Fawzia Afzal-Khan: Changing perceptions

Published: January 29, 2012

Pakistani scholar Fawzia Afzal-Khan wins a US grant to film the plight of Pakistani female singers. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

Pakistani scholar Fawzia Afzal-Khan wins a US grant to film the plight of Pakistani female singers. PHOTO: PUBLICITY
Pakistani scholar Fawzia Afzal-Khan wins a US grant to film the plight of Pakistani female singers. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

Fawzia Afzal-Khan, a native Lahori, who is now based in the United States, has received a US grant called The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) under the category of ‘Bridging Cultures through Film’. The grant requires a Humanities scholar to work with an independent film-maker to develop a film about a subject that would meet the criteria of building bridges across cultures. The Express Tribune spoke to the distinguished scholar and director of women and gender studies at Montclair State University in New Jersey, United States about her project.

Since her early childhood, Khan had been trained as a singer in what she calls “North-Indo Pakistani music”. Having performed as an amateur singer in both Pakistan and the US, she said the project is close to home and has high expectations from herself, “I want to pay homage to the lives and careers of Pakistani female singers who have not been given full credit or empathy for their contributions and struggles.”

Regarding the film, Khan claims, “I have worked hard to shatter stereotypes in the West about Pakistan and Muslim cultures in general and have given particular focus to women and gender issues as this is my passion and scholarly interest combined.” Regarding the primary theme of her research, Khan adds, “Crucial questions will be asked regarding gender and performance in the Pakistani cultural context.”

Partnership with film-maker Sarah Singh

On partnering with an independent film-maker Sarah Singh who happens to be her co-director in the forth-coming project, Khan says, “I was lucky to have met her. Sarah is an award — winning US film-maker of Indian descent. Singh’s first documentary features interviews with survivors of the Indo-Pak partition.”

Khan adds another reason for this unique partnership. “Not only will Sarah’s experience help in shining a positive light on Pakistan and its women singers, it will also help build bridges between Pakistan and India.”

Selection of Pakistani female singers

Khan plans on, “Choosing a few singers who have performed in different genres ranging from classical, semi-classical to popular culture in the past and the present. There will be representation from Punjab, Sind and NWFP based singers and Balochi singers will be added later on.

Another highlight of the film will be the inclusion of several mother-daughter singing pairs across the country ranging from Malika Pukhraj and Tahira Syed, Surraya Multanikar and Rahat Multanikar as well as Noor Jehan and Zille Huma. Besides covering these singers, there will be archival footage with live interviews from a combination of contemporary pop, sufi and classical legends such as Roshan Ara Begum, Abida Parveen, Zeb and Haniya, Meesha Shafi and Deeyah.

Coming back to the question of bridging culture divide, she asserts, “There are so many misconceptions and stereotypes in the West about the role and status of Pakistani women. And by making this film, some of these stereotypes can be challenged within the West by showing the full extents of musical and cultural contribution Pakistani women have made to the region since 1947.”

Published in The Express Tribune, January 30th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (4)

  • A caring Pakistani
    Jan 30, 2012 - 2:15AM

    Congrats! we are proud of you! looking forward to the film!


  • Saeeda Sikandar
    Jan 30, 2012 - 4:15AM

    We have new dynamic talent in the film, sports and music entities bur Pakistan through its embassy does an embarrassing job to promote Pakistan & its fine talented citizens in the various Pakistani embassies in America and the rest of the world.
    Our neighbour India is right spot on there are music channels that sponsor Indian song and singers and there is a huge campaign to spread the tourist message but the Pakistani Embassy and the Consulate in America are a shabby reflection of poor service to people who want to learn about Pakistan so it is heartening that ins spite of the constant anti-American sentiment the US is giving grants for Pakistan to spread the culture of Pakistan,


  • Samira
    Jan 30, 2012 - 1:27PM

    Looking forward to the film.


  • lisa
    Feb 12, 2012 - 9:44AM

    Is she related to Fawad Afzal Khan – the actor?


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