International Gorillay (International Guerrillas) is a Punjabi movie released in 1990. One of Pakistani cinema’s great cult pictures it was a huge hit with local audiences but got the kibosh from British authorities who temporarily banned it. Without a doubt, the movie ranks as one of the most bizarre entertainments in world cinema. Ever.
The film takes its inspiration from the rage that greeted the release of Salman Rushdie‘s novel The Satanic Verses across the Muslim world. In Islamabad (where I lived at the time) a public demonstration was fired upon by the police resulting in a number of deaths and the anger of the people reaching boiling point.
An international cabal of Hindus and Jews led by Salman Rushdie (Afzal Ahmad) is determined to wipe Islam off the face of the planet. Every Muslim must be murdered according to Rushdie’s right hand man Commander Batu Batu (Humayun Qureshi) who along with siblings Commander Jason aka JC (Jahanzeb) and Dolly (Babra Sharif) form the evil novelist’s inner security council.
Ex-cops Mustafa (Mustafa Qureishi) and Shagutta (Neeli) join up with Mustafa’s unemployed goonda brothers Javed (Javed Shiekh) and Ghulam (Ghulam Mohiudeen) after the Islamabad shooting and jet off to Rushdie’s private island (that looks suspiciously like Manila) to sever the writer’s head from his body. For the next two hours and 45 minutes the international guerrillas do battle with Rushdie’s forces and engage in a frenetic series of gun battles, bomb explosions, disguises (at one point the three pot bellied heroes fool Batu Batu and his henchmen by crashing a dance party dressed up as a trio of Batmen), heroic escapes, fist fights, rocket launchers, severed heads, spurting blood, hangings, multiple narrow escapes and high speed chases in cars, motorbikes and speed boats.
The Pakistani homeys never speak except to scream down the wrath of Allah on Rushdie and other kafirs. But eventually the resourceful Salman, who personally beheads several assassins and forces one of his prisoners to listen to an audio book of The Satanic Verses appears to completely out manoeuvre them. But a desperate prayer leads to the conversion of Dolly and Jason who turn their guns on Rushdie. The heavens open, lightning breaks the chains of the guerrillas and after slaughtering every one of Rushdie’s soldiers they have the little Satan in their grasp. But before they can behead him three drones in the form of the Holy Quran float down from heaven and attack Rushdie with lasers until he explodes in a ball of fire.
As can be imagined music takes a distant second place to the action this time. The songs, such as they are, are nothing more than opportunities to demonstrate the moral depravity of Rushdie and enemies of Islam. Not surprisingly, M Ashraf the most raucous of Pakistani music directors, gets the gig to compose the music. Assisted by his son Arshad he comes up with one of the worst set of songs ever put to film. In all but one song Neeli or Babra jerk, swivel and moan to trashy unmelodic disco beats while heavily moustachioed men, horny and drunk, oggle them lecherously.
It is only in the final musical interlude in which the guerrillas appear to be conclusively trapped by Rushdie and Batu Batu that the mood switches. Chained to crosses the defenders of Islam begin singing a naat in praise of Allah, the Prophet (PBUH) and the truth of Islam.
For the first time the music speaks. The singing is in tune, the instrumentation is majestic and appropriate to the occasion (which sees the sky filled with Arabic injunctions to praise God and Mohammad PBUH). In what to this point has been a ridiculous, bloody farce of a film, the song manages to introduce a modicum of respect for its purported subject, Islam.
But not for long.
Dolly is overcome by the power of the singing and converts to Islam. She can’t help but jiggle and prance with joy as Ashraf injects that most famous dhamal beat of all, Dam a Dam Mast Qalandar into the proceedings. The solemnity and dignity of the moment is shattered as Dolly sings and the four mujahideen bang and shake their heads in the weirdest sort of cross dance since Monty Python‘s Life of Brian crucifixion scene.
International Gorillay rocks!