Pakistan’s Oscar entry ‘Laal Kabootar’ is Karachi noir par excellence


A still from ‘Laal Kabootar’.  
VIDEO/You Tube

Kamal Khan’s heady concoction of crime and class ties up well with South Korean actioners

There is a sense of verticality that stands out in the evocation of class divides in Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite. A sprawling, rich home and its hidden basement and a suffocating semi-basement at a distance become spatial attributes of the incipient hierarchies. Then there are the staircases that constantly take the characters, and in turn the viewer, up and down the high and low life, seemingly offering mobility that eventually proves to be nothing more than an illusion.

Like the Seoul of Bong, class conflicts define the Karachi of Kamal Khan’s Laal Kabootar, Pakistan’s official entry for the Oscars this year. Only, here the societal cracks are spread horizontally, like a blanket across the city’s expanse. It becomes the defining backdrop against which characters and their stories intersect and link up or collide and disconnect.

There is the upper crust, for whom going to the U.S. is as easy as picking up vegetables in the market. Juxtaposed against them are those unable to make it in life, for whom Dubai is the promised land where their dreams could turn real. “Aukaat kabhi ek jaisi nahin rehti (Stature doesn’t always stay the same),” says a character. As in Parasite, hope lies in the possibility of mobility but what truly binds the extremes together is the precariousness underlying their lives, a shared thirst for revenge and money and materialism.

The working title of the crime thriller was Signal, Khan tells me on a WhatsApp call: “Because it’s at the red light that people from all strata of life seem to come together.” Just like in Mumbai, I tell him, leading him to rue that co-existence is becoming more and more rare in urban societies. “We are in each other’s spaces yet not together, we have stopped sympathising, the divides are getting wider and wider, leading to crime,” he says.

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