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Small South Asian film festival makes it to Paris' Grand Rex

Looking ahead. Director Sabiha Sumar (R) and writer/actress/director Kalki Koechlin (L)
Looking ahead. Director Sabiha Sumar (R) and writer/actress/director Kalki Koechlin (L) Vidhi production/ Sabiha Sumar

It's more than a year since the last one but the 6th South Asian Film Festival FFAST got under on Wednesday night in Paris. Its aim: to provide the South Asian community and French fans of South Asian culture interesting views of the Indian Sub-Continent through contemporary films.

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The FFAST, where the 'T' sometimes stands for something "transgressive", invited Franco-Indian screen and stage star Kalki Koechlin and veteran Pakistan filmmaker Sabiha Sumar to open the event.

In the opening film, Sabiha Sumar goes a long way from her moving 2003 international prize-winning feature film, Khamosh Paani (Silent Water). Her Azimaish, a journey through the Sub-Continent is a big title for a little film which skims over a ton of important issues.

Azimaish means trials and tribulations, explains Sumar, and introduces ordinary life and the political and philosophical ramifications.

"I think the characters had to be real, on the ground, in your everyday life. There was nothing to be fictionalised here. I think it was more hard-hitting as a documentary."

The director with more than a dozen films to her name is accompanied on her travels in India and Pakistan by Kalki Koechlin (Dev D. - Anurag Kashyap, 2009, The Girl in the Yellow Boots - Anurag Kashyap, 2011, Margherita with a Straw - Sonali Bose, 2014, Waiting - Anu Menon, 2015, Gully Boy - Zoya Akhtar, 2019 and more).

Points of view

The film throws out points of view from ordinary and less ordinary Indians and Pakistanis.

The two women's facial expressions say more than words in response to comments from their interviewees. For example, when Sumar lunches with the immensely wealthy Pakistani dynastical politician whose garage contains cars which would feed thousands in his country, possibly even build a school or hospital and maintain it for a while, or chats about women with a group of men watching a sexy ad being filmed.

On her first trip to Pakistan, Koechlin remarked differences and similarities.

"What stood out as different was the feudal governance, by big feudal landlords who double up as politicians ruling over a bunch of villages which vote for them, automatically compared to a more industrialised India where ... we have some sort of democracy."

"But [there are also] lots of similarities, it's the same terrain, the same language, especially with the north of India. People have the same wishes and wants."

Koechlin listens attentively to a Hindu extremist. She is happy to meet a group of jolly middle-aged to elderly women out for their early morning group laughter therapy. Then they start talking about Hindu nationalism and the mood changes.

Silence befalls them both when a woman journalist in Mumbai says that so long as they can maintain economic development, it doesn't matter if the governing politicians promote ideas that divide the country and create insecurity.

Sumar in the film asks where the two countries will be in 30 years time, she says it seems daunting. However she also says, "it became much more a film about what people are wanting, what people are feeling and the resilience of people which is what will bring us out of the situations we find ourselves in."

Better ways, better days?

Sumar sets out to show that intolerance, especially religious, as well as inherent divisions, are prevalent in the Sub-Continent, and that they do nothing to improve the lives of ordinary people. Also that these issues are common the world over.

"It started with the question, why don't we have peace in the world? And everybody talks about peace, so what's the difficulty if everybody believes that peace would be the way to live our lives better?"

"Then as I investigate that question, I find it's linked with justice, if you look at Pakistan or India or other countries. Whether it's about big countries dominating small countries, or political and ruling elites of the people, everything is linked with justice."

It is a rare chance for film-watchers in France to get a different view of Pakistan especially, as there are fewer films about life and ordinary people in this country than in its neighbour India.

Competition

Azimaish is one of the films in the FFAST competition. The others are :

  • Komola Rocket, an orange boat, Noor Imran Mithu - Bangladesh
  • Round Figure, Hartik Mehta - India
  • Mukkabaaz, Anurag Kashyap - India
  • Ralang Road, Karma Takapa - India
  • Abu:Father, Arshad Khan - Pakistan/Canada
  • Sangharsh, Times of Struggle, Nicolas Jaoul

Three films are in the 'contemplation of youth' section of the FFAST and five short films complete the programme which ends on Sunday 17 February. All films are being screened at the magical Grand Rex Cinema in Paris.

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