Taxali Gate, Abu Aleeha’s latest feature film will hit theaters on February 16th, 2024. Named after the old gate of Lahore, the film focuses on a court case and caste discrimination.
Despite its seemingly dark tone, the film is a black comedy by Abu Aleeha’s own admission. We caught up with him to find out more about what lies inside ‘Taxali Gate’.
What is ‘Taxali Gate’ About?
The ‘Taxali Gate’ trailer heavily features the word “Kanjar”. While it’s the name of a caste, “Kanjar” can be used to demean people of lower castes, prostitutes, dancers, musicians, etc.
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Figure 1: Taxali Gate was the site of the old Heera Mandi district in Lahore and where musicians and dancers used to stay. Taxali Gate itself was destroyed in the British colonial times.
‘Taxali Gate’ the film, is the story of people from the Kanjar caste and about how justice is denied to them because of their caste. It features Mehr Bano as a young girl who is assaulted and Ayesha Omer as a prostitute who joins her in a fight for justice.
How Did Abu Aleeha Get the Idea for ‘Taxali Gate’?
Abu Aleeha usually brainstorms ideas during tea breaks at Anarkali Bazaar sitting amongst labourers and the working class. He often hears common people talking about their own problems which gives him fodder for his scripts.
While working on the script of “Javed Iqbal/Kukri”, he overheard those same people speak ill of a man from Taxali; and all the while that man smiled and took that verbal beating.
“When someone poor faces injustice, society sides with him at least in spirit. However, with this caste (Kanjar), our attitude changes completely.”-Abu Aleeha
The story of Taxali Gate stems from this hypocrisy and injustice.
‘Taxali Gate’ is a Black Comedy
From the beginning, Abu Aleeha’s films have tackled dark subjects like riots (Tevar), gang wars (Daadal), child abuse (Javed Iqbal/Kukri), and assault (Sheenogai). However, Taxali Gate mixes a dark subject with humour.
It’s often human nature to lighten even the darkest of moods with humour, and that’s what the characters of Taxali Gate do.
“Taxali Gate will tickle your funny bone…The characters of Taxali Gate have been beaten down by society but their humour is still powerful.”
Abu Aleeha believes that this humour will keep you glued to the cinema screen from beginning to end.
‘Taxali Gate’ is a Feminist Film
Taxali Gate seems like a feminist film on the surface, and Abu Aleeha opines as much. In fact he says:
“My Cinema has always been feminist.”
His first feature “Tevar” was about a girl from Karachi fighting back against goons who invade her home during a riot.
“Sheenogai” was about a girl exacting revenge against her attackers.
Sonya Hussain in “Daadal” and Ayesha Omer in “Javed Iqbal” were both strong women characters.
‘Taxali Gate’ is no different. Ayesha Omer and Mehr Bano as well as Iffat Omar have all essayed very strong women roles.
The Music of ‘Taxali Gate’
Taxali Gate features 2 very strong songs “Haq Kidhar Hai” by Eva B and “Aakhir Jind Hai Apni” by Yashal Shahid. Both songs, composed in part by Ali Allahditta seem to drive the narrative forward.
“Haq Kidhar Hai is a feminist anthem and Aakhir Jind Hai Apni exposes the misogyny in our society.”
While his previous films have not featured music prominently, Abu Aleeha feels that Taxali Gate needed powerful music for its story.
‘Taxali Gate’ is Ayesha Omer’s First Lead Role
While she’s played the female lead in “Karachi Se Lahore”, “Rehbra” and “Javed Iqbal”, Ayesha Omer has never been the sole lead of a film. Taxali Gate is her show through and through.
Abu Aleeha wrote the role with her in mind after the two worked together in “Javed Iqbal”. He felt she’d been typecast in glamourous roles. He realized her potential as a serious actor and so she’s the lead in Taxali Gate.
She even has a producing credit.
“You will come out of Taxali Gate applauding Ayesha Omer’s talent.”
‘Taxali Gate’ has a Rich Cast
Taxali Gate features actors Abu Aleeha has worked with before including Yasir Hussain and Ayesha Omer, but it also features Alyy Khan, Babar Ali, Iftikhar Thakur and Iffat Omar.
How did he get all these people in a film together? Abu Aleeha says the script and characters for Taxali Gate were strong enough to lure actors in.
The producers also managed to negotiate near market value payments for the cast.
“I thank all my actors, especially Iffat Omer, Khalid Anum, Babar Ali and Alyy Khan because while their characters are very strong, their screen times are short.”
Abu Aleeha is all praise for his cast and crew including Mehr Bano for whom this is her first prominent film role.
How Does Abu Aleeha Make So Many Films?
Most Pakistani directors, those with several connections, resources, and experience, fail to even get one film off the ground.
Abu Aleeha has made and released 12!
That makes him the most prolific director to have come out of Pakistani cinema’s new wave. At any point in the year, he has one or two films in the pipeline. How has he managed this?
Simple: Low budgets.
“Low budget filmmaking is the only thing that can save Pakistani cinema.”
Abu Aleeha admits wholeheartedly that he doesn’t know professional screenplay writing or direction. Yet, most of his films, if not all, have made a profit or have recovered their budgets.
“In Pakistan an indie film shouldn’t cost more than 1.5 Crores. And a commercial film shouldn’t cost more than 3 Crores.”
That’s why producers always back his movies. They know they won’t suffer financial losses. They will get their money back from the box office, television deals, OTT rights, or international screenings.
Producers trust Abu Aleeha.
He doesn’t bother with expensive PR companies, huge sets, or expensive promotions. He sticks to the funds and the timeline that he has promised.
Abu Aleeha also boasts, and perhaps rightly so, that ‘Super Punjabi’ was the only Pakistani film in 2023 which made a profit. All others suffered losses.
“No films are making money in Pakistan right now, but at least my films aren’t suffering losses.”
Abu Aleeha Works With an Army of Underdogs
Aside from low budgets, Abu Aleeha credits his modest success to his “mad” cast and crew. They leave the house at Fajr, shoot for an 18-hour day, and are back the next day for the same.
“This Industry doesn’t need people who make 1 film in 10 years, but those who make 10 films in 1 year. We need films every Friday.”
What is Abu Aleeha’s Hope for ‘Taxali Gate’?
Abu Aleeha hopes for the success of his film in festivals and at the box office. He hopes that it’ll win acclaim abroad and profits for its producers Shabbir Shah, Waqas Rizvi, and Ayesha Omar.
He believes that ‘Taxali Gate’ will also win him respect as a screenwriter and director.
‘Taxali Gate’ hits theaters across Pakistan, UK and Canada on the 16th of February.