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Revealing the many faces of Karachi

Updated June 02, 2015

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Playwright Haseena Moin with documentary film-maker Shabbir Siraj at the panel discussion.—White Star
Playwright Haseena Moin with documentary film-maker Shabbir Siraj at the panel discussion.—White Star

KARACHI: The art of storytelling has the power to influence perceptions, change mindsets and act as a catalyst to social change. But the narratives in documentary films remain neglected, getting little to no exposure in the mainstream media.

With the aim of giving much-needed acknowledgement to documentaries, the ‘I am Karachi Film Festival’ (IAKFF) has dedicated three events solely to screen films based on Karachi. Four films were shown to a half empty hall at the Arts Council on Sunday, namely KarachiRising by Arif Hasan, Mother Calling: Kali in Karachi by Jurgen Schaflechner, Masters of The Sky by Seraj us Salikin and Dead End that Lives by Kumail Rizvi.

“The festival is a platform for aspiring filmmakers who are unable to showcase their work internationally or even locally,” said programme coordinator Taimur Ahmed Suri.

With a total of 65 submissions, 41 have been shortlisted by a seven-member team, headed by Jamil Dehlavi.

The festival began with Arif Hasan’s KarachiRising that focused on the densification in Karachi. The documentary addressed a range of issues pertaining to the residents; high cost of land, informal development, congestion and politicisation of property on the basis of ethnicity and religion. The film ended with a recommendation to have a circular railways in place connected to main intersections that can help in Karachi becoming a multi-class city.

A different aspect was brought to light in Schaflechner’s Mother Calling: Kali in Karachi that highlighted the beliefs and customs of a minority community living in the heart of the city. The documentary delved into the lives of the dwellers of Vagris, a Gujarati Hindu community living in Lyari, who are devotees of Hindu goddess Kali.

Although it was not a high budget film with a focus on aesthetics, it still succeeded in riveting the audience with its powerful narrative taking one through a turbulence of mixed emotions from fear to awe. The documentary showed the dark side of living in Karachi for a minority community, many of whom expressed their preference to live in India.

Centring on pigeon-fighting, Masters of The Sky by Seraj us Salikin was a short but pleasant take on the art which is revered by both young and old alike. The documentary was based on the ‘masters’ of pigeon fighting in Jamshed Road who are known for their skilled training of pigeon army and transfer of this skill set to their ‘students’.

A different concept was shown through a montage sequence of Dead End that Lives by Kumail Rizvi. A series of contrasting shots were put together with a strong script, underlying both the negative and positives in Karachi. With compelling cinematography and fast-paced shots the film threw an avalanche of messages at the audience, keeping them from blinking even for a second.

“The younger generation feels that Karachi is a dead end, but this documentary shows otherwise,” said the programme coordinator.

The screening was followed by a brief panel discussion comprising Haseena Moin and documentary film-maker Shabbir Siraj.

While Siraj strongly believed in promoting the work of students without being too disparaging, Ms Moin thought that the films only portrayed the negative aspects of Karachi. “The genre of documentary in Pakistan always highlights negativity and it is not that ugly is real,” she said.

However, Siraj argued that the work of students should not be seen from that point of view. “A film-maker has various angles and given the work belongs to students we need to understand that their perspective cannot be restricted,” he said.

Commenting about Dead End that Lives, Ms Moin said the film-maker failed to add shots of the Arabian Sea, which is integral to Karachi, and stressed that the film could have been more positive. “It’s not necessary to depict Karachiites as broken and despaired, show them smiling for once,” she remarked.

Siraj reiterated that standardisation in such events was not possible and instead of searching for plot-holes, students’ work should be appreciated.

‘I am Karachi Film Festival’ will be held again on June 5 and 7.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2015

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