South Asian documentary festival: Delving into dreams and secrets, palaces and dungeons

Published: April 23, 2012

Films take the unassuming viewer on an inspirational journey across the continent.

ISLAMABAD: When it comes to this part of the world, there is always more than what meets the eye. The second day of the ongoing South Asian documentary festival at Kuch Khaas on Saturday was a testament to this fact.

Spanning Pakistan, Bhutan, India and Sri Lanka, the films wove together geography and history, art and architecture, lyric and rhythm in a testament to the diversity of the region. There was something on the menu for just about everyone, be it history buffs, music connoisseurs, literature nerds or those with a penchant for wanderlust.

Khyal Darpan

In the 65-minute documentary “Khyal Darpan” (Mirror of Imagination), Delhi-based filmmaker Yousaf Saeed travels through Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, spotlighting popular gharanas and their offspring, and chronicles the rise and fall of music through to the 1947 partition. Produced in 2006, the film begins with sounds of ghunghroos, tablas and flutes amidst kites flying across orange skylines atop congested alleyways. Wiry old men sit in dinghy rooms recalling a forgotten era while liberal arts students practice on sitars.

Saeed posits that with the emergence of contemporary pop and despite attempts to keep the form alive, ragas have gradually sunk into oblivion. Religious restrictions, cultural identity and the importance of preserving heritage are also a point of focus for the film.

Bhutan: Land of Thunder Dragon

The 10-minute short film “Bhutan: Land of Thunder Dragon” journeys through the chronicles of gods, goddesses, monks, deities and monarchs — myths that went on to become legends, traditions and their cultural legacies.

There is a certain quiet that descends on the placid Sri Lankan monasteries where worship, meditation and dance rituals of the Kandyan region. Here dance is not celebration but ritual and the monks and locals live in harmony, embodying its stature as the eighth happiest country, according to an independent survey. The film was produced by Susan A Reed in 2009.

Islamic Architecture of India

A virtual ride through the emblems of architecture inspired from Arabia, Turkey and Persia, the 31-minute film “Islamic Architecture of India” delves into the history and architecture of monuments such as Qutb Minar, Taj Mahal, Mochi Gate and the Samarkand Mosque. The film showcases how the mosques, tombs, madrassas and fortresses of India combine local talent with inspirations from Iran, Arabia, Central Asia and the rest of the Muslim world. The film was directed by Benoy Behl in collaboration with the Indian Ministry of External Affairs in 2011.

Born Into Brothels

Easily the highlight of the day, the 85-minute “Born into Brothels” is an insightful look at the children born into Calcutta’s red light district. The Oscar-winning film presents prostitution and drugs from the perspective of children.

Directed by Zana Briski and Ross Kaufman, the filmmakers hand cameras to their subjects who through the chance to photograph their world awaken their own talents and sense of worth. The film was released in 2004.

Unpredictable weather, technical glitches and power fluctuation were among the hurdles faced by the organisers. That the wide array of films captivated the large audience for four hours straight shows there is something to be said about the festival.

The festival has been organised by the Asian Study Group, a voluntary organisation that works to promote Pakistani culture, in collaboration with Omnifarious fitness and nutrition gym.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 23rd, 2012.

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