Sunday, January 30, 2011

You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss

Casablanca: a screening by the South Asian Free Media Association
At first, it seems a little incongruous that Casablanca, a movie full of intrigue, glamour, and copious amounts of cigarette smoke, is set to air, almost every Friday, in the spartan conference room of the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA). But as the room fills with guests and assorted reporters, it becomes clear that the film still finds much attention, even to this day, and that the venue is set on making sure that this iconic production remains available to the public as a source of pop-cultural entertainment, inspiration, and nostalgia.
“We decided long ago to play movies here, movies from all cultures. We get a lot people, especially when we screen a film like Casablanca, which is popular with many generations,” says SAFMA’s Ali Imran.
“Yes, we play a lot of classic films, documentaries, and movies from the third world,” cuts in Ishfaq Salim Mirza, also of SAFMA, minutes before his brief introduction to the screening. Once on the podium, he briefs us about the movie’s production: made in 1942, the wartime film centres around the themes of intrigue, romance, politics, and a destabilised political situation [the Vichy regime in France and occupied French Morocco].
Mirza then invites Aijaz Gul, esteemed film critic, to share further words about the cult classic. A particular reference by Gul sticks: he mentions that World War II created interference for the movie’s production, a wartime bulwark of sorts; hence, the movie was rushed. We, of course, know all too well the effects of troubled politics on the film industry, or at least whatever’s left of it in Pakistan. Insert: Slackistan.
Later, when asked about Casablanca’s relevance to Pakistani predicaments, Gul waxes lyrical: “Yes, it’s definitely relatable here because it is a war time romance, full of lost love, sacrifice, and self-restraint.”
The movie begins and transports us to an exotic world, entirely studio made as Gul points out in his introduction. A vista, inspired from French Morocco, opens before us with languid palm trees, street merchants/peddlars, and, after a few minutes into the movie, we get a glimpse of the fashionable Rick’s CafĂ©, brimming with Casablanca’s Beau-Monde  and a host of other notorious characters.
“A minute doesn’t go by when Bogey isn’t smoking a cigarette,” remarks Gul, with slight reverence in his voice for Bogart.  Also, audible sighs breeze through the SAFMA conference room when Ingrid Bergman, as Elsa, sparkles on the screen with her demure, glinting eyes and soft voice. Judging by the audience response, it seems that the Bogart-Ingrid combo brings many back to older days- a feeling of reminiscence is palpable.
“It’s very nostalgic, this film,” says Naghma Imdad after the screening, “It brings me back to younger days. It’s a wonderful thing that the SAFMA plays movies like these.”
Verily, it’s a noble effort on SAFMA’s part to screen some of the industry’s most monumental and monolithic films, regardless of the fact that they may or may not be from the this region. Those interested in film classics should definitely check out this venue and its various programmes.
So here’s lookin at you, Islamabad.

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