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The Blood of Hussain: Equipment problems


The Blood of Hussain: Being approached by Jamil Dehlavi and locations
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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The only other time I worked in Pakistan, as apart from India, was in 1977 when I was doing a stint, my first stint, at the National Film and Television School as, at that time, Acting Head of Camera. I was visited by a young man called Jamil Dehlavi, who brought with him a film that he'd made partly in India, but mainly in New York, on 16 mm, called The Towers of Silence, or Towers of Silence. Towers of Silence are the funeral places of the... which religion? Jai... I think of the Jains. I'm not quite sure about that. Anyway, he brought me this film and I was very impressed with this film. It was a very well-made film, very visual, very interesting. He showed me this film and then he said, 'I'm making this new film... planning this new film, this time in West Pakistan, based in Lahore, and would you... you know, can you do it as the cameraman?' I said, 'Yes, it sounds interesting'. He showed me the script, or the idea, at least. At that time it was called Five Rivers. It was later released as The Blood of Hussain, but, again, we went off.

When I say we, I was accompanied by, at that time, by a young chap called Tony Garrett who'd become my assistant. I think that was his first job with me. Then we made several other films together. There was an English make-up man who also did special effects, and an English sound recordist, and the rest, I think, were locals, were Pakistanis. We settled in Lahore. He had rented a house in Lahore which was in the old Catonement of Lahore, the military quarters when the British were there. We settled into this house and we started looking around the locations, and we went... One location was quite far away. It was a good day's drive away in a place called Kalabagh, well to the north. But the main location was a village, a very beautiful village, the name of which I'll think of in a minute. These names escape me now. Which wasn't that far away from Lahore, but it was still three or four hours by car. Anyway, we looked at the locations and I said, 'Yes, very beautiful locations' and then we discussed what we were going to do in Lahore.

The cast at that time was going to be... It's a story of two brothers, one of whom is fairly... what can you call him, not primitive exactly, but rural, and the other one is very civilised, citified. These two... Initially, one of the brothers was going to be played by Saeed Jaffrey and the other one by Salmaan Peerzada. We did a certain amount of filming with Saeed and then... or did we? Yes, we did. Then Jamil became dissatisfied with it. He didn't like Saeed's performance and he was more or less fired. And we said, 'What are we going to do?' And he said, 'Well, Salman is going to play both the parts'. I said, 'Yes, well, what about the scenes where they meet?' And he said, 'Well, you know, I'm sure you can...' I said, 'Yeah, yeah, you can, but it's not, you know, it's not that easy to do these things with very primitive means'. But we did manage in the end to do the few scenes where they do meet, were done in its usual way with some stand-ins and some over-shoulders and stuff like that. But there are a couple of shots where they're actually face-to-face, which we did with split screen.

Anyway, so that involved a certain amount of filming in the city of Lahore. The main bulk of the filming was in this village, Sanjeevana. Thought of the name. Shaitnol, Sanjeevana. It was in part a love story, but it was largely a political story and quite a dicey political story, because it was based on the martyrdom of Hussain, who is the cousin, I believe, or the nephew of the prophet, Mohammed. So they... When the authorities, who had to see the script to approve it all, because, again, it was being part financed, or backed, by the Film Development Corporation, and you had to be very careful that the script was presented in a way that wasn't blasphemous, otherwise he might have had his head cut off. So he managed that quite skilfully, and his brother's a diplomat of some sort. So we didn't have any trouble on that account. We could've had, but we didn't.

Born in Germany, cinematographer Walter Lassally (1926-2017) was best known for his Oscar-winning work on 'Zorba the Greek'. He was greatly respected in the film industry for his ability to take the best of his work in one area and apply it to another, from mainstream to international art films to documentary. He was associated with the Free Cinema movement in the 1950s, and the British New Wave in the early 1960s. In 1987 he published his autobiography called 'Itinerant Cameraman'.

Listeners: Peter Bowen

Peter Bowen is a Canadian who came to Europe to study and never got round to heading back home. He did his undergraduate work at Carleton University (in Biology) in Ottawa, and then did graduate work at the University of Western Ontario (in Zoology). After completing his doctorate at Oxford (in the Department of Zoology), followed with a year of postdoc at the University of London, he moved to the University's newly-established Audio-Visual Centre (under the direction of Michael Clarke) where he spent four years in production (of primarily science programs) and began to teach film. In 1974 Bowden became Director of the new Audio-Visual Centre at the University of Warwick, which was then in the process of introducing film studies into the curriculum and where his interest in the academic study of film was promoted and encouraged by scholars such as Victor Perkins, Robin Wood, and Richard Dyer. In 1983, his partner and he moved to Greece, and the following year he began to teach for the University of Maryland (European Division), for which he has taught (and continues to teach) biology and film courses in Crete, Bosnia, and the Middle East.

Tags: The Blood of Hussain, The Towers of Silence, Five Rivers, Pakistan, Jamil Dehlavi, Tony Garrett

Duration: 5 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008