The missing Mother and the missing Baloch
Given Pakistan’s current political situation, for those who thought that a film based in Balochistan would be the Pakistani version of Haider, watching Moor, would have come as a huge disappointment. If nothing else, one hopes that they would have returned home from the movie with a lesson in Balochistan’s
Given Pakistan’s current political situation, for those who thought that a film based in Balochistan would be the Pakistani version of Haider, watching Moor, would have come as a huge disappointment. If nothing else, one hopes that they would have returned home from the movie with a lesson in Balochistan’s geography and demography.
At least thirty percent of Balochistan cites Pashto as its mother tongue, possibly more now with the influx of Afghans and other Pashtuns. Perhaps for those who have a sense of history, they may have been reminded of what the great Baloch nationalists of the 1970s and 1980s also said, that they had no ‘objection’ to the province of Balochistan being split into two, with Balochistan’s Pashtun areas becoming part of what was once called the North West Frontier Province.
Moor is about this less-imagined part of Balochistan. By focusing on the Pashtuns of Balochistan, the movie makes an important distinction not only between the larger communities within Balochistan, but also dispels the stereotypes of all Pashtuns making a case that Balochistan’s Pashtuns are different from, but as real as, those from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This in itself, is a hugely important socio-political contribution of Moor.
Similarly, for those who were hoping to see Maxim Gorky’s revolutionary novel, also titled Mother, to play out while watching Moor, the movie would have been a great disappointment as well. When the book was first translated into Urdu and Sindhi, it transformed the lives of many young men, for whom this became their first taste of the revolution. But this was not pre-revolutionary Russia, and the mother poorly portrayed in Moor was no teacher to generations espousing revolution of the kind radicals aspired to.
Clearly, the producer/director of this movie, had no such ambitions, and nor should he have had. For him this was a movie depicting the stark natural beauty and ruggedness of Pashtun Balochistan, but with perhaps too much morality, packaged with patriotism (a different type of morality, but a morality nevertheless), and about doing one’s rightful duty. This is a moral tale, to the core, not a revolutionary one – not that revolutions are outside the pale of morality in any way.
In a superbly acted and shot film, deservedly praised, and despite ingenuous depictions of advanced modernity (such as using a smart phone to swear upon the Quran), Moor resorts to the traditional formula of redemption. It takes the death of a young man, uploaded on the internet, no less, for the protagonist to choose a (secular) path of sirat-al-mustaqeem, the straight, and hence, virtuous path. How predictable can that be.
The mother in Moor, missing in many ways, becomes a silhouette, appearing in flashbacks after her death, cajoling and espousing her husband to choose good and do the right thing. If one interprets the Moor as the motherland, she too gives us a lesson in morality, to do good not just for one’s self or for an individual, but for the nation, for the homeland. Even before redemption strikes, but perhaps anticipating a predictable redemptive turn, the morality of patriotism, of making choices about right from wrong for the country, of exposing corruption, seeking justice, all lead to forms overplayed in cinema. However, the depiction of this grand theme here lacks any notion of nuance or subtlety.
The movie depicts and captures numerous details meticulously, exceedingly well done as well. Much emphasis has gone to getting minute details right, about culture, quotidian things such as an abode, showing a fastidious concern with getting things right. In its details, this is not a sloppy movie and shows a thorough understanding of whom the movie depicts. Just visually and technically, the movie is a treat.
While some viewers have said that they preferred the first half, largely because of its culturalist depictions of the poor, mostly in Pashtun Balochistan, the Karachi half of the movie, along with the main theme of railways, links the past and the present, also showing the interconnectedness of space and time, and of course the Nation.
Along with this interconnectedness, a key underlying theme of the movie is upward social mobility. Yet the film depicts upward mobility as a crime, achievable only by being corrupt and through dubious means. This isn’t a ‘traditional’ ethnic film showing the wadera or the pugg of a chaudhry, with his minions sitting at his feet, but depicts a highly modern nation, allowing even a Pashtun rural boy from Balochistan to acquire an affluent and debauched lifestyle in Karachi, drinking Muree Beer and having a modern girlfriend to boot.
This theme of upward mobility is also played out repeatedly in rural Balochistan, where a local small-time racketeer from very humble beginnings makes it big, getting rich and acquiring the title of Sardar. He makes his money from theft and through highly dubious means, always derided and chided by those whom he grew up with, all of whom have stayed poor because they have stayed on the sirat-al-mustaqeem.
The Pashtun boy who makes it big in Karachi also does so, but only by cheating people and by making fake degrees. One can make it big in Pakistan, but only through illegal means, and eventually one gets caught (or one has a personal moment of redemption), and the nation (and family) is saved.
Despite its sexiness depicting Balochistan’s Pashtuns, Moor is a conservative movie where traditional mores win the day. It moralises and preaches with little subtlety and in the end, not surprisingly, the protagonist ends up with the traditional, dutiful and earnest naik parveen, rather than the glamorous, modern, girl. He also finds salvation and forgiveness from his estranged father, and eventually unites with him.
In what is without doubt a spectacular movie for many reasons, in this season of enhanced patriotism, sadly, the song still remains uninventive – and the same.
The writer is a political economist.