Pleasant, humble, and passionate — this is how one would describe Indian writer-producer Shuchi Kothari who arrived from New Zealand on December 21 to attend a wedding in Karachi.
During her seven-day vacation, Kothari said she loved hearing Tina Sani’s live performance, attending her best friend’s wedding, and the casual gathering at The Second Floor (T2F) cafe, where she screened three of her short films. After the showing of her films, she talked about her work. “I’m notorious for writing very graphically,” Kothari admitted.
It was a full house at T2F on Wednesday. Kothari walked in wearing a sapphire blue and emerald green outfit. As she sat on the chair near the projection screen, she welcomed the guests with a smile and a limited introduction which was then followed by a showing of her films.
The first film, titled Fleeting Beauty, has been directed by Virginia Pitts and stars award-winning Indian actor Nandita Das as the protagonist. Kothari intended on showing a powerful narrative using a woman’s voice and a man’s body. In the film, Nandita sprinkles spices on her lover’s naked back describing the unofficial history, exploration and exploitation of India. Kothari explained that her inspiration came from the amazing stories and myths she heard while traveling.
Directed by Zia Mandviwalla, her next film, Clean Linen, touched upon a story of an adolescent brother and sister growing up in New Zealand in a conservative Indian family. They are assigned household chores, but when their parents step out, both of them watch pornographic films which belong to their father. The family portrays a clean family picture, yet lacks communication and closeness. Kothari said she talked to several Indians who grew up abroad and said their families never touched upon subjects like sexuality and puberty or coming of age. “They all got it from porn,” said Kothari.
The third film, titled Coffee and Allah, has been directed by Sima Urale and revolves around a fully covered Ethiopian woman who lives in New Zealand. She seems like a lonely woman who loves Allah, coffee and badminton. Every day, she wears her blue burqa and walks to a café where she buys coffee beans from a cashier who knows exactly what she wants and tries being friends. Her normal routine is to pray, brew coffee and play badminton with her unknown neighbour. “My intention was to show this woman in a hijab being playful,” said Kothari. She explained how the refugees that are living in New Zealand are often ignored and not acknowledged. “These women become quite visible on one level, but on another, they’re quite invisible because no one has any access to them,” said Kothari. “We have to be understood,” she said.
Kothari was disturbed about the London bombings in 2005, which is why she chose to highlight the Muslim refugees; she wanted an Ethiopian woman so that the West would understand and see that Muslims exist outside of South Asia.
After the screening, a conversation began during which Kothari said she was overwhelmed by the love she has received in Karachi. Originating from Ahmadabad, India, Kothari married an Englishman of Pakistani descent, and settled in New Zealand. She is a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and simultaneously juggles her schedule to write and produce short films. Her award-winning short film Six Dollar Fifty Man, along with Firaaq and Apron Strings, are all based on real events and people.
“I’m never going to stop making short films,” said Kothari as she explained that an idea or a statement can be expressed with short films better than feature films. Although Kothari works closely with the director to get the right message out and co-produces her films, she will never opt for directing an entire project. The writer also included that she hates being the “control freak” or the “boss”. “I may direct documentaries, but never a fiction film,” she said.
The biggest challenge that Kothari had to face was the funding of her films. “From a kabab shop to my friends, I asked everyone to help fund my films,” said Kothari as she explained her struggle with Fleeting Beauty.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2012.
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