Films that are 50

Films that are 50: A mad scientist, a vampire and willing victims in cross-border hit ‘Zinda Laash’

The baggy adaptation of the Dracula legend proved to be a neat box office fit in Pakistan in 1967.

When Pakistani actor Habib proposed a movie about the Dracula legend in Pakistan, filmmaker Khwaja Sarfraz didn’t bite.

It would be a commercial disaster, Sarfraz said. Yet, he could not reject the idea since Habib was a close friend. Sarfraz dragged his feet for over six months, finally relenting only when he realised that Habib was dead serious. Sarfraz laid down three conditions: he would pick the cinematographers and the background music composer, and select the sets and locations. Habib agreed and thus, the first ever Pakistani vampire film Zinda Laash (The Living Corpse) finally got rolling.

Unlike several technically shoddy Pakistani films, Zinda Laash is a superior production from across the border. The highly expressionistic use of light and shadows by cinematographers Raza Mir, Nabi Ahmed and Irshad lends the film a suitably eerie and Baroque atmosphere. Even as the film creates menace by playing around with symbolic visuals and props in addition to the lighting and the sound design, it mostly keeps the blood and gore off the screen. This makes for richer viewing, as the violence is left to the viewer’s imagination.

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Zinda Laash (1967).

Zinda Laash is a baggy adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel – he is acknowledged in the credits – and is inspired more by the Hammer production Horror of Dracula (1958). Zinda Laash follows the efforts of scientist Tabani (Rehan) to create the elixir of life in his laboratory at home. Tabani drinks the potion and appears to die from its after-effects. As per his request, his remains are stored in a coffin in the cellar. At night, however, Tabani rises again, having become a vampire thirsty for blood.

Engaging as film is, it is undoubtedly dated and dips in the portions set outside Tabani’s house. Though Zinda Laash was made in the swinging ’60s and gives us a contemporary version of the Dracula tale, it ultimately plays safe in the battle of good versus evil. In the essay Violence And Horror In Pakistani Cinema, Ali Khan and Ali Nobil Ahmad write, “Zinda Laash is in many ways politically conservative. The religious faith of the film’s triumphant survivors defeats Professor Tabani’s mistaken belief in the arrogant pretensions of rational science.”

Khan and Ahmed add, “Female sexuality and desire are represented in powerfully agential terms. Professor Tabani’s ‘victims’ are largely willing; they lie back, close their eyes and expose their necks to his bites. They appear dishevelled and uninterested in children or domestic life after his ‘visits.’.”۫

Rehan and Habib in Zinda Laash. Courtesy Omar Ali Khan.
Rehan and Habib in Zinda Laash. Courtesy Omar Ali Khan.

In terms of performances, it’s all about Dracula. Rehan, who was the unanimous choice for the role by Habib and Sarfraz, is spot-on as the caped prince of darkness. Rehan had worked in India in key supporting roles in Mehboob Khan’s films Elan (1947) and Anokhi Ada (1948) before making Pakistan his home. In an interview, the actor recalled that his fangs were acquired from a local dentist from abroad.

The other actors, including Habib playing second fiddle to Rehan even though he is technically the hero, are fine too. Nasreen is noteworthy as the scientist’s first victim after he becomes a vampire.

While the background score is an asset, the songs do little for the plot and seem to pop out of nowhere. However, the two club sequences still have some life to them, thanks to the sensuous choreography that was regarded quite daring and even indecent at the time.

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Udhar Jawani Idhar Nasha .

Zinda Laash faced some of its biggest hurdles at the time of its release. The Pakistani Censor Board was shocked at what it termed the “filth” of the material and gave it an Adults only rating – the first ever such certification for a Pakistani film. The censors clamped down on some of the dance numbers, declaring the hip and breast movements of the female dancers as vulgar. A religious reference to Saint Joseph was also deleted.

Even if the scientist did not quite have his happy ending, the film itself did. Zinda Laash was released on July 7, 1967, and was a hit – the adult certification ended up reeling in audiences. Some viewers said they could not sleep afterwards, while a newspaper report even claimed that a woman had died in Gujranwala after a Zinda Laash viewing.

Courtesy Omar Ali Khan.
Courtesy Omar Ali Khan.

After its initial run, Zinda Laash was thought to have been lost forever. But thanks to the efforts of Pakistani filmmaker Omar Ali Khan, the film’s negative, supposedly lost in the floods of 1996, was found in rusting cans at Evernew Studios in Pakistan. To Khan’s delight, the material was largely in decent condition, leading to its restoration. Zinda Laash has also been released as a special collector’s edition DVD with several extra features.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.