By Adnan Murad
The world of children’s films is replete with talking animals, teaching us various lessons; however, Uzair Zaheer Khan’s Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor gives this genre of film-making a bracing jolt of life. Even though the film’s message for the humankind is obvious, there are enough beneath-the-radar subtleties, highlighted with a refreshing lack of smart-alecks, to give Allahyar a texture that makes it look more contemporary and lively.
Allahyar, at its best, is a modest and unassuming film that is driven by the ingenious sensibility of director and writer Uzair Zaheer Khan, who shows great promise as a film-maker.
The film revolves around Allahyar (voiced by Anum Zaidi), who is a young boy, and his friend Mehru (voiced by Natasha Humaira Ejaz), who is a markhor (a wild goat, which is one of the most beautiful wild animals living in the mountainous regions of Pakistan, and also Pakistan’s national animal). The story charts their journey to save Mehru’s family from Mani, a poacher.
On the way, they meet Hero (voiced by Azfar Jafri), who is a chakor, and Chakku, a snow leopard (voiced by Abdul Nabi Jamali). They accompany and stand by each other in this delightful flight to reach the Sia Koh, where Mehru’s family lives.
Allahyar is a child who is not so sharp when it comes to academics. This point is established right after the prologue, when he avoids homework, and also towards the end, when he struggles to answer a simple math question.
Allahyar is skilful and fearless as well. He goes out in the dark—which children of his age would never do—to check if everything is alright after he hears an unusual sound outside his home. He also sings, ‘God helps people who have a strong will’, when confronted with problems.
What I liked the most about his character is the fact that he is not an all-knowing child; however, he is a child who knows where to stop and draw a line. He faces his fears but also stumbles before doing so. He walks the straight path but also understands that he may not always succeed.
Accompanying him is Mehru, brilliantly brought to life by Ejaz’s voice. She is headstrong and does not stop when she makes a decision. Throughout the film, she stands with Allahyar as his pillar of strength.
Allahyar and Mehru share a bittersweet relationship. They lift each other’s spirits when required. This is the reason why Allahyar is such an engaging film, which depicts the bond of main protagonists in a conventional way. It unfolds with so much panache and visual inventiveness that it outshines many movies made with extravagant budgets. Its lessons about wildlife conservation, tolerance and racial profiling may sound familiar, but they are conveyed with heartening expressiveness.
There are scenes that tug at your heartstrings without losing the grip. In one such scene, Allahyar and Mehru talk about eating habits, where Mehru clearly asks him if it is not possible for humans to survive on fruits and vegetables only. This, primarily, is one of the objectives of this film: to stop people from hunting wildlife.
It is pertinent to notice here that Allahyar is produced in collaboration with WWF Pakistan, which, on its website, states that several factors have contributed to the population decline of markhor in Pakistan, including hunting for meat and sport trophies, competition for domestic livestock for fodder and increase in the human population in the natural habitat of markhor.
Even though Allahyar’s theme of wildlife protection is satisfactorily established, the film does not effectively integrate it with other ideas. I also feel that the film could have easily been made without any song. Nevertheless, it brings likeable characters to life with an entirely fascinating milieu.
Allahyar works because of two reasons, 1) it is a well-timed examination of the prejudices that have plagued our society, and 2) it is a charming, witty adventure that keeps us engaged. In short, it is one of the finest animated films produced in Pakistan, and a film that delivers the message of saving animals and not judging people on the basis of caste, creed and race with verve and vigour.