No guns, no bombs: Film follows Pakistani slackers

In a country scarred by Taliban attacks and hobbled by political bickering, film director Hammad Khan found himself riveted by a creature so out of touch with reality that it almost inspires jealousy: the Pakistani slacker.

He found such youth roaming the Pakistani capital's tree-lined boulevards in tight jeans, sipping lattes at Western-themed coffee shops and partying underground -- with plenty of liquor to boot. They had no story, really. So Khan had to tell it.

The result is "Slackistan," Pakistan's first slacker film.

The movie shows a side of this South Asian nation rarely seen in the West, where media typically tie it to terror and Islamist fundamentalism. But in Pakistan, censors unhappy with some of the slacker portrayals have demanded so many changes that the film may not get released here.

"Things have gone from bad to worse in Pakistan. You look at these kids and wonder, 'Does anything affect them?'" said Khan, a British-Pakistani who lives in London. "But then again, it's not really their fault. They're 20, 21. They're actually just kind of finding out who they are."

The film, which is mostly in English or subtitled, follows five 20-something Pakistanis from well-off families in Islamabad who have access to the best cars, the best schools and the best technology. They don't represent the majority of Pakistanis, who live in poverty, but are still a very real demographic.

The main character, Hasan, is an aspiring filmmaker who can barely get himself to remove his new camera from its box. One of his friends, a young woman, is pondering moving to the U.S., while another friend is trying to avoid the thuggish money-lender who wants him to repay his debts.

The violence and political chaos that has gripped much of the country is relegated to the periphery, as if these young people would prefer not to know what lurks outside their privileged bubble.

"The issue that each one of these people goes through is kind of universal," said Shahana Khan Khalil, whose character, Zara, is a fashionista who has to confront vicious rumors circling about her personal life.

In some ways, Islamabad itself is the most unforgettable character in the film.

Dubbed "the city that always sleeps," Islamabad is an artificially designed capital with wide avenues and massive houses that is nothing like the chaotic, crowded Pakistani cities of Karachi and Lahore. (One joke about Islamabad is that it's a great place to live because it's miles away from Pakistan.)

The movie shows many views of the city, from its gorgeous green hills, to its numerous security checkpoints, to the slums where many of its Christian minorities live. Several scenes are filmed at well-known youth hangouts, such as The Hot Spot, an ice-cream shop filled with posters of horror flicks.

Khan, 35, studied law but was drawn to filmmaking instead, and has previously made four short films focused on themes of religion and identity. He said "Slackistan," his first feature film, draws on a range of influences, including Martin Scorsese's "Mean Streets" and Jon Favreau's "Swingers."

"Slackistan" has made the rounds at a few film festivals and had a U.K. cinema release late last year. Khan expects he'll get a digital release later this year in the U.S, but he's extremely frustrated that he can't get the film onto cinema screens in Pakistan.

He has refused to make the changes demanded by Pakistani censors, saying they would gut the film. The challenge he faces is something of a personal irony — his day job is as a film examiner in Britain, where he helps classify and rate movies.

Odds are, however, that many Pakistanis will get to watch the movie in some fashion. Pirated DVDs are a huge business in the country, and are one reason that Pakistan's own film industry is on life support.

Khan expects his next film will deal with the huge gap between the rich and the poor in this nation of 180 million people. He hopes "Slackistan" will inspire Pakistani youth — maybe even some of the slackers — to realize they can use the arts to make a difference in the country's seemingly bleak future.

"I know there's so much negativity right now," Khan said, "but I still feel people want to believe there's hope in Pakistan."

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On the Web: www.slackistanthemovie.com