggle for freedom under brutal repression. Whether you agree or not with Zerqa’s political orientation there can be no denying that it carried a mighty emotional punch which drew in the masses to the ticket counters as never before as in Karachi the film became the first ever in Pakistan cinema history to cross the 100 week barrier; a Diamond Jubilee in local parlance.
The direction was astute and the cast in top form with Allauddin and Talish in legendary roles and of course Neelo, who was the director’s wife, producing arguably her finest ever work. By Pakistani cinema standards Zerqa is unquestionably a masterpiece in terms of sheer drama and storytelling and emotional impact. There was not a dry eye in the house as thousands left the theatres back in the day in an emotional daze as the film reached it’s memorable climax. But, this is a review of a 1971 film by the name of Al-Assifa and not of Zerqa yet it is relevant to bring the 1969 block buster into this discussion because Al-Assifa attempts very much the same tone; The story though based on a novel by Nasir Adeeb follows a very similar path to Zerqa and even some of the cast members, notably Talish are tracing the same steps as they followed in the 1969 classic.
Al-Assifa contains large amounts of stirring, hard hitting dialogs from the onset but after a while they wear thin and appear almost comical and cliché to the point of farce. The wartime backdrop, supposedly somewhere around the Golan Heights appears more like somebody’s back yard with mountains drawn on pieces of cardboard and the shrubbery seems to be random twigs attached by scotch tape. Due to budget limitations almost all the footage is of individual soldiers being ambushed and jumped. Some tanks make an appearance during the latter half of the movie but they look suspiciously like stock footage.
There is a tremendous amount of huffing and puffing about gallantry and honour and martyrdom; the usual thing and it quickly gets very repetitive and loses whatever impact it may have had. It is pretty evident that this film was a shameless attempted cash-in at the Box Office on the coat-tails of Zerqa but it’s so much like a home made episode of infantile “cowboys and Indians” that even a fairly naïve cinema going public saw through the shameless rip-off and chose to save their money; the film failing miserably at the Box Office.
The Zerqa template is followed as closely as possible but without any of the impact. The film plays like a hammy kindergarten version of Zerqa with its clichés about Shaheeds, ghazis, gustaakhs, yahudis, watan ka lahu flying thick and fast and production values that would perhaps be embarrassing for even a school production. Sudhir plays the leader of one faction of the freedom fighters and Naghma disgusted that her father turned out to be a backstabbing traitor to the cause, joins the freedom fighters and has more than a soft spot for Sudhir. Naghma does her best to look fierce and determined and grimace at various tortures meted out to her by the brutal General played of course by Talish. In one scene he wrenches off her nails one by one as she refuses to cough up vital information. Several other women also display their gallantry and fearlessness during the course of the movie and when spirits are down, all it takes is a stirring song to up the recruitment drive again.
Al-Assifa is a pretty thoughtless and it has to be said, brainless attempt at cashing in on the massive success enjoyed by Zerqa which had just left cinemas when Al-Assifa’s promos started appearing. The film lacks anything other than bombastic cliché dialogs and a whole lot of hot air and the action and war scenes are horribly stagey and unconvincing. Even without the comparison to Zerqa the film fails as a confused infantile caper with a whole bunch of Lollywood extras playing let’s pretend Cowboys and Indians, but in this case the scenario happens to be the Palestinian Israeli conflict. Al-Asifa tries so hard to be Zerqa but it ends up as a pretty pathetic, anemic imitation and while Zerqa is still talked about today, absolutely nobody but a few hardcore Lollywood historians have even heard of Al-Asifa.