AN extraordinary, three-hour-long movie called ``International Guerrillas'' is doing brisk box-office business throughout Pakistan because of one name: Salman Rushdie. The film has been shown in a phenomenally high number of movie houses over the last 10 weeks.
``There is nothing special about the movie,'' says a cinema manager in Rawalpindi. ``Because of the religious halo, it even lacks the spicy dances and double-entendre dialogues that ensure success of Punjabi movies among the frustrated poor classes who constitute the bulk of the cinema goers now. Yet it is spinning money because of its theme and the name of the hated Salman Rushdie.''
The movie takes its cue from the decree of Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that because of blasphemy in the British author's book, ``The Satanic Verses,'' Mr. Rushdie must be punished and his killers given a place in heaven. The film revolves around the exploits of three Pakistani warriors who have sworn to seek out and kill Rushdie, who hides on an Pacific island protected by hundreds of Israeli soldiers.
The film begins with a meeting of a Jewish council conspiring to create chaos and turbulence in the Islamic world. The outcome is ``The Satanic Verses,'' which triggers a wave of protest all over the Muslim community.
But the main story takes off from a protest demonstration in front of the American Center library in Islamabad, based on an incident last year, where police fire on and kill seven demonstrators. Infuriated at the martyrdom of the demonstrators, a police officer and his two brothers vow to track down and punish Rushdie.
Alerted by his computer, Rushdie sends out doubles to engage the Pakistani warriors. Car chases and shootouts follow. The Pakistani warriors are finally seized and are on the verge of being hanged, when they break out in a frenzied religious song appealing for divine help. It comes in the form of bolts of lightening falling on Rushdie, who evaporates in smoke.
Producer Sajjad Gul is known for his ability to mix entertainment with advocacy of social and judicial issues. In ``International Guerrillas,'' he has forcefully - though discreetly - highlighted the corruption of the establishment, ridiculed Arabs as women-chasers and allies of Rushdie, and idolized Ayatollah Khomeini.
The head of of the worldwide Jewish conspiracy is shown wearing red stripes and a Texan hat, and the police officer who fired on the demonstrators is presented as a Zionist agent.
Encouraged by international news media coverage, Mr. Gul plans to export the film to Islamic countries. Attempts to release it in Britain have been quashed by a government ban which gave as a reason the film's incitement of Rushdie's murder.
A leading Urdu newspaper and some religious organizations are petitioning Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to exempt the film from government duties, which would allow it to be screened at very reduced prices.
An official of the Ministry of Culture, which deals with exemption requests, said a decision would be based on the good the film would do the people. If granted, the exemption would be only the third ever granted to a Pakistani film, he said.