Can ‘Khel Khel Mein’ Help Us Come To Terms With The Injustices And Trauma From 1971?


Brothers were separated. Both the Eastern and Western wings of the country were stained by blood. Relations between them changed: they became complicated and sporadic. People lost respect for each other. The truth was lost. History was changed. Mutual understanding was replaced by never-ending arguments: “My truth! Your views!” Mistrust became the ruling emotion. Discussions turned into war. Sincerity became tainted with lies. The cohesion of our society was lost. Blame games and victim-shaming began.

It was something that we could not heal from in 41 years of shared and sour history.

No dialogues were ever taken up by Pakistan’s mainstream to clarify and come out clean, accepting the disfigured reality. Instead, we mutilated the facts. Despite that, our history books never actually could justify the vandalism with which we defaced the map of pre-1971 Pakistan!

The Justice Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission’s report was censored and banned in Pakistan so that the Government of Pakistan never admitted to its failure to be fair to all its citizens.

1971 remains the subject of controversy, mystery (albeit only for Pakistanis), mistrust and propaganda (for enemies of Pakistan).

Inhabitants of former East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, were not a liability to the West Pakistan of that time. In fact their export, industry, agriculture, fishing and banking system was more advanced than that in the western half of the country. Let the reader consider that they had tea plantations in Chittagong, jute exports by the Adamjee group, Pakistan’s first airline Orient Airways based in Dhaka, the first natural gas discovery in the northeast of what is today Bangladesh. Their education sector, culture and traditions are still of great value and a source of pride. In short, there was no good reason for the deprivation that the masses of former East Pakistan suffered – until and unless it were inflicted by injustices of the state.

Their demand for autonomy and preservation of their language was a right well deserved. The Awami League had won the majority in the 1970 Pakistani general elections. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, as the leader of the Awami League, was prevented from forming a government.

The 1958 Pakistani coup d’état that had brought General Ayub Khan to power did not go down well with East Pakistan. The military regime had launched a crackdown against pro-democracy leaders. East Pakistan television broadcasters started broadcasting Rabindranath songs – a taboo in the Pakistan of that era – while reducing the air-time of shows from West Pakistan. When the deadlock over federalism reached its peak, the Awami League demanded, “The federal government will be restricted only to foreign affairs, defense and currency.” They demanded that the rest should be left to the discretion of the provinces and popular voting in the respective assemblies. The then government of Pakistan reacted with unfortunate rigidity to these demands. India saw it as an opportunity to address unfinished business from the war of 1965. Pakistan launched Operation Searchlight against the Awami League, which formed the Mukti Bahini rebel force. After a lot of bloodshed, Bangladesh came into being on the 26th of March 1971. Rather than prioritising dialogue with the East Pakistani leadership, the rulers in West Pakistan instead took refuge in provoking vandalism.

As mentioned before, mainstream Pakistan never felt the need – or had enough courage – to set the record straight. It could not bring itself to admit and accept the wrong decisions and practices which led to the separation of two brothers.

War crimes were hidden, never to be uncovered till this generation spoke up wanting to know the facts. Our history and Pakistan Studies books appeared with only a paragraph on 1971. In general, perception management is a popular tool of the Big Brothers.

Moreover, the unfortunate situation of the Bihari community, stranded in limbo between Bangladesh and Pakistan, is a painful reminder of that era.

The task of coming to terms with that painful past was finally taken up by young writers and visionaries like Fizza Ali Meerza and Nabeel Qureshi. Starring Sajal Aly, Bilal Abbas, Manzar Sehbai, Sameena Ahmed, Marina Khan, Maria Wasti and some new entrants on the big screen, Khel Khel Mein is an offering from ARY Films.

Khel Khel Mein is a well scripted and executed film. Sajal Aly, of course, takes the cake with her good looks, dance skills and ‘filmi’ aura. Bilal is no doubt a promising artist. All other factors including set design, costumes, make-up , choreography, cinematography, dialogues and songs were beautifully accomplished. The stage drama within the film was at par.

However, I wonder why still we don’t openly say who exactly was at fault! I do not expect my dear younger generation, or my own generation for that matter, to apologise for something that we didn’t influence or participate in. But we should at least try to make the people who are at the helm of this betrayal say a ‘sorry’ if nothing else!