Zinda Laash resurrected: 1960’s Pakistani

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Zinda Laash resurrected: 1960's Pakistani classic
If one looks at it in a certain way, Zinda Laash has become exactly what its title means: a corpse that has come back to life! Indeed, not only has the corpse of the film returned to life, but the film itself, long dead, has suddenly found an afterlife, receiving accolades its creators never imagined it would. The film is currently due to be feted at the most respected sci-fi and horror festival in the world - Sitges, Barcelona - and has just been issued internationally on a special edition DVD having undergone a long and arduous frame-by-frame restoration.
This low-budget Pakistani film, shot in Lahore in the swinging '60s at the instigation and insistence of dashing hero (of the day) Habib, was a minor success when it was released in the rain-drenched monsoons of 1967, but was best remembered as the film that created history in Pakistan: it was the first local production to be awarded the dubious 'A' or 'For adults only' certificate! A dubious honour indeed, but an achievement nonetheless. Though the film was appreciated at the time, it was soon forgotten and banished to the dustbin and dungeon of history, though once in a while its producers, realizing that Dracula and everything about him is indeed immortal, re-released the film, cannily colourizing the lobby cards to entice newer generations to bite at the cherry once again. However, lately, the film had been all but forgotten and its negative similarly dispatched to oblivion with bits of the film lost forever.

This is where film critic and horror film aficionado Omar Khan combined forces with the similarly horror oriented Mondo Macabro team in the UK to begin the long struggle of trying to first discover and then to revive the corpse and resurrect the Zinda Laash. The quest began in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, with endless, fruitless trips to the buzzing (with life and flies) streets of Royal Park in Lahore where incentives were dangled in front of various industry operators who, once motivated enough, were soon busy sending their orderlies on errands to various studios and godowns with specific orders to seek and retrieve the film.

"It was weeks before we hit gold (or tin, as the case may be) because finally, it was reported to us by a grinning 'Nikkoo' (our operator) that the tins had been discovered and that the film might yet be workable," said Khan.Eventually, what was retrieved was almost the entire movie, but it was in pretty shoddy shape when it was shipped out to the Mondo Macabro team for their reaction. Fortunately, they became instant fans of the film and agreed that it was well worth taking the extra time and trouble of getting it restored, especially as it was clearly evident that the cinematography of the film was one of its greatest strengths. The restoration job was given to a Russian specialist who also became an ardent Zinda Laash fan and took special pains to make sure the DVD version achieved a look that is nothing short of breathtaking, considering the mangled mess she had started with.

While the restoration was in process, interviews of various people who had been involved with the film's production were carried out to be a part of the DVD and the translation and subtitling was done with enormous care. Though the film was mentioned in film journalist Yasin Goreja's book 100 Best Films of Pakistan, it is now in the wake of the DVD release that the world has suddenly come to realize that indeed, a lost gem has been rediscovered.

Posted 29 Dec 2003

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