Shamoon Abbasi’s “Durj” is going to be screened in the Director’s Fortnight section at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival. The film which centers on the issue of cannibalism in Pakistan will ostensibly be the first film in the country’s history to be screened at the festival which is arguably the most prestigious in the world. PakistaniCinema reached out to Shamoon Abbasi regarding the release and his hopes for the film beyond critical acclaim and prestige.
More than Just Thrills and Chills
Though the film’s subject matter and trailer make it out to be a feature filled with blood and gore, Mr. Abbasi insists that it will instead focus mainly on the mindset of the protagonist and the reasons for his descent in to cannibalism. “Durj”, which means casket in English, will not only be a shallow thrill ride or a “zombie movie”, but an examination of right and wrong and the different lenses through which people can view the world, however warped they may be.
Durj’s subject matter isn’t just pathbreaking as far as Pakistani Cinema is concerned, it’s also something that is off the beaten path anywhere in the world. Connoisseurs of niche cinema may think of 2017’s “Raw”, 2008’s “Martyrs” or even the Anurag Kashyap film “Raman Raghav 2.0”. None of those films are about cannibalism, but they sure do “push the envelope”. And if treated with good taste, many subjects considered unmentionable may become tools of self-examination, not just for an individual, but for society at large.
Mr. Abbasi seeks not only to shed light on the issue of cannibalism, but also to challenge and “engage” the audience with something different. He pointed out that the most famous case of cannibalism in Pakistan, that of the two brothers from Bhakkar, was handled very poorly by the authorities.
The brothers who were jailed in 2011, were let go in 2013 and found engaging in cannibalism again in 2014. If such crimes are committed abroad, he says, and the perpetrators are released after serving their time, constant follow ups by the authorities are mandatory in order to prevent any repeat offences. Pakistan has no such checks and balances in place.
The Censor Board
When asked about the possibility of a Pakistani release, something which Mr. Abbasi had seemed unsure about when Durj’s trailer was released, he replied, “We are not looking for a Pakistani release at the moment at all.”
While it was expected that the Pakistani Censor Board would hesitate to clear the film due to its “controversial” subject matter, it seems that the Board won’t even have the chance to reject it, at least not yet. Mr. Abbasi said he and his team were focusing on an international release so that enough press and goodwill is generated to “bypass all the crap” that one has to go through to get a film approved by the Board.
He insisted that the Censor Board didn’t want the film to be released in Pakistan. On the contrary, it was only interested in clearing harmless features which focused on glitz and glamour and would make money instead of delivering a message or engaging with the audience.
He also hit upon a lot of grievances that have been highlighted by PakistaniCinema.net regarding the Censor Board such as the absence of a uniform code and no clear rules regarding subject matter.
Does this mean that Pakistani audiences won’t see ‘Durj’ at all? Mr. Abbasi is adamant that his relationship with the audience is all he cares about and that he is trying to get as many eyes on the film as possible. As for now, ‘Durj’ is headed for Cannes and we hope that it shows the world what Pakistani artists are capable of. The film stars Shamoon Abbasi and Sherry Shah.