I must have been eight or nine when I decided to put up a play for our annual Teachers’ Day. It was the only day each year when kids had the opportunity to go up on stage and present their creative work. My friends and I believed that plays were spontaneous, and one just had to seize the moment, go up on stage, speak our mind, and that was all there was to it. Naturally, the idea of a script was completely alien to us. That year, we were going to do “Sleeping Beauty”; all of us knew the story, we had tentatively decided who would play which role, so what could possibly go wrong. Except, five minutes into the play, we were interrupted by our class teacher who unceremoniously threw us out. Even today I am completely clueless on what had gone wrong. Do you really need a script to do a play or make a movie? Isn’t coherence overrated? Sultan Rahi-starrer Hitlar (1986) is an answer to this conundrum. When your creative mind has decided to blame the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Hitler, when your protagonist fights rascal grizzlies ambushing innocent travelers, and when you are threatened by flying discs that have the word “Hitler” engraved on it, do you really need a petty thing like a script? Hitlar is an experience, and I will do my best to share it.
Hitlar: the antagonist is played by Mustafa Qureshi. He is a Hitler fanboy—someone who has been unable to cope with the Führer’s death—who indulges in evildoing and megalomania to keep some form of the Reich alive. However, this is a Punjabi Hitler, who also likes to dress in bright colors, dance with the ladies, watch live music while munching apples, adorn his mother with garish diamond tiara, and set bizarre trapdoors and nets all over his mansion. Hitlar is also very fond of his name, and his arrival is announced with disco music while engraved discs randomly float around. His business includes conducting international terrorism, running gambling dens, supplying alcohol to countries under prohibition, and playing mind games with the protagonist played by Sultan Rahi.
Sultan Rahi: Even though the film is titled Hitlar, it is at the end of the day a Sultan Rahi film, a very famous star from the Pakistani film industry. Rahi embodies the true creative spirit of the film. Before his character is introduced we see random flying rifles, followed by showers of blood, which is followed by potato chips falling from the sky. Rahi is the vox populi who repeatedly tells the audience that the only fight he is involved in is against hunger and poverty. Soon, we see him enter a bizarre relationship with Hitlar, who informs Rahi of the names of the people he will kill. After successfully murdering his victims, he sends money to Rahi, and with each victim the amount increases. There is absolutely no explanation or reason behind this strange arrangement; all we know is that Rahi gets offended and returns the money to Hitlar. Rahi’s life gets more complicated when grizzlies in the woods ambush him, but luckily for him, an outlaw saves him. Of course, they become best buddies, and later, it turns out that his savior is, in fact, his father. The movie now focuses on Rahi and Hitlar go on full throttle against each other. Rahi loses his best friend and his brother-in-law. Hitlar on the other hand is shot dead by his mother.
The Ladies: The most important female character is clearly Hitlar’s mother, who shoots him in the end. She repeatedly warns him about the consequences of his actions, punishes him by trapping him in a net, refuses to smile even when showered with gifts. And then there is Rahi’s fiancé, played by Anujuman, who has very little to do except to sing, dance, and make sexual suggestions. The same is true of Hitlar’s girlfriend who has no dialogues at all, and appears to intermittently just sing and dance.
The generic best friend is played by the opinionated village schoolmaster. He is one of those people who would lecture on global warming when asked about weather. Ask them over for a cup of tea and you will end up talking about the horrors of colonialism. In a nutshell, he is insufferable, and Hitlar’s fatally shooting him came as a huge relief to the audience.
Hitlar is not a film where you look for a story. One even wonders whether it ever went to the editing table. Hitlar, as I said above, is just an experience. As The Beatles would have said, “Lay down all thoughts / surrender to the void. / It is shining. / It is shining.”
Read more about Hitlar from friend of the Gutter Todd Stadtman at Die, Danger, Die, Die, Kill! And Cyriaque Lamar has more at io9. See also this cache of Omar Khan’s review at the now defunct, The Hotspot Online.
Aditi Sen likes cakes and Bollywood and decided to make a career out of it. Check out the many cakes she has documented at “Kaho na Cake Hai: Cakes from Bollywood.” Screen Editor Beth Watkins is currently teaming up with Mithun in the World Disco Competition and will return to the Gutter a champion next month.