Movie: “Son of a Lion” by Benjamin Gilmour

Posted on July 13, 2008
Filed Under Society, TV, Movies & Theatre
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Junaid N. Sahibzada

Son of a Lion, Benjamin GilmourIt just happened to be a co-incidence that I met Benjamin Gilmour, a Sydney paramedic by profession and a movie maker by passion.

A friend of mine had sent me an email telling me of some one who had visited Pakistan and fell in love with the culture and people of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Turns out that the someone was Benjamin Gilmour.

The movie is called Son of a Lion and it brushes aside all stereotypes of Pathans and narrates the story of an ordinary village boy who is born into a family of gun manufacturers but wants to give up working as a gun manufacturer and pursue his formal education. The movie stars local characters and local actors. The story revolves around a young boy from the town of Darra Adam Khel, whose father is a gun manufacturer by profession. The father of the boy wants his son to follow in his foot steps and also become a gun manufacturer, however, the boy is interested in getting a decent education.

The movie has been filmed in Darra Adam Khel during 2005-2006. The Australian Film Council funded the venture and Gilmour, who had never directed a movie, shot all the scenes and authored the script of the movie. The movie has already won numerous awards in the Australian film festival.

According to a Review Summury in the New York Times:

A sensitive adolescent being raised under strict Islamic law longs to get an education as opposed to fending off the infidels in this thoughtful meditation on post-9/11 Muslim society from Australian director Benjamin Gilmour. Sher Alam Afridi (Sher Alam Miskeen Ustad) is a widowed Pashtun and gunsmith who lives on the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan with his eleven year old son Niaz (Niaz Khun Shinwari). While Sher encourages his illiterate son to continue the family tradition of making guns, young Niaz just wants to go to school. Nevertheless, the dutiful youngster frequently runs errands that include purchasing hashish for his elderly grandfather, and relishes his visits with friendly local poet Agha Jaan (Agha Jaan) – who kindly reads Niaz the letters sent to the boy from his cousin Anousha (Anousha Vasif Shinwari) in Peshawar. Deciding that the only way out is to get an education, Niaz optimistically procures some school enrollment papers and approaches his open-minded uncle Baktiyar (Baktiyar Ahmed Afridi) for advice. Despite his best efforts, Anousha’s father fails in convincing his brother to sign the documents. Later, after an explosive argument, Niaz runs away to Peshawar and sits outside the gates of the school in hopes that someone will take him in

A review in Variety, by Richard Kuipers points out:

Finely tuned screenplay written by Gilmour in close collaboration with cast members and community representatives balances the domestic conflict with scenes of Sher Alam and his friends discussing the state of things. In tea houses and barbershops, the men express a wide variety of opinions on everything from Osama bin Laden to the war on terror and, inevitably, the regional role of the U.S. These illuminating insights into how ordinary people in this region view the world deliver a vital understanding of the cultural factors surrounding Niaz’s desire to look outward and better himself.

… Key to the film’s success is its simplicity. Gilmour, an ambulance officer by trade, achieves fine results from an untrained cast whose expressive performances make the tale feel authentic at every turn. Nicely framed compositions with a minimum of travelogue add to the feeling.

Son of a Lion, Benjamin GilmourBenjamin Gilmour is deciding to make more documentaries on Pathans and the contribution of Pathans in the economic development of early 19th and 20th century Australia. Gilmour is interested in making more documentaries which show case the contribution of Pathans in economic success of Australia in the form of Ghan railway line which runs through the rugged, treacherous and dangerous terrain of the Australian outback.

Notes: Junaid Sahibzada lives in Australia and a version of this post was first published on his blog. See related posts on Khuda key liye and Man Push Cart.

13 Comments on “Movie: “Son of a Lion” by Benjamin Gilmour”

  1. Asif says:
    July 13th, 2008 9:38 am

    Interesting topic for a movie. Junaid, have you seen it yourself?

  2. Junaid says:
    July 13th, 2008 9:51 am


    Unfortunately, No, I haven’t seen the movie as yet, although I have met up with the director of the movie in his Mughal era style residence in Sydney.

    I and Ben are trying to arrange a screening of the movie with the help of the local Pakistani community. In the end we plan to have a Q&A session with the actual actors, who are right now in Sydney.

    I being a Pathan was interested in persuading Gilmour to direct a movie on the construction of Ghan railway line which was built with bare hands by Baloch and Pathan tribesmen in the 19th century, a fact which very few know these days. The Ghan railway line for many decades was the life line of the Australian economy and and runs through the vast expanse of the desolate, barren and uninhabitable Australian outback.

    All across the railway line, the graves of the tribesmen who built the railway line are scattered on either sides of the track.

    In some cases, the tribesmen intermarried among the local Aborigines or lower class women of the white settlers. In the remote areas of Australia, one can find the descendants of the mix breed which resulted from such inter marriages.

    Kind Regards


  3. Anwar says:
    July 13th, 2008 12:20 pm

    Thanks for a very interesting post. Enjoyed the writeup and the official web site of the movie..

  4. Qudsia says:
    July 13th, 2008 3:20 pm

    From the clip this seems to be a Kite Runner wannabe.

  5. son says:
    July 13th, 2008 8:23 pm

    Oh! So much speculation by folks who haven’t seen the film! Ha! This film was shot long before the Kite Runner was even a published book. Also, may we remind you, the kite runner was shot in CHINA not anywhere near Afghanistan, let alone the FATA. So, you can say, the ‘Kite Runner’ is in fact a ‘Son of a Lion’ wannabe! You are comparing a film with a budget of MILLIONS versus a film with a budget of virtually NOTHING. Story is the thing that matters. Instead of comparing films, why don’t you compare the reviews…

  6. Zia says:
    July 13th, 2008 8:44 pm

    Thanks Junaid….it seems very original…and nice!.
    It would be good to screen it everywhere ..specially in the west.

  7. Manzoor says:
    July 14th, 2008 3:30 am

    Benjamin Gilmour interview to Spiegel Online about Son of a Lion.,1518,534771,00.html

  8. Shiraz says:
    July 14th, 2008 7:59 am


    Is it possible that this movie can be screened in US ? I live in Wisconsin and can do arrangements.

    Please let me know.


  9. Tina says:
    July 14th, 2008 2:37 pm

    I’ve heard about the film from other sources and it sounds like an excellent one, and I will be recommending it on Wed. for our local library’s weekly movie night. Thanks for the post Junaid.

    I hope you get your other project about the railroad workers pushed through. Maybe a book subject? Naipul (I believe it was) wrote similarly about Indian railroad workers being used in Africa, and literally left unprotected for the lions to eat every night. South America even has populations of Indian laborers that were brought there and simply abandoned to their own devices–those that survived. A shameful and brutal history.

    To change back to the original subject, I wouldn’t compare this movie to the Kite Runner–give some respect, guys. Has anyone of the readers actually seen the movie who could give us a review of it?

  10. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    July 15th, 2008 2:46 am

    thanks for info about spiegal and interview,
    disappointed, as it has many ressemlances with
    Khuda keliay sort of bundle of colonial product
    of ‘ yes Sirs ‘. Good promotion for seperatists.

    My appriciation of “these” kind of things, nowadays.
    Rafay Kashmiri

  11. Sceptic says:
    July 15th, 2008 8:29 am

    Ghan is a misnormer as the so-called Aghans were predominently Punjabis from northern Punjab (Pothowar and Jehlum). Famous western Australian writer Haneefa Deen, for example, traces her route to that area. “Afghans of Australia”, a highly informative research on the subject also exposes this myth. Winifred Steggler’s story is also worth reading where she ends up in a village near Lahore with her husband. There is an Australia mosque in Lahore build pre-partition by an Australia-returned Punjabi “Afghan” in 1930s.

    A few months back there was an interesting exhibition on the Australian cameleers in Canberra and other cities and it was clear from travel documents at display that the majority of the “Afghans” originated from the present day Pakistani Punjab, although there were good number of Pathans and Baluch among them.

  12. Junaid says:
    July 15th, 2008 7:48 pm


    Sorry to correct you but “Punjabis from northern Punjab (Pothowar and Jehlum)” don’t ride camels.

    For more up to date information documented by the Australian gov, one can visit

    to read more on the arrivals from India (and verify the myth which you are pointing out.)

    Kind Regards


  13. H. Abbasi says:
    July 23rd, 2008 9:51 am

    Seems like a great effort. My thanks to Benjamin for this effort. And congratulations.

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