Jamil Dehlavi to revisit early film career in BFI event


AN ASIAN director will be showing his film which was famously banned in Pakistan at an event in central London this weekend.

Jamil Dehlavi fled to the UK after his film The Blood of Hussain was banned by then president General Zia ul-Haq after he seized power in a military coup in 1977.

The film depicted a fictional revolt, which Pakistan’s military leader believed did not portray him in a favourable light.

Recalling the events as a “traumatic” chapter in his life, Dehlavi said he was forced to give up his passport and eventually came to Britain.

The filmmaker will be in conversation about his work, as well as introducing screenings of his early movies at the British Film Institute’s (BFI) Southbank this weekend.

Admitting to Eastern Eye that he rarely revisited his work, Dehlavi said he was most excited to explore his two earliest films The Blood of Hussain (1980) and Towers of Silence (1976), a surrealist work on a young boy’s obsession with death.

Dehlavi will be exploring one of his earliest films The Blood of Hussain at the BFI event (Pic © Jamil Dehlavi)

“A lot of passion went into those films,” he revealed.

Britain was a familiar country for Dehlavi as he had studied at the University of Oxford and lived in Europe and beyond.

“My father was in the Pakistan foreign service, so we travelled a lot – which meant I was used to living between two countries,” he added.

Eventually returning to Pakistan when Benazir Bhutto was elected in the late 1980s, Dehlavi made a Karachi-set film Immaculate Conception (1992), about a Western couple who, desperate for a child, visit an ancient shrine known for “curing” infertility.

“It was great to go back,” he recalled. “Having travelled so much, I’m used to switching from one country to another.”

Dehlavi, who has spent a long time in the film industry, particularly in Pakistan, revealed that he hoped a new  kind of cinema would emerge from the nation. There are many young, independent directors creating a diverse range of works, he explained, but it
was not easy to make money, something which could deter filmmakers, who preferred popular genres that were more likely to make profits.

“Unfortunately, it is money that dictates,” Dehlavi said. “I mean, they’re talking about the revival of Pakistani cinema… I can’t predict it, but I hope that a new kind of filmmaking emerges because you get sick of these old songs and dance comedies.”

The independent filmmaker has a wide range of work showing at the BFI screenings, including avant-garde flick Born of Fire (1987) and political biopic Jinnah (1998), starring Christopher Lee as Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Actor Christoper Lee in Jinnah (Pic © Jamil Dehlavi)

Currently, he is working on a gangster-themed film project that he hopes to film in Karachi.

Dehlavi, who is fluent in five languages – English, French, Italian, Spanish and Urdu – admitted that growing up living in Asia and Europe meant he was exposed to foreign films throughout his youth. He believed this was a benefit in terms of seeing things from various perspectives.

“As a young boy, I had all the best of European cinema,” he said. “I had access to everything and I was addicted to film from a very early age. [Living abroad] was definitely an advantage.”

Talking about his style, Dehlavi said he found it difficult to pinpoint a description as his film reel was so varied.

“To do a sweeping generalisation about [my films] is not easy,” he laughed.

“Someone called me a maverick recently and I hadn’t really thought about myself as that, but then I don’t know, maybe I am.”

Between the Sacred and Profane: The Cinema of Jamil Dehlavi will be screened at BFI Southbank this Friday to Sunday (10-12). The Blood of Hussain and Towers of Silence will be released by the BFI on Blu-ray/DVD on 22 October.