seeing ‘the changemakers’ at RMSC

at the rochester museum & science center today where we saw ‘the changemakers’ exhibit which is stunning. recognized so many beautiful women friends who are part of the exhibition. two pieces from my art series ‘this heirloom’ are on display there. one is a graphic collage with my mom and her sister, when they were little girls. the other is called ‘embroidered dreams’ and it’s a tribute to my paternal grandmother, niaz fatima. my grandmother became a widow when she was quite young and struggled to raise and educate her children, in a highly patriarchal family system. i was wondering how she would feel about her picture hanging in a museum in rochester, new york, a tribute by a granddaughter she didn’t see grow up. it felt empowering.
rmsc #thechangemakers #beachangemaker #womensupportingwomen #womenempowerment #pakistan #rochesteny

Frankenstein in Baghdad

Halfway through Ahmed Saadawi’s ‘Frankenstein in Baghdad’ – macabre, surreal, comical, poetic. Also heartbreaking in how it portrays life unraveling under war and occupation – how our sense of ‘normal’ can shift precipitously. Masterful writing. Thank u so much Mazin M Hameed for recommending it and thank u Muna Lisa for reminding me of this book.

gadot as cleopatra

a friend asked me to speak to her class about feminism and islam, something i’ve written about, so i’ve been refreshing my reading of texts by three spectacularly incisive women of color – saba mahmood, houria boutelja and francoise verges. the timing could not be better as the controversy over casting gal gadot, a white israeli actress, in the role of cleopatra continues on social media.

i know this will ruffle feathers, but i’ve been meaning to write this since the new ‘wonder woman’ came out (also played by gal gadot). i grew up in the middle of europe, when wonder woman was on fire (albeit dubbed in french) and i have to say, it never did anything for me. i’ve read ad infinitum how wonder woman changed the lives of western/white women and i’ve always felt completely disconnected from that discourse. wonder woman, as invented by a white man and played by a skinny white woman, did not resonate with me. most of the time, she seemed to be awkwardly balancing herself while twirling, burdened with an impractical costume, and, i felt as a child, more limited in her powers than other super heroes. she did not represent strength to me. the bionic woman (also dubbed in french) seemed more sensible and badass than her.

it’s pretty fitting then that gal gadot, a supporter of IDF and settler colonialism, came to embody white feminism, its artifacts and imagery – something i am indifferent to.
in the same way cleopatra, as delivered by elizabeth taylor, felt sad and campy, so very campy, and failed to project female empowerment. she was obviously conceived and executed by a bunch of men in hollywood. now that we’ve come a long way, in terms of women’s rights, a group of white women want their chance to co-opt the story of an egyptian queen. i’m sure that their counterparts will be inspired, but the rest of us — brown, black, women from the east and the global south — will just have to do our own thing:)

A Thin Wall (Ahmed, 2015)

When a skilled filmmaker writes a review of your film – thank u so much Neal Dhand:)

‘There’s such a mixture of form here: talking head, staged interviews; two voiceovers; handheld, spur of the moment interviews; animation; traditional B-roll. It’s collage, but also a good example of the myriad ways to recall and/or discuss a difficult event – just sitting down and talking won’t do it justice, you have to get at it from multiple angles.

It’s the uncommon film that maintains the feeling of refusal to look away, while also, and seemingly contradictorily, refusing to show those images that we might typically look away from. Much of that comes from the openness with which the subjects in the film speak, including on-the-street interviewees (though I’m sure many didn’t make the cut).

I have no doubt that if Ahmed had wanted to she could have found a trove of images, testimonials, etc, that delve into the horror show that was much of Partition. It’s not that these aren’t worthwhile, it’s that she hopes we know the history already, and that we can put our focus on the human, living element.’ More here.

Review of A Thin Wall by @ind.igenous

Repost from @ind.igenous

Filmmaker Mara Ahmed’s documentary, ‘A Thin Wall’ is a haunting and thought-provoking account of the partition. Strung together are stories, memories and experiences of those who suffered, leaving behind what they called home, plunging into the unknown. Yet, like wilted flowers inside an old book, love still remains on each side of the border. The documentary reminds one of Zarina Hashmi’s art, of a constant search for home, and the pain of separation.
Heard this powerfully evocative piece named ‘Never’ from a short memoir, ‘Six Snapshots of Partition’ by poet John Siddique in the film. Here it is for you to read:
Faizal carries his wife in his pocket: she is a white handkerchief. Faizal carries his three daughters in his other pocket: three small stones gathered from the side of the road. Their names are lost to walking. His sons Mohammed and Rafiq flank him. They carry the memories of their sisters and mother in their silence. Faizal closed down his carpet shop three months ago; he misses his days bargaining at his counter. No one has told Faizal why India has changed – he is not one of those men who drinks tea and talks politics at night. Every time he meets a dead person he asks them what his wife’s name was. He asks and puts his hands in his pockets.
Zoom out and it looks like the whole of India is walking. Walking towards a blue line on a rough map drawn on to a napkin. Mohammed Siddique, my father, is a young man of seventeen years on the road from Jullundur to Lahore. He will never be a Pakistani, he will always be an immigrant – a series of questions which Faizal cannot answer.
A Thin Wall is streaming now on @mubiindia
(Partition photo by Margaret Bourke-White)
athinwall #documentary #partition #indiapakistan #lahore #delhi #puranaqila #border #indiadocumentary #johnsiddique

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 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.

my review: au revoir les enfants

saw ‘au revoir les enfants’ for the third time and loved it even more. there is a simplicity and natural rhythm to it that’s incredibly difficult to orchestrate and capture on film. it’s unaffected.

there is a universality to the film. although it’s semi-autobiographical (louis malle went to a boarding school during the german occupation of france in the second world war), the film at its core is about difference. how it seduces and threatens, how it must be rooted out and disappeared, how it’s delineated and construed by power.

there is also an important socio-economic subtext to the story. the rich are so easily beautiful. even children seem to sense it.

the scene at the end, when children are picked out of a school assembly (their names read from a list), and asked to separate from the group and go stand against a wall, is a clear comment on the arbitrariness of who is deemed valuable or not, who ends up on the right side of the state or not, how easy it is to cross that liminal space, and how war intensifies the good vs evil binary. without intrusive music or sentimentality, ‘au revoir les enfants’ moves deeply. on hbo max and youtube.

COVID-19 is a practice run for climate change

great piece by my friend kate. a couple of sentences i would love to reframe:

‘It is a national security risk even when we ourselves don’t face famine. Droughts in one country displace refugees, who cause political disruption and a rise in nationalist violence in others.’

rather than look at a crisis in another country (climate change or pandemic related) as a ‘national security risk,’ we need to focus on/feel the cost of a catastrophe in terms of human suffering and the impact on our planet.

refugees are not the cause of disruptions, they are the effect of wars and climate change activated by rich countries. similarly, the cause of nationalist violence is not refugees, it’s white supremacy, which is an important part of this equation.

this is why i don’t believe in borders – because they allow us to separate and otherize based on geography and the economic privileges we aim to protect.

Kate Kressmann-Kehoe: …the pandemic and climate change are both threat multipliers: They amplify existing problems and bring previously hidden vulnerabilities to the surface. COVID-19 is wreaking havoc not just in the restaurant industry, but in the education system, pharmaceutical supply chains, global scientific research and more. It is highlighting economic inequities and racism, from the lack of the option to work from home, to higher death rates. More here.

unorthodox – my review

everyone’s been talking about netflix’s ‘unorthodox.’ i watched the mini series recently and i agree, it’s well written, well acted, well produced. it certainly grabs u from the get-go and keeps u interested all the way through.

there are some unsettling scenes and cringeworthy situations, but there are also moments that move and inspire, in particular the protagonist’s love of music and her need to express that dizzying sense of emotive freedom. it’s always satisfying to see a woman come into her own anyway. i get all that.
but as a muslim, who’s used to the west’s obsessive depictions of muslim women escaping their oppression, i am sensitive to certain tropes that others might not recognize.

i could easily imagine a similar netflix series (and there might be a dozen or more already) involving a muslim woman breaking away from her exotic/bizarre (not legible to western audiences), patriarchal/religious, sensational/shocking milieu, and the collective sigh of relief and exhilaration that it would produce in western viewers, along with plenty of self-righteous indignation.

for the women in question, whose stories are being shared, their journeys are arduous, hopeful, and steeped in unquestionable power. no doubt about it.

however, i cannot help but note the self-congratulatory, give yourself a pat on the back framing of this genre of drama.
the politics are never too subtle and sit so well, so cozily, with representations of the ‘sacred space’ occupied by first-world democracies, the ones with a superior, universal, liberal culture that loves progress, gay people and women.

‘unorthodox’ hit so many of those typical binaries that are supposed to help us differentiate between what’s civilized and what’s not.
eating pork is esty’s first discovery of the west’s attractive irreverence. it reminded me of an article i read recently about la fete du cochon in france which is used to celebrate french traditions and seen as pushback against muslim immigration. just to illustrate how bacon symbolizes western enlightenment.

i think perhaps esty ended up drinking alcohol as well which is also read as a mark of emancipation.

the club scene is a typical portrayal of a repressed character from a backward culture, uninitiated in the mind-bending freedom of drugs and collective grinding, who learns to finally relax and concludes the night with an empowering sexual encounter.

esty is becoming ‘liberated’ before our eyes, checking off each box on the white feminist checklist of things to do, in order to go from object (baby-making machine) to free agent with tons of individual freedom.

i’m not criticizing any of these actions in and of themselves (eating pork, drinking alcohol, clubbing or casual sex). women are allowed to make these decisions in whichever way they deem fit. but when they’re combined into a stereotypical, white feminist manifesto, i have to mention how recognizable it is, to us the ‘other’ people whose cultures are constantly measured against this very specific and predictable criteria.

just some thoughts:)

The Last Black Man in San Francisco


Nathan Heller: The Last Black Man in San Francisco was funded in part by Kickstarter and was drawn from Jimmie Fails’s own experience: he did grow up poor in the city, and his family did once live in such a house. In that sense, it’s a report on an African-American presence that truly is fading—the percentage of black residents in San Francisco is less than half what it was in 1970, and sits today around a measly six per cent—and it captures the experience of displacement, of travelling among spheres in which you have increasingly little say or stake and trying to blend in. At Sundance, the film won a directing award and a special-jury prize, and it captured viewers’ imaginations as a human window onto the city’s rocky transformation. Fails and Talbot have been friends since late childhood, when Fails was in a housing project and Talbot was living nearby, and they made the movie while living in Talbot’s parents’ home. Their film is frank not only in its portrait of the real-estate pressures that make San Francisco a shorthand for self-stifling unaffordability but in its reports on the habits and moods of the place. From the platinum-hued outdoor light to the rollicking skateboard rides across town, “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” feels of San Francisco, and its characters are vivid with the offbeat pursuits that give the city’s residents their bizarre glow. In the world of the film, as in real life, everyone is bound by a common anxiety, and the movie gently suggests that many middle-class San Franciscans can see aspects of their own displacement panic in the black experience of Jimmie Fails. The fear is not just that you’ll lose your place in town but that the place will lose all memory of you.

citizen kane is boring

so coming back to an earlier discussion about why i don’t think ‘citizen kane’ is the best film ever made. first of all, i have an issue with top 10 (or even top 100) lists. they’re mostly created by self-righteous critics/arbiters of taste who think they’re better than everyone else and since their opinions are sold as such (expert, valuable, sacrosanct), the film/artwork’s rating becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. if such lists were compiled more organically, bottom-up, they wouldn’t be static or anachronistic. also, films/art wouldn’t be assessed eternally through the lens of white heteropatriarchy, which is so very tired.

as a friend pointed out, citizen kane’s cinematography, camera angles, structure and writing might have been inventive for its time, but our response to art is visceral – it’s not some kind of intellectual calculus, rather an emotional response. i’ve never been able to watch the entire film, all the way to the end. it doesn’t engage me.

if u think about it, why should an american film made by a white man in 1941 be universally accepted as the best film ever? my repository of favorite movies doesn’t have room for ‘citizen kane.’ here are a few films (in no particular order) that work much better for me. pls check them out if u haven’t already.

Garam Hava by M.S. Sathyu
This 1973 Indian feature by first-time director M.S. Sathyu takes place in the days immediately following the Indo-Pakistani partition, as a Muslim shoemaker (Balraj Sahni) in Agra, India, tries to resist the prejudice and economic pressure that tempt him to abandon his family business and emigrate to Pakistan. Sathyu brings a naturalist touch to this detailed family drama, shooting in color and on the streets, often with a handheld camera.

Charulata by Satyajit Ray
Satyajit Ray’s exquisite story of a woman’s artistic and romantic yearning takes place in late nineteenth-century, pre-independence India, in the gracious home of a liberal-minded, workaholic newspaper editor and his lonely wife, Charulata (Madhabi Mukherjee). When her husband’s poet cousin (Soumitra Chatterjee) comes to stay with them, Charulata finds herself both creatively inspired and dangerously drawn to him. Based on a novella by the great Rabindranath Tagore, Charulata is a work of subtle textures, a delicate tale of a marriage in jeopardy and a woman taking the first steps toward establishing her own voice.

Close-up by Abbas Kiarostami
This fiction-documentary hybrid uses a sensational real-life event — the arrest of a young man on charges that he fraudulently impersonated the well-known filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf — as the basis for a stunning, multilayered investigation into movies, identity, artistic creation, and existence, in which the real people from the case play themselves. With its universal themes and fascinating narrative knots, CLOSE-UP — one of Kiarostami’s most radical, brilliant works — has resonated with viewers around the world.

In The Mood For Love by Wong Kar-wai
The Battle of Algiers by Gillo Pontecorvo
Ikiru by Akira Kurosawa
Scenes From A Marriage by Ingmar Bergman
Miss Julie by Alf Sjöberg
Titus by Julie Taymor
Away From Her by Sarah Polley
The Sea Inside by Alejandro Amenábar
Moonlight by Barry Jenkins
Una mujer fantástica by Sebastián Lelio
Bab’Aziz by Nacer Khemir
Korkoro by Tony Gatlif
The Double Life of Veronique by Krzysztof Kie?lowski
Forever by Heddy Honigmann

i could go on:)

parasite – my review

‘parasite’ is hard to love. it’s a dark comedy full of grift and grotesquerie. the characters are complicated – neither heroes nor villains – and so they don’t offer the kind of clarity or predictability that we expect from american films. as a piece of art, the film is a masterpiece of meticulous structure, powerful performances, blunt metaphors, and unapologetic political commentary. class struggle, the lack of worker solidarity, climate change, the violent and precarious nature of capitalism, and the vulgar society/culture it spawns are all addressed sharply in the film. it’s a bold questioning of south korea’s neoliberal restructuring (IMF-style) and its present-day hyperconsumerism. bong joon-ho has much to say and i cannot wait to hear more.

barbican concert: a baroque ensemble

i have to write about yesterday evening. amra and i decided to attend a #barbican #concert, by a canadian period-instrument, #baroque #ensemble: ‘#tafelmusik: love and betrayal.’ it moved seamlessly from dynamic instrumental works by #handel and #vivaldi to #opera. the absolutely astonishing canadian #soprano @karina_gauvin stunned with such moving performances that one forgot the world. 
when she sang handel’s ‘ah! mio cor’ something was unleashed inside of me and all the emotions i’ve been experiencing over the last few weeks came crashing down. the tears wouldn’t stop. i was afraid i’d start to cry uncontrollably, and was relieved when the concert shifted pace.

such is the power of brilliant #music

the concert took place at #miltoncourt concert hall, owned by the #guildhall school of music. what an incredible space. wood plays a central role in the hall’s design – sapele, which is often used for making instruments, produces both beautiful acoustics and aesthetics. even our clapping, which was constant and vigorous, acquired unparalleled resonance. 
it was one of the most unforgettable concerts of my life. thank you #london
@tafelmusikbocc @guildhallschool @barbicancentre