Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Film Posters And Transport Trials

Now many of you may be wondering why I've got a picture of the film Battlefield Earth at the top of my post. You might be saying to yourselves that Erik has finally lost the few marbles that he had remaining (admittedly not that many to begin with). At least he could have picked a better film, and not one that is universally excepted to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. But there is a point, which I shall make clear at the end of the post, so as to give you, my long-suffering readers, something to look forward to.

But enough of that, passons aux choses serieuses as they say in France. So here I am in Islamabad, again. It's becoming my most visited city on this trip despite its not being particularly attractive to me, although it does have several things I quite like and/or need: embassies, decent, inexpensive internet access, second hand bookshops and cheap accommodation. And there were still a couple of things here I wanted to see that I missed on my first visit to Pakistan, such as a mountain range made of salt (I'm not kidding) and a rather sizeable fort dating back to pre-Mughal times. But since that is neither enough material in quality or quantity I am going to take this opportunity to ramble about things that I have noticed here that I have found unique, eccentric, or just downright bemusing. The first involve transport. It's an area of local life that I experience a significant amount of as I am often on the move. The most common form of transport, for both inter- and intra-urban translocation, is the Hiace minivan, which is invariably a second hand hand-me-down from Japan (being a left hand drive country, Pakistan is one of the few countries that acts as a dumping ground for Japanese rejects), often with arcane kanji plastered along the side. Whereas in their former, more pampered, lives the Hiaces would cart around no more than 8-10 people (plus driver) here they are shown no mercy and loads of 20 people are the norm. Which brings me on to bus timetabling i.e. there is none. Buses and vans only depart when they are full (to bursting) so as to make it worth the drivers' while. It's even possible for you to sit in a van for 2 hours as passengers trickle in by dribs and drabs until it becomes too late and the driver just says "come back tomorrow morning", leaving you in the lurch and looking for a place to spend the night. Other common sights on the roads are old Bedford trucks, most of them dating to just after Partition. But these are no ordinary trucks, they are self-propelled works of art. Every inch of space is covered by garish pictures, usually of birds and other animals or landscape scenes, and arabesque designs, they usually have chainmail "skirts" with little tassels or bells on the ends that tinkle musically as they navigate the bumpy mountain roads and some even replace their doors for intricately carved wooden antiques. But for Pakistani truckers that isn't enough so they add extra projections, canopies and flagpoles so they can pile on even more trinkets and baubles. Obviously they've heard of aerodynamics, but only as some shadowy American-Zionist conspiracy to be combatted at all costs.

I've also been chatting to many friendly locals along my travels and sometimes I show them pictures from my digital camera of places that I've visited so that they can also see some of the beautiful sites of their own country. As they flick through my pics they always point out any pictures that I have of other travellers, especially of the female persuasion. And the question is always the same: "she your girlfriend?" And they are always incredulous when I tell them that no, I just met her and that we are friends. For them this is a baffling concept, as they have virtually no contact with the opposite sex and so only ever think about them in the physical sense. It's a shame as this makes them slightly obsessed as walking through any cyber cafe makes only too plain.

But now to my pièce de résistance, and what you've all been waiting for: Battlefield Earth. And actually this observation is not unrelated to my previous one. So, if you would care to scroll to the bottom of the post you will see a poster for the aforementioned film from a cinema hoarding here in Pakistan. Now if you would only take a few moments to compare the two pictures (at the top and at the bottom of the post) you will notice a rather large difference. Apparently, if one is to believe the Pakistani cinema, the film contains scantily clad women with guns. Now, and I'm ashamed to admit this, I've seen Battlefield Earth (though not in Pakistan), and I can vividly remember there being no such women (more's the pity). And if you were to look at the bottom picture even more closely you would notice that the clothes worn by the superimposed "gun babes" are in fact painted on and in the original pictures they must have been naked. So, to recap, to make the film seem more appealing (and I admit, this is Battlefield Earth, so you certainly have your work cut out) the promoters seem to have superimposed some porn pictures and added clothes (for decency) and guns (because every good film has plenty of guns). And this is no isolated case but the norm. It's slightly sad and pathetic really, and I'm a bit surprised that the cinema-going public hasn't cottoned on to the scam yet.

"OK film mate, but where were the birds with the Kalashnikovs?"
"Ah, you missed them when you went to the toilet. Better luck next time."

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