Reeled In


The Caravan: July 1, 2016

A rash of film bans portends rising censorship in Pakistan

On the evening of 5 May, I joined about two-dozen people at a small private venue in Karachi, to watch a film we were not supposed to watch. Security was tight. The attendees—mostly journalists, activists and filmmakers—had all been told of the event only a day earlier, and we were asked to show our national identity cards while entering the building, through a rear exit. Before the screening, one of the film’s directors laid down two strict rules: no photographs, no social media.

The film being shown was Among the Believers, a documentary that profiles Maulana Abdul Aziz, the leader of an extremist network with links across the country. The film shows how the government’s failure to provide basic services for its people enables radical clerics to gain thousands of followers by offering free food, education and healthcare.

On 25 April, ten days before the secret screening, Pakistan’s Central Board of Film Censors, or CBFC, had banned the film. The directors, Mohammed Ali Naqvi and Hemal Trivedi, asked the CBFC to review the ban, but the body rejected their appeal, saying Among the Believers contained dialogue that projected a “negative image of Pakistan in the context of ongoing fighting against extremism and terrorism.”

The Pakistani government has sporadically banned films over the last few years, but until now the targets of such censorship have mostly been Bollywood movies (last year, for example, Neerja and Phantom were banned). But when it comes to local cinema, censors have tended to be more permissive, recommending excisions instead of outright bans. Recently, however, this has changed. Among the Believers is one of three Pakistani films banned over a two-week period this spring. These bans, which targeted content deemed anti-Pakistani, point to a growing censorship of the country’s film industry, and the state’s tightening grip on freedom of expression.

Full story here

Photo: Still from Besieged in Quetta


Oscar-nominated documentary about “honor killings” exposes filmmaker to witch hunt


Women in the World: February 24, 2016

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has been accused of defaming and disgracing Pakistan as a result of her courageous documentary “A Girl in the River”

On a dark night in June 2014, a bruised and bloodied young woman stumbled into a petrol station in Gujranwala, a city in Pakistan’s Punjab province. She had been beaten, shot in the face, dumped in a burlap sack and thrown into a nearby canal. As her attackers fled, the cool water jolted her awake. She struggled out of the sack, and treaded water till she reached the canal’s banks where, grasping at reeds, she pulled herself to dry land. She followed the distant lights of cars and motorbikes until she ended up at the station, begging for help. Eighteen-year-old Saba Qaiser was picked up by rescue services that night and taken to a hospital, where she told doctors her father and uncle tried to kill her for marrying a man they did not approve of.

This was a clear-cut case of ‘honor killing’, a practice that claimed the life of at least one woman in Pakistan every day in 2015 alone — and those are figures gleaned from reported cases only — as she is murdered for bringing ‘dishonor’ to her family.

In her latest documentary, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy met Saba’s father, Maqsood, shortly after he was arrested and charged with the attempted murder of his daughter. Furious that Saba married a man from a lower social class of her own free will, Maqsood claimed, “Whatever we did, we were obliged to do it. She took away our honor.” He describes his daughter’s decision to marry someone her parents did not approve of as “unlawful”.

“I labored and earned lawfully to feed her, this was unlawful of her,” he insisted. “If you put one drop of piss in a gallon of milk, the whole thing gets destroyed. That is what (Saba) has done.”

Unrepentant, Maqsood said: “If I had seen (Saba’s husband), I would have killed him too.”

Full story here


The Riot Club: Spoiled rotten

The Express Tribune: February 22, 2015


If you have to ask to join the Riot Club, the club doesn’t want you. How will you know if you’re one of the chosen ones in this elite all-male Oxford University club? Chances are you’ll find yourself blindfolded, gulping down a drink that is liberally garnished with cigarettes, maggots, snot … do you want me to go on?

Review here

Home and away

The Express Tribune’s T Magazine: November 24-30, 2013

“This is the first time that I’ve had to talk to CNN about one of our exhibits,” quips Sarah Bevan, curator of the Imperial War Museum’s (London) IWM Contemporary programme, which features 5,000 Feet Is The Best, a short film by artist Omer Fast exploring the subject of drone warfare.

“At 5,000 feet,” explains a drone operator interviewed by Fast in the film, “I can tell what type of shoes you’re wearing from a mile away.” The film is structured around segments of interviews with this former drone operator (now employed as a security guard) who claims to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a consequence of the missions he has been a part of in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The film, played on a loop, has no discernable opening or ending, and viewers are free to watch the narrative, comprised of a series of vignettes, unfold at any point.

Link to full article in T Magazine

Link to excerpt from Fast’s short film

What is the Pakistani dream?

The Express Tribune’s T Magazine: Cover story, November 10-16, 2013

Sabiha Sumar has had a good month. As her film Good Morning Karachi (Rafina) had its London premiere at the Raindance Film Festival, Sumar and the team of Saving Face — the Academy Award-winning documentary that she served as producer of — picked up an Emmy award for Best Documentary. In the works since 2011, Good Morning Karachi was filmed over a period of eight weeks, following an intensive three-month workshop with the cast and features Amna Ilyas, Atta Yacub, Beo Raana Zafar, Yasir Aqueel, Khalid Malik and Saba Hamid. “It was like running a film school,” Sumar recalls, as she worked with a motley team of Indian and Dutch crew members as well as local film enthusiasts who had never been on a feature film set.

The film found its inception in a chance meeting between Sumar and the author Shandana Minhas at a mutual friend’s house. “I had read Shandana’s articles in newspapers,” explains Sumar, “and I invited her to write a novella on the life of a young woman coming of age in Karachi.”

Link to full article in T Magazine

Reel World

The Herald: November 2012

Reel World: Storytelling at the 56th London Film Festival

“There is no dialogue between these two worlds,” said Mira Nair at the premiere of The Reluctant Fundamentalist during the British Film Institute’s (BFI) London Film Festival (LFF), referring to the relationship between the western world and developing countries. “If we don’t tell our own stories,” she continued, “no one else will tell them for us.” It is this endeavour that characterised much of the content at the festival — during 12 days, 227 feature films and documentaries and 111 short films from 68 countries attempted to bring the world to London’s audience.

Link to PDF of full article

Link to full article on Herald site

Io Sono L’Amore (I Am Love)

The Herald: January 2011

Link to PDF

Io Sono L’Amore (I Am Love)

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Starring: Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, Alba Rohrwacher, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Maria Paiato, Pippo Delbono, Diane Fleri, Waris Ahluwalia

A stand-out cinematic moment this year has to be between Tilda Swinton and a plate of prawns and ratatouille. In a scene from Luca Guadagnino’s Io Sono L’Amore (I Am Love), Swinton is suffused in an amber glow with each mouthful, the din of the restaurant fades out and John Adams’ lush score swells as the tines of the fork pierce the crimson shell of the glistening prawns – Julia Roberts’ marathon pasta-and-pizza sessions in Eat, Pray, Love are paltry in comparison.

Written by Guadagnino, Io Sono L’Amore spent eleven years in development before coming to fruition. It is the story of Emma Recchi (Swinton), a Russian expatriate living in turn-of-the-century Milan, and married into the powerful and moneyed Recchi family. As her children, Edoardo (Flavio Parenti) and Betta (Alba Rohrwacher), explore their own lives and loves, Emma is left isolated in the rambling Recchi mansion. She meets and falls in love with Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a young chef intent on breaking free from his father’s business and opening his own restaurant where he can ply customers with his delightful concoctions. Emma discovers a letter from Betta to Edoardo detailing Betta’s love for another woman – Betta’s acceptance of her homosexual desires is the impetus Emma needs to break free of the neatly delineated confines of her life.

It is only with Antonio that Emma is able to give voice to her feelings of being an outsider – she was plucked from pre-Gorbachev Russia by her Italian husband who was in search of art treasures, given a new name, language and home. The affair, when it is inevitably and heartbreakingly discovered, has disastrous consequences for the Recchi family. Despite this narrative trajectory, however, Io Sono L’Amore steers clear of any hectoring or didactic tone, choosing instead to focus on and celebrate Emma’s discovery of her true self.

In a throwback to classic Hollywood glamour and the relationships fostered between fashion houses and actors – such as between Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn or Yves Saint Laurent and Catherine Deneuve – the film credits Silvia Venturini Fendi (of the Fendi fashion house) as a producer. While Swinton’s character is dressed entirely in Jil Sander and Raf Simons, the Recchi family’s matriarch (Marisa Berenson) sports beautiful vintage furs from the 1970s and the male characters are impeccably turned out in Fendi suits. Fashion aficionados will swoon over scenes of dinner parties at the Recchi house featuring an eclectic mix of vintage and contemporary Italian fashion.

Discussing her character, Swinton says, ‘She came from so many books we discussed, and she came from films we discussed, and she came from people that we knew…’ The rich amalgamation of ideas that brings Emma’s character together makes her a pleasure to watch, as Guadagnino carefully details her cool, collected persona – and then proceeds to shatter the façade. This is a film that deserves to be seen on the big screen to truly appreciate Guadagnino’s masterful visual exploration of pleasure and fulfillment.