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By Amit Roy
  • Published 26.06.16

Measure for measure in Lahore  

Bard in Urdu: Poster for Rahm

The screening last week of an Urdu version of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure called Rahm (mercy) could not have been more timely.

The London-based director Ahmed (“Allu”) Jamal shot the film in Lahore with a Pakistani cast that includes some of the country’s best known actors.

He had a special screening of Rahm at the British Film Institute in London — and this just happened to be only a day after the killing in Karachi of Amjad Sabri, who performed qawwali from the Sufi tradition, an Islamic practice opposed by extremists.

Allu describes his film as “a Sufi adaptation of Shakespeare” and says it is a “plea for tolerance from the heart of the Muslim world”.

The screenplay has been written by his elder brother, Mahmood Jamal, who says he has stuck pretty faithfully to Shakespeare’s original story.

Measure for Measure was Shakespeare’s plea for diversity and tolerance,” according to Mahmood.

Rahm will have wide appeal, especially in India, because of the subject matter and also because it is a very good story well told.

Sanam Saeed as Samena and Sunil Shanker (right) as Qazi Ahad in the film, a Sufi adaptation of Measure for Measure 

In Rahm, the governor (played by Sajid Hasan) steps down after apparently suffering a heart attack, leaving a hardliner, Qazi Ahad (Sunil Shanker), in charge. He sentences a man to death for alleged fornication (when the couple in question have lost their nikah papers) but offers a reprieve if only his sister will sleep with him. All the while, the governor has actually been in Lahore, disguised as a pir.

There is a quote from Shakespeare: “Some rise by sin and some by virtue fall.”

In Rahm, set in contemporary times, there are evocative scenes featuring the Wazir Khan Mosque which was built during the time of Shah Jahan. Allu also points out that the story begins and ends at the “Delhi Gate” of the walled city, “which is written in Urdu”.

Allu had been keen to shoot a feature film in Lahore ever since he made a documentary for the BBC in 1991 called The Dancing Girls of Lahore. He was able to use the old Lahore Gymkhana Club, now the Quaid-e-Azam Library, as the governor’s residence — “Indian generals had once joked that ‘we will have tea in the Gymkhana’.”

Although Allu feels his film has particular relevance for the Muslim world, it will also have resonance in other societies where there is a drift towards authoritarian governance. 

He was alarmed when three elders came out while he was filming in a street. “But they were not complaining. ‘We are so glad — it’s been a long time since someone has made films in Lahore.’ I believe ours is the first Shakespeare adaptation shot in the Muslim world.”

Mark on Modi

HARD TALK: Mark Tully 

♦ Sir Mark Tully’s chastening end of term report on Narendra Modi — or rather at the end of two years as Prime Minister — is that basically he must try harder if his period in office is not to end in disappointment.

The veteran BBC commentator, now 80, thinks that Modi has concentrated too much power in his own hands and that so far he has been unable to deliver sufficiently on the promises that he had made about “change and development”.

Mark’s remarks to the Indian Journalists’ Association in London in a free-wheeling conversation about what Modi had achieved so far were critical at times but also qualified and balanced.

On Raghuram Rajan’s decision to step down as Reserve Bank governor, for example, Mark found it “very significant that he mentioned two people who had been particularly useful to him and these are both people who are seen as enemies of Modi”.

Mark was referring to Rajan’s message to his staff in which the governor had said: “In everything we have done, we have been guided by the eminent public citizens on our Board such as Padma Vibhushan Dr Anil Kakodkar, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and Padma Bhushan and Magsaysay award winner Ela Bhatt of the Self Employed Women’s Association.”

According to Mark, “the fact that Raghuram Rajan chose to mention those two people as especially helpful to him during his career has been interpreted — and I would stress the word interpreted — by some as an indication that he was sending a signal to say that he was not welcome any longer”.

Mark added, “The worrying thing about this would be — if it turns out to be true — that Modi wants a more controllable Reserve Bank governor... then I think that would be a dangerous thing for the economy because it would put even more power into the hands of Modi. We have to see who gets appointed and hope that it’s someone who is as independent minded as Raghuram Rajan.

“One of the things about Raghuram Rajan is that he has been independent minded in a way that a bureaucrat would tend not to be,” said Mark. “The danger is that if you don’t get a good, strong minded individual as governor then a very significant potential for questioning the government’s policy or acting independently from the government, where necessary, would be lost.”

Gene book


♦ All last week actor Raj Ghatak, who comes from a Bengali family in London, was reading  extracts from a book by a Bengali cancer doctor from the US — Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene: An Intimate History.

The book has received a great deal of attention in the UK. A week ago I found it was “the book of the week” in Heffers, the main bookshop in Cambridge. 

Now, it has been “book of the week” on BBC Radio 4 where Raj had been reading the extracts with a credible American accent. 

Raj, who is now nearly 43, has been in many plays and films. But I remember him playing a character called “Sweetie” in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s landmark musical, Bombay Dreams, in 2002. 

Hailing haldi

♦ The actress Daisy Ridley, who starred last year in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, has posted a photograph of herself covered in turmeric.

The 24-year-old, who suffers from adult acne, hailed the medicinal properties of haldi — something that is not widely known in the West.

Daisy lamented that the yellow had stained her hands but she captioned a video: “I scrubbed my face and I am YELLOW! Ahahahahahaha. Will have to see if I’m a squeaky clean, clear-skinned goddess in the morning.”

Film festival

♦ The London Indian Film Festival next month will show Aparna Sen’s Arshinagar and Kaushik Ganguly’s Cinemawala.

One of the highlights will be a conversation with the evergreen Sharmila Tagore conducted by Sangeeta Datta.

Tittle tattle

♦ What happens on British reality television shows is copied, sooner or later, in India. The reigning Miss Great Britain, Zara Holland, 20, has been stripped of her title for getting a bit too real on a reality TV show.

She was intimate with a scaffolder Alex Bowen, also 24, when the couple appeared on ITV2 reality show Love Island.

An official statement from the beauty pageant organisers said: “To be clear we have no problem at all with sex — it is perfectly natural. We simply can’t condone what happened on national TV.”