Sunday, January 30, 2011

Da Khwar Lasme Spogmay (Pakistan, 1997)

Simply calling Da Khwar Lasme Spogmay "a Pakistani film" would likely send any serious minded booster of that nation's cinema into paroxysms of despair. The Pashto language film industry that produced Da Khwar Lasme Spogmay, which serves an overwhelmingly male audience in the country's northern border region, is considered to be pretty much the absolute gutter of Pakistan's film making culture. For Americans, you'd have to imagine meeting a person from a foreign country whose only exposure to American cinema was through seeing Manos: The Hands of Fate, and who tried to characterize the whole of the U.S.'s filmic output based on that.

Nonetheless, there are many Western cult film enthusiasts -- specifically those jaded lovers of trash cinema desperate for ever more depraved kicks -- whose sole experience of Pakistani films will likely be Pashto films like DKLS and Saeed Ali Khan's notorious Haseena Atom Bomb. And while I might high mindedly assert that viewers should sample the whole of Pakistani cinema before wallowing in its depths, I am also a shameful hypocrite. Because, faced with the choice of watching one of that country's Urdu language romances or historical dramas, as opposed to a film in which Sultan Rahi shouts a lot while gorily asserting his peasant dignity, or a Pashto atrocity like DKLS, I have time and again chosen from among the latter.

Da Khwar Lasme Spogmay is part of a wave of Pashto horror films that followed in the wake of 1991's successful Adam Khor. DKLS's female star, Shehnaz Begum, was also featured in Adam Khor, but in the intervening years had moved from merely acting and dancing in her films to producing and directing them as well -- something that I imagine was quite the rarity in such a morbidly macho environment. Still, the uninitiated viewer might have some difficulty identifying the female touch within DKLS, as it is nearly as redolent of sleaze and grotesquery as the previously reviewed Haseena. It has to be said, however, that it is indeed a woman's story, and that its heroine -- despite the presence of a couple mega-masculine, mustache farming male heroes -- proves herself throughout as being fully capable of fighting her own battles.

Despite being classified as a horror film, DKLS is in equal parts an ill conceived superhero tale, a mangy hybrid of Catwoman and The Incredible Hulk.  Its heroine, Banno, is a young woman who periodically transforms into a ferocious half cat, half human creature and prowls the night in search of rapists. In the opening scene, she catches one such devil in the act, and, after gruesomely mauling him with her knife-like claws, uses her telekinetic vision to spread his legs apart so that she may more easily ram a huge tree branch up his ass. Yow! In classic Pashto film tradition, this sequence is accompanied by abundant stock footage of thunder and lighting, a blaring and ceaselessly hectoring music track, and teeth rattling sound effects that include a heavily reverbed cat's yowl.

Banno's nocturnal adventures have apparently left a trail of finely minced male predators in her wake, and in the light of day we find that her trail has been taken up, not only by the handsome and determined police captain, but also by a local ruffian (Asif Khan) whose jacket has all kinds of knives hanging off of it. Into this scenario DKLS introduces a freakish gang of cackling punk rock inbreds who hide out in a graffiti covered sewer, among whom are a leopard print wearing guy with devil horns and a Freddy Krueger glove and a mohawked fellow with both a beak and a mustache. As absurd as they may sound, there is actually something really nightmarish about this group, as it is in those moments when they appear that Da Khwar Lasme Spogmay most seems like something created by an insane person.

Eventually, a flashback reveals that it is this gang who are responsible for the death of Banno's mother, who, pregnant and cast out from her home lo those many years ago, wandered out into the night and into their rapey arms. Traumatized and left to die, she went into labor and gave birth to Banno, who was in turn whisked away to safety by a black house cat who just happened to be hanging around. (I think; this flashback isn't really staged very clearly, nor is it apparent that it's supposed to be a flashback until after it's over, with it instead coming across more as random footage from some other movie that suddenly crops up in the middle of DKLS.) Not one to underestimate its audience's intelligence, DKLS entrust us with making the logical leap of seeing infant Banno in the proximity of a cat to understanding this as the reason for her later being able to physically transform into a monster. In this guise, she then goes about the business of wiping out the men responsible for her mom's death -- although it's not clear how she knows who they are. (Perhaps the cat told her.)

In describing Da Khwar Lasme Spogmay's narrative so compactly, I'm actually doing the film a service, as, in reality, it contains a lot of peripheral business that prevents it from being quite the freewheeling spectacle said description might lead you to think it is. Counted as part of that business, of course, are the movie's many, many, many song and dance numbers, all of which are of the character, unique to Pashto films, that has outraged and repulsed many a Western blogger with its crassness and crudity. Typically these involve very large women -- and by "large", I mean that even those solicitous souls among you who would scream "sizeist" at the faintest whiff of the pejorative in a discussion of weight would be left no choice but to describe them as "fat" -- in vacuformed outfits shaking their junk for the camera like butchers displaying choice cuts at a meat packers' convention. Among these are Shehnaz, who is no slouch in the girth department, but we also have a few other plus sized performers to take up the slack, as... well, did I mention that there were a whole lot of dance numbers?

As for Shehnaz's skill as a filmmaker, I have to say that DKLS shows a fair share of visual artistry, especially when considered in comparison to Haseena Atom Bomb, which, at this point, is the only other Pashto film I've seen. There is evidence of both style and technique, present in an array of weird camera angles and bizarre lighting choices. Her gifts as a story teller, however, are harder to gauge. The abuse that the few prints of these films suffer during their extended life on the Pashtun theater circuit makes it difficult to determine which of a film's narrative shortcomings are the result of damage and which are the result of sloppy editing and scripting. In this case, though, I suspect it's a little from column A and a little from column B.

Ultimately, Da Khwar Lasme Spogmay is one of those cult movies that's much more fun to read about than actually watch. It's also more fun to write about than actually watch. And for that reason, as the film becomes more widely available to the denizens of the internet, I suspect that we'll all be reading about it a lot more. For the time being, I would recommend that, rather than going to the trouble of tracking it down and viewing it, you instead read Tars Tarkas' hilarious, painstakingly detailed and illustrated review (with clips!) over at, and then proceed to Omar Khan's learned take over at The Hotspot Online. Of course, I know that, if you're like me, you will still want to see the movie, even though the combined efforts of Omar, Tars and myself have already told you everything about it that you need to know. But at least I can feel that I've honored my conscience by warning you.


Tars Tarkas said...

I find the more you shy people away from films, the more they want to see them. But, are we warning people away as a warning, or warning them away because we know they will seek it out and be horrified? All I can say is "MuHAHAHAHAHAHA!!"

Todd said...

Why, the very IDEA! I would NEVER do that!

P.S. Mwa ha ha ha.

memsaab said...

I must say that I am not at all tempted to watch this, although I found (all) your description(s) of it delightful and thus cannot be sorry that it exists.

Todd said...

If you watched it you might be, though (sorry, that is). Glad you enjoyed the review, in any case.

Michael Barnum said...

I don't know, the cat creature costume looks kinda cool...I'd watch it just for those scenes.

nazia said...

yes i watch its great to watch and its cat is very dangrious to see, shukriya dosta, manana

Todd said...

Michael: And they at least do you the service of showing you the cat beast right away, although you have to wade through a lot of musical numbers and shouting interludes after that before you get to see her again.

Nazia: The cat is very dangerous to see!