L to R - Kalki Koechlin and Sabiha Sumar

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TBI Blogs: Kalki Koechlin is in a Documentary Made by a Pakistani Filmmaker. And It’s Brilliant!

The India-Pakistan conflict has been a topic of hot debate on both sides of the border. Politicians and media have been accused of sensationalising the topic for personal gains. Now, a Pakistani filmmaker and an Indian actress are teaming up for a documentary that looks at people on the ground in both countries, and their opinions on this polarising topic.

Pakistan witnessed one of the ugliest faces of terror in the form of the Peshawar attacks on 16th December, 2014. Seven gunmen went loose on a random firing spree, killing 141 people, 132 of them being students. Across the border, India struggled with its secular identity under the weight of rising Hindutva groups during the same period. Films and other media were also seen invariably sensationalizing the Indo-Pak divide. This religious extremism and media mystification in the two countries gave birth to the idea of Azmaish – Trials of Life in the mind of Pakistani filmmaker Sabiha Sumar.

L to R - Kalki Koechlin and Sabiha Sumar
Kalki Koechlin (L) and Sabiha Sumar (R)

Azmaish is a feature-length documentary which aims to capture the people’s sentiment in India and Pakistan towards these acts of religious extremism.

In the larger spectrum, it depicts a reality beyond the feeling of conflict portrayed by the sensationalist media in the two countries.

In the process, it also ends up covering other key aspects by diving into what makes these countries truly similar, and what can they learn from each other. The documentary explores these answers by shooting travel experiences of Sabiha along with renowned Indian actress Kalki Koechlin across the two nations.

The crew shooting inside a local train in Mumbai
The crew shooting inside a local train in Mumbai

Sabiha met Kalki as a jury member at MAMI (Mumbai Film Festival) in October 2015. When Sabiha told her about Azmaish, the Indian actress was immediately sold on the idea. She joined the project as the Indian partner with Sabiha, whose first feature film Khamosh Pani won 17 international awards. The duo travelled to parts of Sindh, Karachi, and Lahore in Pakistan, and in India, they covered places in Haryana, Mumbai, and Delhi.

The journey was thrilling for both women. They shot in the locals of Mumbai, inside a truck in Sindh, and played Holi with the fishermen community in Mumbai. Together, they met ordinary people from all walks of life, trying to understand the pulse of both the countries.

Sabiha interacting with people on the streets of Pakistan
Sabiha interacting with people on the streets of Pakistan

One of the key learnings for Sabiha was that the people in Pakistan were least bothered about the religion of their leader. Their main concern was the developmental changes that he/she would bring, such as building of schools, toilets, and other basic infrastructure. In India, she did observe reluctance in people to open up on the topic in front of a Pakistani. These were times when she took the backseat and allowed Kalki to interact. On the other hand, Kalki received an overwhelmingly warm reception in Pakistan. She would attract huge crowds in some of the remotest regions as soon as the word spread about her stardom. People were keen on knowing about the documentary and were forthcoming to share their views on the topic.

Azmaish - Trials of Life

The documentary’s shoot is now complete. Sabiha is currently crowdfunding on Wishberry to raise INR 20 lakh for the post-production process, and has managed to raise over INR 15 lakh so far. Only the best of sound, colouring, and editing can bring out the shooting’s rich material in its true essence. Eventually, the film will broadcast on German and French TV, and screen at festivals around the world.

Sabiha also plans to set up a travel cinema, taking the film to small villages and towns in both nations. She aims to encourage discussions in these regions around the theme and issues that Azmaish raises.

Help bring Azmaish to life by contributing to Sahiba’s crowdfunding campaign here.

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