‘Freedom of expression is about honest storytelling’
KARACHI: A pre-lunch session on the second day of the 12th Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) was on ‘Freedom of expression in art and literature’ moderated by Safina Danish Elahi with panelists Asim Abbasi (film-maker) and Osman Haneef (novelist) — both of them were in the UK from where they attended the programme online.
Her first question was about what the phrase freedom of expression means. The question was for Mr Abbasi. He said it was the ability to tell a story honestly. Every storyteller tries to figure out some kind of authenticity to the story that he’s telling. That’s fundamental whether you’re writing fiction or making films. That comes with having an honest conversation, with the ability to critique whether it’s faith or morality. It doesn’t make us bad citizens. It makes people who want to have a better future. Mr Haneef was asked about the need to fictionalize the story of his novels. He said the more you tell people that it’s fiction the more they ask you whether it’s based on real characters. Fiction is one of the few art forms where you can enter another person’s point of view or get into another character’s shoes. His stories have multiple themes and are about characters and their development, their journey.
When Mr Abbasi was asked about the wardrobe he used in the web series Churails and its connotations, he replied he didn’t intend for the wardrobe to get any reaction. He was showing a plethora of women and it would’ve been a disservice to say that all his women are straight. So he needed to be as honest as possible when depicting women from all backgrounds. It was a play on veiling and unveiling women. It was taking ownership.
Responding to the question about initiating a dialogue through stories, Mr Haneef said freedom of expression is about having a dialogue, an honest conversation. There are examples where art has introduced ideas and elevated them into national consciousness. In that context he gave the example of Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary A Girl in the River. “It’s a documentary, still there’s a lot of storytelling involved in it. It got an Oscar nomination and it was shown at the Prime Minister House. Later that year it introduced an anti-honour killing legislation with the recognition that honour killing has nothing to do with Islam.”
Mr Abbasi on the issue of self-censorship said it plays a huge role. With his film Cake there was that element but with Churails it wasn’t because at the time digital was still a free space.