I was somewhat conflicted both emotionally and ideologically whilst watching this latest feature film from Pakistan. Such a conflict arouse from my desire to turn away from the lives of Pakistani middle classes many of whom have indirectly helped to sustain such the ruling elite’s indiscriminate grip on power since the country came into existence whilst part of me could not be helped to view the film as an example of South Asian Diaspora cinema largely because the director Hammad Khan is based in London. I think what makes Ramchand Pakistani the most pertinent and powerful of the recent cycle of Pakistani films is Mehreen Jabbar’s decision to approach the politics of Pakistan through the point of view of the poor, underprivileged and largely forgotten strata of Pakistani society. Arbitrarily touted as Pakistan’s first slacker film Slackistan should really be translated as perhaps the country’s first independent film. Having received favourable reviews at various film festivals, director Hammad Khan’s excursion into the lives of a group of spoilt and over privileged Pakistani youth based in the rich enclaves of Islamabad may easily have worked as a TV series.
Slackistan does provide us with an insight into the striking contradictions of life in Islamabad, suggesting that lurking beneath our perceptions of a religiously conservative city is an anti authoritarian and rebellious impulse generated by the middle class youth who seem to spend their days waiting for something unexpected to happen. Boredom is a popular symptom and the director does question if it is valid for the youth in Islamabad to simply escape from the dearth of opportunity by migrating to either America or England. Very few seem capable or brave enough to take up the challenge of remaining put in Islamabad and attempting to give something worthwhile back whilst openly resisting the system. Thematically, questioning of the status quo by the middle class youth does emerge in the character of the budding film maker and it a direct action validated in the response of a camera pointing at the lives of an underclass. It may be an idealistic action but it is surely a step in the right direction in terms of wanting to enact wider change. Slackistan is an uneven film – the performances are clumsy and at times the dialogue feels contrived yet given it’s flaws, which are mainly ideological, it succeeds as it is rare to come across a film such as this one that offers something new and even revelatory about the state of Pakistan and its disillusioned youth.