‘You fools! If it was so easy to kill Salman, one man wouldn’t have messed with a billion Muslims!’
This Pakistani action-comedy (with serious scenes) attained passing notoriety when the BBFC baulked at certificating it on the grounds that it libelled author Salman Rushdie. It was passed for UK release when Rushdie, an admirably consistent freedom-of-speech advocate, said he wouldn’t sue anyone over the silly movie, realising a) it would then be a huge bootleg hit (not that it had much of a British legal release) and b) he had more to worry about with the fatwah (kill order) issued against him by the Ayatollah Khomeini on publication of his novel The Satanic Verses.
For most of its running time, International Guerillas presents Rushdie (Afzaal Ahmad) no more seriously than, say, The Naked Gun does the Queen – with the added fillip that clean-shaven, thick-haired, blazer-sporting, cigar-puffing older-Jerry Lewis-lookalike Ahmad in no way resembles the bearded, bespectacled author. Rushdie heads a SPECTRE-like cabal of crooks, mercenaries and blasphemers determined to wipeout Islam through blasphemy and lives in splendour in an island palace surrounded by disposable guards. He is introduced spaghetti western style with close-ups of his hands as he personally beheads righteous would-be assassins who have been caught attacking his island. Wiping his enormous sword with a hankie, he tastes Muslim blood and announces ‘every time the blood of those who love Mohammed has spattered my chest all gods above and below have got scared.’
Later, the vile vilain lures the happy family guerillas – cop Mustafa (Mustafa Qureshi) and his vigilante bandit brothers Javed (Javed Sheikh) and Ghulam (Ghulam Mohiuddin) – into a trap by announcing that he intends personally to inaugurate the world’s largest casino-cum-disco. The guerillas crash the opening dressed in Michael Keaton Batman suits (!)to find multiple Rushdies present – a bunch of ringers in Mission: Impossible masks. Not only does Rushdie capture the heroes, but he phones Mustafa’s devout wife and lures her into danger too, intent on killing the whole clan to affront Mohammed. He is so evil that, like Dracula in Taste the Blood of Dracula, he can only be defeated by divine intervention … in the astonishing climax, floating volumes of the Koran manifest to zap him into fiery oblivion.
Along the way, director Jan Mohammed throws in endless poorly-staged chase and fight scenes as if this were a simple low-rent A-Team knock-off, plus comedy with guerillas in drag cosying up to fake sheikhs (who turn out to be genuine Islamic assassins), the last-minute conversion of Salman’s Jewish security chief and his sister Dolly (Babra Sharif) to Islam (they switch sides in mid-battle), and disco numbers from hip-shaking cop Shagutta (Neeli) which stress the weird paradox of identifying disco (along with gamling and alcohol) as unislamic but devoting whole reels of film to songs. The guerilla brothers even have a singing duel in their introductory robbery-of-a-nightclub scene, which is part of the fifty-minute pre-credits sequence.
The only scenes which touch on reality are a sub-plot in which Mustafa’s children are shot dead by corrupt Pakistani police as they righteously demonstrate against Rushdie. ‘I’ve never asked you for anything but can I ask you for something now?’ says Mustafa’s dying daughter Baby. ‘I want Salman Rushdie’s head.’ In real life, five people were killed by the police during a mass demonstration against The Satanic Verses, the first casualties on an unamusing round-the-world death toll caused by cynical manipulation of Muslim outrage by folks who far more deserve to be caricatured as supervillains than a British novelist.
It’s acutely uncomfortable when the comedy guerillas – and their Mum – turn to camera and deliver straight-faced speeches about how Rushdie deserves to die for his crimes (‘we’ll mutilate your evil face so bad that even Satan won’t be able to recognise you’), which – even in this film – are fairly nebulous. Underlying the nonsense is a belief that, yes, a writer should be murdered and that folks who set out to claim the bounty on his head are admirable and beyond criticism. It’s as if an American movie of the 1960s depicted Martin Luther King as a cackling child-rapist and cast the Rat Pack as heroic Ku Kluxers who take him down with the aid of super-powered Jesus. Clumsy even by Lollywood standards with overreliance on jerky zooms, posturing performances and hack editing, this has curiosity value – but even that wears thin over a long 167 minutes.
If you’re curious and have 167 minutes to spare, here’s the whole film on Youtube.