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The new movie that's all the rage in Pakistan

Our reporter scores a ticket to 'In the name of God.'

By Shahan MuftiCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / July 31, 2007

Lahore, Pakistan

Why would I drive 4-1/2 hours to see a Pakistani movie?

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Well, for starters, the only movie theater in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, was torched by a Sunni mob during sectarian riots four years ago.

But there were other reasons for the trek. I wanted to attend the premier of "Khuda ke Liye" or "In the Name of God," a movie about the religious rift wrenching Pakistan.

The film is being hailed in some segments of Pakistani society as the most important cinematic event in memory. The other draw was the venue: the DHA Cinema, a world-class movie theater, had just opened its doors for the elite of Lahore in "Defense," a posh neighborhood run by the military.

As the title suggests, the movie is about Islam and the battle between two polarized groups – modernized elites carrying the banner of "enlightened moderation" and radicals with their "jihad" – both had claims to the religion.

I took a cab from the house where I was staying. As we pulled up to the theater, the cabbie was as excited as I was. "The last time I saw crowds like this," he bubbled, "was when 'Titanic' came to town."

My initial attempts to get tickets for the première had failed. "In the Name of God" had been sold out for weeks in advance. But there were two showings, one at 9 p.m. and one at 3 p.m. (Bruce Willis in "Live Free or Die Hard" was on at 6 p.m.) I might score a ticket to the matinee, I was told, by just showing up.

I swallowed hard at the price: 250 rupees ($4.15) – ten times that of a regular movie ticket. Once inside, I found a packed house of some 500 immaculately dressed Lahoris, munching on buttered popcorn, bouncing in reclining seats, and enjoying the digital sound system.

For many Pakistanis – or at least those in this theater – the movie offers an explanation for the unrest around them.

"I had been dying to see this movie," Sara Malik, a 17-year-old student, dressed in jeans and a powder-pink T-shirt told me after the movie. "It's an amazing story, because it explains what really happens behind things like the Lal Masjid [Red Mosque]," she said, with nods of agreement by nearby school friends. The violent weeklong battle between religious militants and the Pakistan Army this month in Islamabad was unnerving for the entire country and unlike anything the youth of the country had ever witnessed.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf reportedly had the first private screening of the movie right here. He supposedly became an instant fan, and he has seen it twice since. After seeing it, I understood why a movie patronized by the president could also play across the country to packed halls without ever having to go through the strict and powerful state censor board.