Vice Magazine gets down and dirty in Karachi
By: Shaheryar Mirza
KARACHI: If you have never been to Karachi, you have never been killed, said an Edhi ambulance driver who picks up the pieces after a violent day.
The unnamed ambulance driver delivered this cynical yet apt line to Suroosh Alvi, founder of Vice Magazine, whose 40-minute documentary attempts to show a side of the city that flies under the radar of the mainstream media in the west.
When watching any of the Vice Guides to Travel, one should be aware that the language is not sanitised, the format is free from television’s stifling constraints and opinions flow freely throughout, which are all good reasons to watch their guide to Karachi instead of the six o’clock news.
Alvi, whose magazine is based out of New York City and he has filmed in at least eight different countries which are known for their volatile nature, said that Karachi was totally unique. “When I went to the dump in Jam Chakro and saw the scavengers, I have never seen anything like it. The only thing close, which I do not think was as bad, was the Congo,” said Alvi, who was speaking over the phone from the US after completing the film. “It was an emotional rollercoaster.” Alvi is often seen throughout the film commenting on the scenarios he is reporting on along with fellow filmmaker, bass player and lead singer for The Komainas, Basim Usmani.
The film introduces its major subjects in an almost Tarantino-esque manner – the banned Peoples Amn Committee leader Uzair Baloch as Public Enemy No. 1, Hamza Khan of the Awami National Party as No.1 Son, Faisal Subzwari of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement as the Zealot, MNA Nabil Gabol as the politician, Crime Investigation Department SSP Chaudhry Aslam as the Bad Lieutenant and finally, The Target Killer. The filmmakers go on different operations in Lyari and Orangi Town that are meant to wipe out criminals out but as is often witnessed on local television they are not exactly Navy SEALS operations.
One of the more interesting parts of the film that will appeal to the local viewership and seemed to scoop the local media was that during an operation in Lyari, Alvi and his colleagues managed to get an interview with Uzair and Zafar Baloch, the Baloch Brothers as they called them in the film, inside their palatial home in the heart of Lyari’s slum. The film gives a small tour of his ‘Scarface-like’ abode, an empty indoor swimming pool, gaudy fountains and ponds and flashy furniture throughout.
All topped off with Uzair Baloch’s characteristically defiant rhetoric. The gem of the film comes in its last segment where Alvi managed to interview a target killer. “It was intense and I didn’t really know what to think,” he said.
During the interview the target killer, fittingly speaking from under a motorcycle helmet, confessed to have killed 30 to 35 people and said that he got into the business because of unemployment and can’t sleep at night because of it.
The million dollar question that goes missing in the conversation was who the killer works for. The miss is forgivable because questions like that can get a journalist into trouble but tellingly the killer does admit that 80 per cent of killings were political and 20 per cent were mafia related. Subzwari, and MNA Gabol, come off as pure politicians, who do not stray for one moment from the party line.
Alvi admitted to being tense at many points during filming even though a lot of the film takes on an almost satirical tone which may turn some people off but is also one the film’s best qualities.
The one contradiction in the project is that Vice claims to show a side of a city that the mainstream media misses, but the film features mostly on violence, which is what most of the mainstream media is guilty of. But that is also what makes Karachi, and the film, intriguing.