South Asian documentary festival: A dive beneath known waters

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

Maryam Usman April 22, 2012


Often our perception of something lingers too long for us to see the bigger picture. To see reality in its essence and revel in its raw beauty. Perhaps nothing could be more ironic than seeing the same on a piece of celluloid film. Unspoken adversity, poignant truths and something more.

A reverie of real life stories collected from South Asia played at the South Asian documentary festival at Kuch Khaas on Friday. The three-day festival aims to invigorate audience through stories from various regions of the continent.

The first round featured a set of four documentaries. Titled “Think Twice Pakistan: Inspiring Stories” the collection had 20-minute pieces on people living beyond the call of ordinary life: Sarmad Tariq, a quadriplegic who races marathons in a wheelchair; Suhaila Muhammadi, a karate champion from Balochistan; Rosheen Khan, Pakistan’s first female Master Scuba Diver; and Samina Baig, a mountaineer from Hunza. The films were produced by BlackBox Sounds, a project of Think Twice Pakistan in 2012.

All the individuals had a story to tell, something to offer through their perseverance in the face of unrelenting odds. Thanks to the quality of the production and high resolution, one felt a part of the stories rather than a silent spectator; it was as if the protagonists were speaking to the viewer rather than boasting about their hard-earned accomplishments.

The videos showed a side of Pakistan little known — the scenic underwater coral reefs in the outskirts of Karachi, which Muhammadi said are at par with the rest of the world, if not better. She pointed out how people travel to foreign shores when they could more easily find abundance in Pakistan and that it was only a matter of developing more facilities for aspiring sea divers.

In an afterword, BlackBox Sounds Executive Producer Tauseeq Haider explained that the videos aimed at making people “rethink Pakistan” and let go of bias. He said inspiring stories are not hard to find and there is much unexplored goodness in the country, which needs to be promoted amongst the youth.

Next up, “Beauty Academy of Kabul” was an unconventional take on the Afghan women. The 74-minute documentary by BBC and Discovery productions shared the aspirations and fears of these women struggling to rebuild their country, while celebrating the beauty in themselves and each other. A group of Afghan-American women open a beauty salon in Kabul to teach Afghan women how to become hairdressers and beauticians. The film gives a rare glimpse into Afghan women’s lives and documents, with humour, how women with different life experiences meet and learn about each other. The film was directed by Liz Mermin in 2004.

The final 25-minute film “Storytelling Traditions of India” is woven around the thoughts and authors, philosophers and artists from around the world. The richness of colour, the wonder of storytelling along with lint of poetry and music could be felt as the message resonated across the hall. The film was directed by Neela Venkatrama and Indian Ministry of External Affairs in 2011.

The collective screening achieved what it had set out to do: break the shackles of stereotype and provide new cultural perspectives to local and foreign audience alike. “I enjoyed watching each bit because of the music and subtitles,” said a foreigner audience member. The event has put together by Asian Study Group, a voluntary organisation that works to promote Pakistani culture.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2012. 


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