Nisar Mahmood
The News
International

PESHAWAR: Documentary film on the life, struggle and achievements of great
freedom fighter and founder of Khudai Khidmatgar Tehrik, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan
aka Bacha Khan, has won the Black Pearl Award at the Third Annual Middle East
International Film Festival (MEIFF) held at Dubai.

The movie, “The Frontier Gandhi: Badshah Khan, A Torch for Peace, directed by
Canadian film-maker T C McLuhan, was awarded a prize of $100,000. The closing
ceremony for the film festival was held at the Emirates Palace Hotel on October
17.

Celebrity guests, including Naomi Watts and Eva Mendes, presented the 2009
Black Pearl Awards to the winners at the culmination of 10-day cinema screening
of 128 films. Seventeen narrative features, 14 documentary features, 25 short
films, and 10 student shorts competed for the awards.

A special Black Pearl Award for lifetime achievement was presented to Vanessa
Redgrave on October 8, the festival’s opening night. The English-language
documentary on Bacha Khan and having comments in Pashto and Urdu was filmed in
Pakistan, India and Afghanistan besides some shorts in the US. The film won the
award at a time when the region, which Bacha Khan wanted a cradle of love and
peace and where he was preaching non-violence, is passing through worst type of
violence and militancy.

Badshah Khan, or Bacha Khan in Pashto, was the name given to him out of
reverence by his loyal followers, who wore red cotton uniform to become known as
the Red Shirts. The reformist movement’s more widely used name was Khudai
Khidmatgar.

In the documentary ageing Khudai Khidmatgars recite a poem based on the oath
that every volunteer took while joining the movement. They proclaim being a
Khudai Khidmatgar and promise to serve humanity in the name of God.

The opening verse says that God doesn’t need any service and thus serving his
creation is like serving Him. “The fewer words the better,” remarked McLuhan in
her brief opening words. “You cannot imagine my happiness to return to this
place after four years,” she said while referring to her previous visit when she
did some filming in the NWFP. [Pakhtunkhwa]

She pointed out that her documentary on Badshah Khan carried great message of
hope and peace. In an interview in New York when her documentary was premiered
there in November, the 62-year- old McLuhan was quoted as saying that it had
taken her 21 years to complete the project. She said she started working on it
in September 1987 after conceiving the idea from a book on Bacha Khan by Indian
author Eknath Esawaran.

Esawaran, who is featured in the documentary, wrote the book “A man to match his
mountains” to pay tribute to the Frontier Gandhi. Another title of the book is
“Non-violent Soldier of Islam.”

Apart from Esawaran, several Indian politicians and scholars talk about Bacha
Khan in the documentary and describe him as a great man who performed a miracle
by converting his gun-loving and war-liking Pakhtun people to non-violence.

They pointed out that Bacha Khan spent 35 years in prison but never compromised
on principles. M J Akbar, a well known Indian author and newspaper editor, noted
that media’s obsession with Mahatma Gandhi left no space for the other great
apostle of non-violence, Bacha Khan.

Former Indian prime minister I K Gujral, his country’s ex-foreign secretary
Salman Khursheed, Gandhian activist Nirmala Deshpande and a number of retired
military and civil officers from India spoke highly about Bacha Khan’s
contribution to the freedom struggle against the British colonialists.

Former President General Pervez Musharrraf was the lone commentator in the
documentary who didn’t find anything praiseworthy about Bacha Khan. Afghan
President Hamid Karai and his former minister Arif Noorazai showered praise on
the Khudai Khidmatgar leader, who was lived for years in Afghanistan and was
laid to rest in Jalal Abad according to his will.

The documentary contains some rare footage. It is made memorable by the presence
of scores of old Khudai Khidmatgars, among them Qudrat Shah, Dheran Shah, Dr.
Ghulam Jilani, Ghulam Sarwar, Mir Dad and Ghazan Khan. In assertive tone they
talk about their love for Bacha Khan and the sacrifices the Khudai Khidmatgars
offered for the freedom of their homeland.

Five elderly women, wrapping themselves up in their shawls but brave enough to
speak to the camera, recount the virtues of Bacha Khan. Another one, Husan
Afroza, feeble and unable to walk without support, gives strength to others by
proclaiming her to be a fearless Khudai Khidmatgar.