KARACHI : Last weekend saw Hyderabad celebrate its biggest annual festival, Lahooti Melo. The third edition of the Melo, initiated by The Sketches front man Saif Samejo, included several panel discussions between musicians, scholars, poets and artists from all over Pakistan.
One of the most interesting sessions of the festival was about storytelling titled ‘Folklore Finesse.’ The discussion, moderated by Sikander Ali Hullio, included film-maker Jami Mehmood, well-known scholar and linguist Fahmida Hussain, American poet and spoken word artist Timothy P McLaughlin and director Khalid Ahmed.
The panelists touched upon different aspects of folklore and storytelling in modern media. Talking about incorporating folklore in films, Ahmed argued that revisiting them in a modern perspective was more than merely incorporating them. “It’s important to look at them in a new context. A lot of them tell stories of bravery and important values in the society,” he said.
“But we need to look at them through a critical point of view. There are good characters and happenings and ideas and then, there re stereotypical ones which may not be suitable for us today.” He gave the example of recent Bollywood film Padmaavat, criticising it for glorifying the idea of self-immolation.
While Hussain highlighted the difference between myth, folklore and historical fiction and spoke of how fiction was used in the society to educate people about their history, Jami talked about storytelling in the context of the local film industry.
“I always say this recent rise of films is more a rebirth than a revival of cinema,” he said. “What we need to realise is that film-making isn’t an entertainment industry, it’s a storytelling industry. But of course, we are not focusing on that and by doing so, we are reviving it in a horrible way. Just because it makes money doesn’t mean we are doing it right.” Jami further added, “We are not telling stories, we are doing circus. Everyone jumps around and then goes home.”
McLaughlin dug into the origin of stories and shared that all stories, wherever you go, come from indigenous folklores and over time, get widely adapted by people. “Stories aren’t just meant for entertainment, documentation or cultural transmission. They are the much-needed soul-food for humans…like the first breast milk for babies.”
He compared the original stories told and transmitted throughout human history in the shape of religions, culture and folklore to old trees. “These original stories are like old trees. We can only touch their exterior and feel them, but they go way deeper.”
McLaughlin suggested that a story must haunt the storyteller until it becomes unbearable to hold and needs to be told. He said to create new stories, we mustn’t cut down those old trees but go back to them, study them as they help us plant new ones of our own.
Beside the session, Mclaughlin invited Samejo, shook hands with him and congratulated him for organising Lahooti Melo. “Pakistan has had many politicians, businessmen and military come here, but not a poet. They speak from their wallets and their guns. A poet speaks from the heart,” he said, adding that he was glad to have been invited and took it as a gesture of peace and love.
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