Donkey in Lahore
Is this a love story or a warning about rash decisions made about serious life issues? I would say that Faramarz K-Rahber’s debut documentary feature about his friend Brian’s adventures in love is both these things and more. Intrigued by his friend’s story, K-Rahber took to the camera to film the unpredictable story to its conclusion – well at least of two long awaited milestones anyway.
Brian (in his late 20s) is man who’s had a troubled life: from a nomadic childhood to parents who got caught up in a pseudo-Christian cult. Immersed in the Goth lifestyle in Brisbane, Brian takes an 8 day trip to Pakistan to perform at a puppet festival in Lahore. Little does he know that this trip will literally change the course of his life. Whilst at the festival Brian is impressed by the local way of life and the steady rhythms of Islamic life. He also meets a beautiful young Pakistani girl, Amber (17 at the time), who jokingly suggests that they get married and this idea tolls like a bell in Brian’s brain. The documentary picks up fully about a year later when we see Brian (long back in Australia) making the decision to convert to Islam – in the process taking on the name Aamir. He also keeps in phone contact with Amber whom he has not seen past those initial few days a year ago.
K-Rahber follows the travails of Aamir as he struggles to arrange his life and finances to be able to fly back to Lahore to propose to Amber and start their new life together. When he finally sees her, it is more than 2 years later, and he begins the process of convincing her parents that he is a worthy man that can provide for their daughter. It is here that we really see the clash of cultures as each party struggles to understand the ways and intents of the other. Eventually, however, consent is given and the drawn out Pakistani courting rituals begin.
Returning home Aamir faces more setbacks in the bureaucratic process of sorting out a visa for his intended (having come to the conclusion that they cannot afford to live in Lahore); this process greatly exacerbated by the language barriers, cultural reserve and distance. Left to contemplate a life so far removed from her family – who she has not yet lived without – with an older man who speaks another language, and who she barely knows, Amber becomes understandably fearful. Slowly we see the initial love and passion (on both sides) turn to frustration, mistrust, and despair. With physical health problems on one side and mental health issues on the other (due to the stress of their situation) things look set to fall apart. However, stubbornness, along with the cultural and religious implications of their commitment, makes them ride it out despite all the hurdles.
Starting off as a humorous and slightly odd story of a man and young woman’s rash, romantic decision, Donkey in Lahore soon turns into a deeply affecting and disturbing exploration of emotional need and the nature of love. K-Rahber is an empathetic documentarian, respectful of his subjects, but does not shy back from asking hard questions of them both and of making his camera present in a surprising variety of settings. The director tries to get his subjects to evaluate their feelings and their situations and receives surprisingly frank responses from all parties concerned. An engaging film, Donkey in Lahore is at times almost too emotionally intense to be strictly enjoyable. Though we want to see the best come of this situation for the couple, it is difficult to believe that a relationship, so culturally and geographically disparate, and built on such a thin knowledge of the other person, will be able to overcome the difficulties the couple must face.
Also surfaced is the issue of expecting another person to fulfil our deepest inner needs in insufficiencies – as Aamir, who feels somewhat of a misfit in Australian society, attempts to do. He idealises his experience in a world that is vastly different to the one that has dealt him a less than ideal hand, but reality eventually asserts itself as he learns more about negotiating the cultural windings of life in Islamic Pakistan. Aamir struggles to reconcile his Goth life and friends with his newfound Islamic values and also the expectations of his Pakistani family of life in a country they have no real idea about.
Certainly compelling viewing, Donkey in Lahore deserves to be seen by a wider audience than it will likely get and Faramarz K-Rahber is a name to look out for in the future. A love story of far more interest than the processed cheese released by Hollywoood, hopefully viewing this story will challenge many to think about the nature of romance, and love, and of what it takes to make a relationship work.
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell
Duration: 117 mins
Director: Faramarz K-Rahber
Country: Australia (2007)