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India, Pakistan and the UK intertwined narratives: film, feminism and (and how to make your first feature)

India, Pakistan and the UK intertwined narratives: film, feminism and (and how to make your first feature)

As Independence Day celebrations and Partition Commemorations in India and Pakistan took centre stage a group of academics and filmmakers came together to discuss the impact and response of art and artists to the momentous events…

A THREE DAY mini-festival brought together a wide range of filmmakers and academics to discuss how narratives have been shaped and affected by the trauma of Partition and the ensuing Independence of India and the creation of Pakistan.

Those participating also asked how women filmmakers could affect change through their work and how easy or difficult it was to shape narratives which espouse equality and feminism. A group of women scholars and researchers from the Critical Thinking Forum (see picture top left), based at the International Islamic University in Lahore participated in the discussions and post screening Qs&As.

Organised by Dr Varsha Panjwani (University of Boston, London) and Koel Chatterjee (Royal Holloway), the festival saw contributions from filmmakers…

Dr Varsha Panjwani & film director Ken McMullen

♦Ken McMullen who made Channel 4’s ‘Partition’ (1987) in response to the 40th anniversary Independence celebrations and basing his drama on the famous story by the much admired and once again in vogue author, Saadat Hasan Manto and his tale, ‘Toba Tek Singh’. Featuring a star cast, including Roshan Seth, Saeed Jaffrey and Zohra Segal, it was produced by Tariq Ali (who helped McMullan with the script) and the late Darcus Howe, as part of their Bandung Files strand for the channel. McMullen was able to welcome leading actor John Shrapnel and Harmage Singh Kalirai to the discussion as both attended. Segal’s character appears as the most enlightened and knowledegable, even though she is seemingly only a sweeper woman (and invented as a narrator character for the TV drama). The post screening Q&A was proceeded by a general discussion about Partition and its impact on the general population and got the festival under way on Wednesday (August 16).

♦The Jamal brothers who made the recent award-winning ‘Rahm’, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’, but set in contemporary Lahore. The film premiered in the UK at the London Asian Film Festival in March this year and scriptwriter Mahmood Jamal won an award for his adaptation. The pair, who are based in London, shared their experiences of making the film on location, at a special symposium at Tara Arts Theatre in South London, as part of the India-Pakistan UK Narrative festival, on its second day on Thursday (August 17).

Sangeeta Datta with members of the Critical Thinking Forum on the panel

♦ Filmmakers Paakhi A Tyrewala (on Skype from India, see top right picture), Sangeeta Datta and Sadia Saeed joined a panel discussion after the audience saw one-time Bollywood actress Tyrewala’s directorial debut short film, ‘Kajal’, and heard a presentation from Bhavna Rajpal about preserving and widening knowledge about Sindhi cinema. The audience also saw the trailer for ‘Arifa’ which premiered at the East End Film Festival this summer. Saeed’s ‘Arifa’ is a darkly comic London-based feature about a young woman trying to establish her identity under the myriad pressures of romance, family, career and cultural expectations in the Big Smoke. Datta made ‘Life Goes On’ (2009) and was associate director on ‘Brick Lane’ (2007). The panel later discussed what it meant to be a feminist in the 21st century in the three countries and the debate was chaired by ACV’s Momtaz Begum-Hossain and it brought the curtain down on the festival last Friday (August 18).

Filmmaker Sadia Saeed and debate chair Momtaz Begum-Hossain

Topics on the final day included how all three women identify with feminism, their individual experiences of how they have self-funded their own projects in order to achieve their goals, discussions around the current number of women working in the industry, how accessible filmmaking is, and whether being privileged plays a role in being successful.

There was a special focus on making your first film…

• Not feeling represented? The solution is to DIY. If you don’t see what you want, then you need to put it out there yourself.

• Write for your tribe. If you want to make a film and don’t know where to start, think about yourself: what do you want to watch? Who is that person? Write for them.

• Teamwork is crucial in filmmaking. You can’t do everything yourself so try and find people to work with that can do the aspects you’re not so strong at.

• Use whatever equipment you have access to, to get started. Mobile phone technology is making filmmaking the most accessible it’s ever been, so there are no excuses, really.

• Research where your audience is based, you may be surprised to find them in countries and cities you never expected, this diaspora could be waiting for your content so go give it to them.

• When it comes to funding, do what feels right for you. If you can borrow money and don’t mind, then do so, otherwise be prepared to work hard in other jobs to raise money to fund your passions. Seek out funding opportunities for filmmakers too, as they do exist.

• You can only do so much. Ask help from the community who you are representing, it’s in their interest to make your project work.

For a report on the first day, see here


Members of the Critical Thinking Forum with Dr Varsha Panjwani (2L); Bhavna Rajpal, SIndhi film Festival (3L); Momtaz Begum-Hossain (4L); Dr Munazza Yacoub (c);Sadia Saeed (c); Koel Chatterjee (2R)

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture