A review of director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s latest documentaries screened at London Indian Film Festival 2016
When it comes to fearless journalism, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy comes to mind. It’s not just her vast filmography that makes her so inspiring, but the courageous subjects she gives exposure to and her fervent advocation of those issues. With a wealth of influential films to her name, Pakistan’s first Oscar winning director graced the recent London Indian Film Festival, where her documentary films A Girl In The River: The Price Of Forgiveness and Song Of Lahore were screened.
Oscar winning A Girl In The River: The Price Of Forgiveness, tells the moving story of eighteen year old Saba, who eloped with the love of her life, only to be beaten and shot in the head by her father and uncle. Miraculously, she survives to tell the tale and the perpetrators are arrested, until the case goes to court and she is faced with pressure from the village folk to forgive her family. The film draws attention to a major loophole in Pakistan’s law, whereby murderers involved in honour killings often walk free, if they are ‘forgiven’ by the victim or the victim’s family.
There are some shocking scenes in the film, showing Saba’s father absurdly and proudly not only claiming full responsibility of his actions, but also conveying no remorse whatsoever. Such moments depicted the current stark and harsh reality of honour killing cases in Pakistan. Sharmeen successfully and beautifully weaves Saba’s story, by not just focusing on the legalities and politics, but also portraying the very real and human element of Saba and her husband’s bond of love.
Sadly, Saba’s story is not a sole one in Pakistan, where honour killings are commonplace. The screening of such a film couldn’t have come at a more relevant time, with the recent murder of Pakistan’s social media star Qandeel Baloch, who was killed by her brother in the name of ‘honour’, which sparked global outrage.
In light of recent cases and Sharmeen’s powerful message through her film-making, it is expected that Pakistan’s laws surrounding honour killings are soon to be strengthened, ensuring murderers are not let off so easily. Sharmeen’s work is renowned for making waves in the Pakistani swamp of politics and A Girl In The River: The Price Of Forgiveness continued the momentum - a huge feat for Pakistan and tireless activism, Sharmeen has once again proven the power of groundbreaking journalism.
In a much less sombre and more heart-warming story, Song Of Lahore follows Sachal Studios, comprised of a talented bunch of Lahori musicians, whose sounds and strums have been suppressed by the radical rise of religious extremists in Pakistan.
Founded by Izzat Majeed, Sachal Studios is a passionate revival and defiance of such radical views against music, as they strive to keep the infamous Lahori musical legacy and traditions alive for generations to come. A humorous, yet poignant depiction of this desire is shown, when a senior musician vehemently trains and imposes his musical skill onto his teenage son, who does not share the same passion for music.
Sharmeen follows the band to New York, where they are to play with a jazz band for the first time on a global platform. There are some hilarious scenes in Times Square, where the band are exposed to buskers for the first time, which really highlights their simplicity and the brilliance of their individual spirits, characters and personalities. This is testimony to Sharmeen’s phenomenal direction, effortlessly allowing each persona’s characteristics to shine through naturally and warm to the audience, thus leaving a lasting impact.
During her Q&A at the festival, I asked Sharmeen what kind of reception her more risqué work gets from the Pakistani audience, to which she replied that despite some negativity, this will never put her off choosing taboo topics for her films and that she will keep on making films that give voice to the oppressed in Pakistan. It is her zealous and bold attitude, as well as her consistent activism that continues to create an impact and enlighten on a global level.