Cast: Mumtaz, Ghulam Mohiuddin, Tanzeem Hassan, Bahar, Ilyas Kashmiri, Zahir Shah, Nasrullah Butt, Jaggi Malik, Altaf Khan, Iqbal Durrani
Director: Arshad Mirza
Nutshell: Classic D Grade KC Bokadia Classic Teri Mehrebaniyan earns itself a typically demented Punjabi Lollywood version. Utterly diabolical.
This movie Gangwa had been on the radar and the “Must watch” list for a while now, especially as it turns out it was a follow up to the directors’ initial “animal” classic “Chan Heera” which featured a superb prehistoric chimpanzee (think, man in an ape suit) and was surprisingly a hit with the ladies due to its heavy emotional content. There are scenes in “Chan Heera” where the Chimp is sobbing as he gives his human sisters hand away in marriage. All rather charming and bewildering considering how animals are regarded and treated in these parts.
Clearly Arshad Mirza, buoyed on by the accolades and profit made by Chan Heera and egged on by eager financers signed on to follow the earlier classic with a new animal oriented film and this time they would borrow the basic plot and main theme song from Teri Mehrebaniyan which had been a surprise hit in the 1980s, a time when Bollywood was producing either art or fart cinema with the fart being represented by the Kader Khan brand of movies as well as the hideous “Disco” movies of Mithun, Govinda and co. The Darkest days of Bollywood finally rescued by the arrival of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak which rescued local cinema from the dregs it had become.
Gangwa stars Ghulam Mohiuddin at his loudest and most boisterous Punjabi mode along with Mumtaz who by the 1990s was not quite the vivacious Brenda Vaccaro like anti-heroine who had bombed Lollywood with her sexy manner and croaky voice in the early 70s. Also, in the mix are Malka e Jazbaat Bahar, once again at her most vociferous Punjabi Crazed vengeful mother mode – a role she could have played in her sleep it was demanded of her over and over again a million times. Veteran Ilyas Kashmiri is there shouting as loud as his ageing lungs will allow, Zahir Shah, another known for bombast and booming dialog deliver as well as the usual thugs and villains in Nasrullah Butt, Juggi Malik etc. All familiar Lollywood faces, the kind that play the same role in every film they appear in.
And so, the scene is that Rangi, a much-loved pillar of the village community and hardworking earnest farmer has just gotten married to his sweetheart but the marriage night fun is being interrupted by his beloved pet Bear Gangwa who he is as devoted to as the bear is to him. They are like brothers much to the irritation of the new wife who yearns for some attention for herself. She is jealous of her husband spending more time with his bear than with her.
Indeed, one day, obviously driven slightly mad by her unfulfilled sexual desire she gives her husband an ultimatum; wife or bear? When he refuses to part with his bear she troops off in a rage and on the way is accosted by several brightly coloured and very loud and fat goons who laugh heartily in typically villainous style for a good five minutes before making their lecherous intentions very clear. The wife, as righteous Punjabi girls do, gives as good as she gets and refuses to budge but when met with brute force, she has no chance. Fortunately, out of the blue and from the skies like a phantom arrives Gangwa in full on beast mode and leaps onto each of the goons, tearing into them mercilessly while the damsel in distress chirps away in delight. After that day she promises to love and care for Gangwa just as her husband does.
Life is blissful and the happy couple often burst into the theme song which borrows from the tune of Teri Meherbaniyan, a film so typically trite and such a perfect example of the mildewed, rotten cheese of the 1980s that it has been rightfully saluted by Gangs of Wasseypur along with the horrendous slice of 80s shit, Qasam Paida Karne Wale Ki with our very own “Jungle ki Beti” Salma Agha. The blissful period is shattered with the arrival of some more goons from the adjacent village who have a beef with Rangi’s lot and aim to illegally usurp their land and so an ugly standoff occurs with the usual posturing and shouting followed by long drawn out fight scenes which often involve Gangwa arriving in the nick of time to save the day.
Bloodshed and Mayhem follow as Rangi is murdered along with several others leaving a grieving Bahar with a young child that is subsequently groomed and brought up by Gangwa himself to grow up into the fine upright and incredibly handsome Ghulam Mohiuddin. Like most Pakistani Punjabi films revenge is what is on everyone’s mind and indeed revenge is what drives and motivates them. Every person has something or someone to avenge, widows, daughters, sons, pets, mothers you name it…everybody is out for blood and they have to shout a hell of a lot to let everybody know just how bloody pissed off they are. It’s the way Lollywood Punjabi films are!
So, the film proceeds with scenarios of goons confronting goons, shouting fancily written, ridiculous OTT vengeful couplets to each other (much like a Rap disssing session) pulling out their guns (which rarely hit their targets) and then pulverizing one another to a pulp with Gangwa often arriving to make his presence felt. After this you will have the village belle with the hots for our young vengeful hero Ghulam Mohiuddin springing out of nowhere to sing and dance for a bit before we hit the next confrontational shouting match that leads to a protracted ten minute fight scene and intervention by Gangwa, another song which is followed by the mother taking up her gun and taking on the goons, then another confrontation, more fights, another song more fights until you reach the obligatory running time of above 2 hours and finally the bad guys die and don’t get to walk away for another day!
In between you have emotionally charged flashback scenes with the angels singing at the top of their voices, reminiscing of days of joy when Rangi, his lovely wife and Gangwa would frolic together and go out for picnic and generally hang out together lovingly like the perfect family. The Teri Meherbaniyan song is repeated each time we have these loving flashbacks, designed to release a flood of tears from an emotionally charged audience.
After half an hour of the film, you know exactly what’s coming for the rest of the 90 minutes plus and indeed the cycle of song, confrontation, fight, mother shouting scene, song, confrontation, fight, tearful flashbacks, song, confrontation, fight, mother shouting scene, flashbacks……and it goes on until the end and the torture session is over! Pretty much sums up this monstrosity of a movie in a nutshell for you.
The other aspect of the film is that it unintentionally highlights the plight of the bears in Pakistan who are used for the worst form of exploitation and tortured, starved and beaten and their teeth all removed so that they can perform like idiots and earn money for their captors. It’s the worst indignity and slavery and exploitation and is seen as the norm in our society. Fortunately, things are starting to change and there is a law in place (which nobody is aware of yet) that entitles a criminal case to be made against anyone mistreating animals in Pakistan. Bear bating is an old subject in Pakistan and these parts. The bears need to be left alone to live in their natural habitat NOT forcibly dragged to villages and cities to be stripped of all their dignity in order to be exploited as slaves. Beaten, starved and ultimately discarded to die when they cannot “perform”.
Though Gangwa attempts to depict animals in a positive light it misses the point by a mile even if the attempt at showing the bear taking part in a “Dhamaal” is somehow trying to justify the bear being treated, manacled and exploited as he is. Not comfortable viewing for somebody who is concerned about how animals are treated by humans in society generally. Also giving them the worst human attributes such as revenge, is so typical of us humans. Animals don’t keep grudges generally, humans do.
There is another thought, why would a film featuring a dog (rather more compliant and manageable than a bear) be remade as a film with a far less expressive and human-friendly and dangerous animal such as a bear? The answer lies probably in religious norms though again there are differing views on this subject depending on your interpretation of the text. Most Pakistani’s think of dogs as being “untouchable” and that they somehow make you less pure or less worthy of attaining that wonderful special suite in heaven when it comes to the time. Another school of thought is that If a dog touches you, you may have to change your clothes or wash those clothes instantly otherwise your prayers may not be accepted.
Dogs in Pakistan are a no, no and thus the decision had to be taken to axe the dog and instead have a bear appear as the major star of the film. A bear that has had all its teeth forcibly extracted, a bear who is in manacles, a bear who is beaten and starved until it performs. A bear who has no life at all nor any choice in any matter at all. A bear who is probably better off dead.