Khel Khel Mein-1639207374147
A still from the Pakistani film 'Khel Khel Mein' Image Credit: Supplied

The first Pakistani film to release in theatres in two years, every since the global pandemic hit, deals with the subject of Bangladeh’s war of independence in 1971.

‘Khel Khel Mein’, out now in UAE cinemas, follows a group of students in Pakistan who explore the history of their nation’s turbulent past through a theatre festival as it deals with the subject of the struggles faced in East Pakistan 50 years ago before it gained independence as Bangladesh.

“In the last 50 years, we haven’t produced any art or literature on the ‘Fall of Dhaka’, let alone a film,” said Bilal Abbas, 29, the lead actor of ‘Khel Khel Mein’.

Bilal Abbas with the newcomers on location of KHEL KHEL MEIN-1639207351744
Bilal Abbas with the cast of 'Khel Khel Mein' Image Credit: Supplied

Abbas wouldn’t go into the whys of the subject but simply added: “Maybe it’s a bit too sensitive [topic], because Pakistan lost the war.”

Talking exclusively to Gulf News, ahead of the film’s UAE release, the award-winning TV actor said ‘Khel Khel Mein’ was “an effort on our part, to reconnect with our Bangladeshi brethren.”

This is the very narrative the film’s script is built around, which explores the turbulent history from Pakistan’s perspective. It is also part of a powerful monologue by film’s female protagonist, Zara, played by actress Sajal Aly who proved her acting prowess in films such as ‘Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hay’ and the Bollywood movie ‘Mom’.

‘Khel Khel Mein’ is set in present-day Pakistan where a group of young college students are gearing up for a theatre festival to be held in Bangladesh.

Aly’s Zara sees this as an opportunity to revisit the subject with her motivation coming from a deeply personal place — the war separated her grandparents, one of whom was left behind in the newly formed Bangladesh and the other built a home in Pakistan.

Sajal Ali in a still from KHEL KHEL MEIN-1639207363587
Sajal Aly in Khel Khel Mein Image Credit: Supplied

While there is some resistance from the college administration over the choice of theme, the students manage to go ahead with the play, which they name ‘Khel Khel Mein’. Eventually, the festival group lands in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, to present their side of the war with their deeply personal tales and war wounds.

The movie has already opened to favourable reviews in Pakistan, with the added attraction is that Abbas and Aly have reunited on screen after a long time — their last project together was the popular Urdu drama, ‘O Rangreza’ (2017).

Abbas insisted that ‘Khel Khel Mein’s USP, other than its subject, is its young appeal. “Youth is a segment of society that’s often been overlooked by local filmmakers,” he said.

But screenwriter-director Nabeel Qureshi and his faithful producer-co-writer Fizza Ali Mirza have proved to be an anomaly in the Pakistan entertainment industry, with their films having always managed to woo young crowds, be it with the ‘Na Maloom Afraad’ franchise, ‘Actor In Law’, or ‘Load Wedding’.

Nabeel Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza on location of KHEL KHEL MEIN-1639207358672
Director Nabeel Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza on location for 'Khel Khel Mein' Image Credit: Supplied

Some may say their films could be categorised as social satires, as they invariably place the common, working-class person at the heart of a corrupt-morally depraved system. Their films tell stories that resonate with the general public. And, they tell them smartly, in the best palatable manner possible — despite modest budgets. Best described, a Qureshi-Mirza movie is like a dish that is cooked with just the right mix of song-and-dance, and is peppered over generously with local jokes, punchlines and hilarious situations that are enough to bring just the right amount of humour.

No wonder, the duo is regarded as one of Pakistan’s most successful film teams in recent history.

Speaking about her work equation with Qureshi, Aly said shehad complete faith in her director to deliver such a sensitive film with finesse. “I trusted him to tackle the subject wisely. Even as a viewer, I had always enjoyed watching his movies. I think he has a great sense of comedy.

“Besides, his screenplays are very cinematic, unlike that of many other local directors whose films have thus been written off as TV dramas. Having said that, what appealed to me about ‘Khel Khel Mein’ was that Nabeel was going to attempt something he hadn’t, before.”

Debutant Reham Rafiq on location of KHEL KHEL MEIN-1639207356315
Newcomer Reham Rafiq during the shoot of 'Khel Khel Mein' Image Credit: Supplied

‘Khel Khel Mein’ carries the same promise, except that the film’s underlying theme this time is a touch too serious for many who choose to ignore the darker chapters of history. After all, it is looking at the subcontinent’s political history, which is not often found in textbooks or factually distorted, and rarely found as a part of dialogue.

But Aly believes that “factual accuracy isn’t necessarily on the agenda when you’re making a mainstream commercial movie, because the audiences wouldn’t come to cinemas and pay for the tickets to listen to lectures. So, we did not want the lecturing to take precedence over the entertainment quotient.”

Ali Zafar has a cameo in the film. Seen here with director Nabeel Qureshi-1639207345437
Director Nabeel Qureshi with Ali Zafar. The latter has a cameo in the film Image Credit: Supplied

Similarly, the movie takes the viewer into Balochistan, the province which has long seen unrest. This makes it doubly hard for the filmmaker to keep the balance and not fall into the trap of making a propaganda movie.

Another challenge for Qureshi was to recreate the Dhaka of 1971 — in flashbacks — and of today. If the reviews of the movie are anything to go by, the director has excelled in these moments.

The film’s soundtrack suitably adds nuance to the core theme. Consider, for instance, the evocative ‘Hum Laye Hain Toofan Se Kashti Nikaal Ke,’ rendered by Asrar; or the motivational ‘Nayi Soch,’ by Shuja Haider, Jabar Abbas, Fabiha Hashmi, and others.

Aly makes a special mention of the film’s young cast which is comprised of fresh acting school graduates and amateur theatre actors who “brought raw energy to the sets.”

The theatre performance within the movie-1639207371990
A still from 'Khel Khel Mein' Image Credit: Supplied

Interestingly, Abbas, who gets to execute an extended theatrical performance within the movie, is also a graduate of the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA), Karachi. Ask him if his prior training in theatre came in handy while shooting for ‘Khel Khel Mein’, and he enthused, saying: “Yeah, it did! It especially made [shooting] the last sequence so much fun, especially the mime and dance part. Somebody who’s worked on TV, film, and theatre, has the obvious advantage because you understand the dynamics of all these mediums and can easily make the slight adjustments required thereof.”

‘Khel Khel Mein’ also has a fine supporting lineup that includes Manzar Sehbai, Samina Ahmed, Javed Sheikh, and Alyy Khan. Besides, the cameos by Sheheryar Munawwar and Ali Zafar are to watch out for.


Don’t miss it!

‘Khel Khel Mein’ is screening in UAE cinemas