Monday, December 02, 2013

SAIFF ’13: Anima State

Life is cheap in Pakistan.  Toting a gun will not raise any eyebrows, but a camera will quickly attract suspicion. This grimly ironic reality provided the initial germ of inspiration for Hammad Khan’s defiantly outraged Anima State (trailer here), which will have its world premiere at the 2013 South Asian International Film Festival.

His face is bandaged like the Invisible Man.  Do not bother asking the Stranger’s name or backstory.  What matters is that he is angry and armed. He is about to embark on a killing spree, but it will not raise much of a fuss. Unsatisfied with his mounting body count, he resolves to commit suicide if he can find a large enough audience.  An anchor for a nakedly propagandistic news network is happy to oblige.  However, the ostensive journalist’s leading questions about America, Britain, and India are not taking the opening interview where the Stranger wants it to go.

Perhaps none of that really happened.  Maybe the Stranger was really the product of an unnamed filmmaker’s subconscious.  While the cops were content to let his armed-and-dangerous alter ego walk about freely, they instinctively clamp down on someone apparently engaged in either art or journalism.

If you see an angrier film than Anima State this year, it certainly was not because Khan lacked conviction.  Time and again, he calls out contemporary Pakistani culture for normalizing violence and misogyny.  Frankly, the film inspires real world concerns, particularly for Malika Zafar, the bold actress playing the “Archetypes of Woman,” including a battered wife and a prostitute, whose sexual confidence causes the Stranger no end of angst.

There is no getting around Anima’s ragged edges, but there is power in its grunginess.  Produced with the revenue generated by Khan’s relatively apolitical Slackistan (which was banned in Pakistan nonetheless), Anima represents independent filmmaking at its most independent.  Khan has a lot to say about the nexus between the government and the media and how they scapegoat youtube videos and the like.  He clearly admonishes Pakistan to look inside rather than outside for the source of its woes, which is never a well received message.

The mere fact that Khan successfully followed through on the concept of Anima is a tribute to him and his cast and crew.  If at times it is a bit confusing or overindulges in the surrealist vibe, then so be it.  A bracing indictment of institutionalized intolerance, Anima State is a must-see for anyone concerned about the future of cinema in Pakistan and the wider Islamic world.  Recommended for those who can handle its rough aesthetic and truth-telling essence, it premieres this Wednesday (12/4) at the SVA Theatre as part of this year’s SAIFF.