The Story of ‘Salam’ – An Overlooked Pakistani Hero

By Sonya Rehman

Having been screened at the Raw Science Film Festival (for which it bagged first prize for Best Documentary Feature), the Mumbai International Film Festival, the Charlotte Asian Film Festival and Oxford University, the phenomenal documentary, Salam, will soon make its way to film festivals in Paris and Barcelona, later this year.

Tracing the extraordinary life of Pakistan’s first Nobel Laureate, Abdus Salam, a renowned theoretical physicist who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979, the production shines the spotlight on the journey of an individual who was lauded for his remarkable contributions to the field of physics overseas, yet remained an overlooked outsider in his own homeland.

Part of Pakistan’s Ahmadiyya community, a persecuted minority, Salam’s name and his work remains tragically unknown in Pakistan today.

Abdus Salam receiving the Nobel Prize for physics from King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden on December 10, 1979. Photo: AMA Sweden.

But both Omar Vandal and Zakir Thaver, the producers of Salam, hope to inspire audiences on home turf with their ambitious, poignant production, which took 14 laborious years to complete.

“We truly think audiences will find Salam’s story extremely moving,” states Thaver, “[It] has the same potential to inspire children not just in Pakistan, but in all developing countries because Salam worked globally to bring science to developing nations. When we visited his school in Jhang [a city in the province of Punjab], it was plainly obvious that his story is inspiring children there, so why can’t this be happening in all schools in Pakistan? When we talk to science students abroad, many will say Salam’s story is serving as an inspiration in their work; but why are we unable to capitalize on this?”

The poster of the docufilm, Salam by Arghavan Khosravi.

Given Salam’s unabating devotion to Pakistan during his lifetime, amidst the intolerance, is perhaps the most tragic aspect of this great scientist’s life: the continuous rejection from a country that he loved so deeply.

Physics laureates 1979: Sheldon Glashow, Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg. Photo: Sipa USA.

“Salam loved Pakistan. Unconditionally. We have a recording in which he says, ‘Pakistan can keep doing whatever it wants, it is after all, our country.’ To a lot of people that’s unfathomable. How a man could be so devoted to his country despite his maltreatment by it,” states Thaver.

“There’s this account that appears in the film of how a tailor in London stitched a suit for [Salam] in a matter of a week as he needed one to quickly wear at this inauguration at Imperial College,” Vandal reveals, “Salam had found a tailor for life. He felt the same way about Pakistan. It was his country. His love for Pakistan was his to give, never for Pakistan to take away. The story is one of unrequited love – of a fraught relationship between the most illustrious son of the soil and his motherland. There’s this prevalent conflation that if you’re Ahmadi you’re also anti-state. Salam’s story challenges this erroneous notion.”


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