Category Archives: art

Gurdwara Darbar Sahib

The subcontinent is one of the most multicultural, multi-religious, multilingual, multi-ethnic parts of the world. It holds a multitude of histories, some of them unbearably painful, that we need to acknowledge and work through together.

Much is wrong in Pakistan, but this is a lovely picture.
Sikh pilgrims arrive at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Pakistan, in March this year. Photo by @abdullahfarooqbajwa

The Injured Body: Sady Fischer

Transcribing interviews for my new doc ‘The Injured Body’

Sady Fischer, Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, describes her vision for a better world:

The first thing I would say is for everyone to get the term colorblind out of their vocabulary. We do see different races, different communities, different looks. There’s this Audre Lorde poem, it is my all-time favorite, and she says: ‘It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.’

[…] I tell people all the time, I want you to see who I am, I don’t want you to pretend that you can’t see that I’m female. I’m proud of being a woman. Don’t pretend that you don’t see that I am a Latina, I’m very proud of my background and my heritage. I don’t want you to pretend that I’m not a queer woman. People say, ‘I don’t even see you as that, I just see you as Sady.’ But I see myself as that. I’m proud of my partner, our household, our family and the community that we belong to. I want you to see all those things. What I don’t want is a value judgment assigned to any of it.

microaggressions #racism #LGBTQrights #womenofcolor #film #documentary #theinjuredbody #neelumfilms #microaggressionsareracism #microaggressionsarereal

Dividing the Indivisible: Revisiting Partition

THIS review!!! When someone sees, truly sees, your work.

A Thin Wall premiered in 2015, five years ago, but MUBI India just acquired it and made it ‘film of the day’ and Kriti: a development praxis and communication team have been screening it, so entire new audiences are watching it now. It’s more relevant than ever.

What was it like to make A Thin Wall, a film that took seven years to complete?

How does one make a film about ethnic cleansing and violence, yet stitch it together with the movement of delicate saris and dupattas, fabric that hugs and celebrates the bodies of women? How does one tell stories about loss and displacement yet make the language of that telling sing with poignant, thoughtful words articulated by poets, writers, photojournalists, historians and filmmakers? How does one jettison linearity and its oppressive demands for a structure loose enough, capacious enough, to contain multiple layers of pain, memory, politics, history, and emotion? How does one talk about ominous violence, yet intertwine it with hope, with dreams of a better future?

These were some of the contradictions, narratives and sensibilities that were woven together to create A Thin Wall.

Thank you Surbhi Dewan for being my partner in this and for trusting me with the stories of your family. Thank you Mitun Gomes, Zubair Tanoli and Adam Netsky for your lyrical cinematography, Gayane Okhota for breathtaking animation, and Hassan Zaman, Nivedhan Singh and Zeshan M Bagewadi for beautiful original music. Thank you John Siddique, Uzma Aslam Khan, Ajay Bhardwaj, Asim Rafiqui, Jimmy Engineer and Urvashi Butalia for lending your genius to this project.

Thank you to everyone who supported our crowdfunding campaign, worked on post-production, and helped in myriad other ways in Pakistan, India and the United States. Last but not least, thank you to the family and friends we interviewed, some of whom have left us already, and who spoke with such generosity, truth and courage. So grateful for all of you, and for being able to make films.

Read review here.


My film ‘A Thin Wall,’ co-produced by Surbhi Dewan, a documentary that highlights personal stories about the partition of India in 1947, will be streaming on MUBI India starting today! MUBI is a global film platform that provides a hand-curated selection of films on demand, in over 190 countries. Psyched:)
MUBI #athinwall #documentary #neelumfilms #partitionofindia #pakistan #india #southasia #subcontinent #oralhistory #personalstories #womenempowerment #bordersseparatepeople

From ‘That Home in Our Heart: An Allegory of a Struggle Against Forgetting in Kashmir’

By Muzamil Jaleel

[…] He couldn’t find solace in anything, so he tried to refresh his own memory, remembering home while at home. He wished they had a word like hiraeth. In Wales, hiraeth is a longing for home, though its real meaning is much more about missing home. They say it can even be a yearning for something that we know may not exist anymore. It’s perhaps about a time, an idea, a people whose past, present and future are conjoined. After all, home isn’t just the space within the four walls of a house.

In his diary, he had written all such words that described this emotion, this anguish. In Portuguese, saudade captures this yearning, and toska in Russian. Nabokov couldn’t translate toska into English. He couldn’t find a word that “renders all the shades of toska.” He explained it as “a sensation of great spiritual anguish, a dull ache of the soul, a longing.” In German, it is Sehnsucht, morriña in Spanish and perhaps tizita in Amharic.

He has been looking for an exact word to describe this acute homesickness, which happens while you are home and aware that the home may not exist anymore. He knew there isn’t any such word that embodies Kashmir’s collective feeling about home. He didn’t know if his mother tongue had such a word. He hasn’t been able to find one. For centuries, his sweet lyrical mother tongue, Koshur, had been kept out of schools, blocked out of trade and taken out of government and private transactions. He knew that it has survived only on the tongue since time immemorial: most Kashmiris don’t know how to read and write Koshur.

[…] We need to picture the shapes of our faces, our mannerisms, our idiosyncrasies and our attire. We need to preserve the oral cookbooks of our mothers. We need to profile our shrines, keep record of the wee-hour chants of Awrad, the ritual of prayer rhymed aloud. We need to map our villages, our cities, our landscape, our rivers, our meadows and valleys. We need to document our streets, our markets, our bakeries and our perfume shops. We need to remember the kalaams of Sufis, sung with the comforting melody of the saz-e-Kashmir, our own version of the santoor, the sitar and the dhukra. Our ancient text refers to its 180 melodies; 130 are already lost. Our saz-e-Kashmir is going silent, too.

[…] We will write our tales, the tales of our forefathers. We will preserve all our ‘Suffering Moses’. If we are prevented from writing, we won’t let our nimble fingers forget how to tie the knots of the silken threads to weave our memory into our beautiful carpets. Our memory will be stored in the talim of our weavers. We will memorise our home, hide it in our hearts, and pass it on. It will survive even if we don’t.

Photo: Kashmiri woman spins pashmina wool by David De Vleeschauwer

The Injured Body: Amanda Chestnut

Transcribing interviews for my new doc ‘The Injured Body’
Amanda Chestnut, an artist, curator and educator based in Rochester, NY, talks about her work:

‘The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain’ by Langston Hughes was so important for me to read. I’ve read a lot of his poetry. A lot of archival work I’ve done has been related to Hughes’s experience of being Black in America. His poetry has overlapped with my archival work in many ways. But this essay in particular was really important for me because he speaks to actively choosing to be Black and actively choosing to glorify that Blackness, instead of being a creator and having aspirations toward a normative white standard. He emphasizes that it’s ok to be Black and that Blackness is glorious, is the word that he uses. And that was really important for me to read as I was coming into being an artist. It was important for me to be able to actively choose to talk about race and to make work about race. Because when you’re a person of color your work is always about race, whether you want to admit it or not. Everything you make is influenced by race and everything you make will be read through that lens.
microaggressions #racism #womenofcolor #film #documentary #theinjuredbody #neelumfilms #microaggressionsareracism #microaggressionsarereal

My review: divorce italian style

watched ‘divorce italian style’ (1961) which is supposed to be a dark comedy. was completely turned off by the overwhelming misogyny and mean-spiritedness of the film. yes, i know it’s supposed to be ‘satire’ but, once again, punching down against women in a dangerously patriarchal society/world is hardly funny. 

so much is cringeworthy in the film: the mustache and unibrow added to mastroianni’s perfectly good-looking wife in order to dehumanize her, the fact that the hero is a 37-year old lech lusting after his 16-year old cousin (they end up together), how the teenager’s uncle (her mother’s brother) is also stalking her, the lech’s recurring day dreams of his wife falling into a vat of boiling chemicals or being sucked into quicksand, the constant sexual harassment of the impoverished, dishevelled maid (who doesn’t seem to mind so much), the off-screen/cold-blooded/inconsequential murder of the wife, and on and on. 

i get that it’s an attempt to lay bare the ridiculousness of a conservative, catholic, macho society but is there no way to unpack cruelty, oppression, violence, and sexism, then by reproducing/laughing at cruelty and misogyny? 

there’s also an undercurrent of racism against southern italians throughout the film.

i had the same issue when re-reading gabriel garcía márquez’s ‘love in the time of cholera.’ rather than being impressed by the hero’s persistence in pursuing ‘true love,’ i was unsettled by his compulsive consumption of women, how rape is presented (or invisibilized) in the book, and how black women are outrageously sexualized. (what i wrote is in comments)

it’s not just sexism, it’s also racism. for example, when i think of ‘breakfast at tiffany’s,’ the image that comes to mind is the ‘yellowface minstrelsy caricature’ served up by mickey rooney as mr yunioshi. 

many times, partaking of mainstream culture feels like negotiating a minefield.