`Social history is told through film`
By Madeeha Syed
KARACHI: Filmmaking is the best way to tell a story, probably because you don’t have to be literate to enjoy one and it’s mass media, said film director Sabiha Sumar at a session of Reel Talks here on Thursday.
She said one needed to have an understanding of technicalities such as how sound, light and camera worked as well as an understanding of world affairs and history. “Social history is told through film,” she remarked.
Ms Sumar, who graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in New York in 1983, described as to how the art of filmmaking was dying with cinemas being converted into wedding halls and shopping malls when she returned to the country. She said she was left wondering that for whom she was going to make films.
She then left to pursue a degree at the Cambridge University. Upon her return, she visited the Karachi Central Jail and spoke to women who were imprisoned under the Hudood Ordinance. She wrote an article on it that grabbed the attention of a filmmaker from London and they both worked on a documentary titled Who cast the first stone in 1988, which centered on the lives of three of the inmates. One of the inmates resisted being married by force; another had been unable to return money she had borrowed. One inmate sought to divorce her husband and in retaliation, he accused her of committing adultery. As a result of the documentary, the case of Shahida Parveen, who was sentenced to death-by-stoning, underwent a retrial and was finally acquitted of the charges registered against her.
It was in 2003 when she made a film, Khamosh Pani, whose story revolves around a family in southern Punjab affected by the increasing religious radicalisation under the regime of General Zia-ul-Haq. The director described being told by the censor board that it had been banned – a statement she found surprising since her film had yet to be submitted for review. She was later informed that the ban was a consequence of her film having performances by Indian actors (Kiran Kher played one of the lead roles) and since Indian cinema was banned in Pakistan, so was her film.
Prevented from releasing her film commercially in Pakistan, Ms Sumar described creating a mobile theatre through which she took her film to small cities and villages throughout Pakistan in order to show her film. “Thousands of people watched that film. They watched it from wherever they could: from the rooftop of buses, buildings, trees or over each other’s shoulders. They saw the film, enjoyed themselves and, most importantly, asked questions.”
She said she made films in Pakistan with a commitment to train people while working on it. For Khamosh Pani, she held training workshops for three months before shooting the film. “The problem in Pakistan is that there is no education or training when it comes to this medium. That is being rectified through the efforts of individuals on a very small scale,” she said.
The director spoke about her latest film, Rafeena, which is based on the life of a 20-year-old woman from a low-income background who aspires to become a fashion model. The film was shot between September and November last year and is currently in its post-production phase. The film is slated for a release in December this year. She said that she has yet to find a film distributor for it.
The session with Ms Sumar was one of the series of talks being organised by The South Asian Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Television. The session was moderated by Sumair Aabroo.
Previous sessions of Reel Talks by SAAMPT have included talks by filmmaker Syed Noor, Mehreen Jabbar and advertisement and music director Jami Mahmood.