LAHORE – Over the past few years, numerous Pakistani films have accomplished success at international film festivals.
Indus Blues, the first feature documentary of director Jawad Sharif, has been nominated for the International Feature Documentary Award on its world premiere at Regina International Film Festival.
In Pakistan, a country riddled with political turmoil, economic challenges, social identity crisis, folk musicians and instrument craftsmen find it hard to survive and sustain their art.
Filmmaker Jawad Sharif takes us on a journey from the Karakoram Mountains to the coastline of the Arabian Sea, capturing the little known ethnic, linguistic, and musical diversity and humanism of the cultures of the Indus.
“We hear accounts of the struggle of the featured artists with terrorism, economic difficulties, and social issues surrounding music and dance. Each one of them affecting their survival,” he added.
Musician Arieb Azhar took to Facebook to share how Indus Blues came about. “Around three years ago, my talented friend Jawad Sharif approached me with a desire to make a film on the dying instruments of Pakistan,” he said.
“With the invaluable help of Yasser Nomann, who was working at Lok Virsa, I put together a proposal in which we mapped all the endangered instruments from the various regions of Pakistan together with the remaining craftsmen who still make them and the master musicians who still play them.”
“In the case of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s sarinda, we discovered that there are no craftsman left who still make that instrument, and only one master musician who can play it. I pitched the proposal through the platform of FACE with whom I used to work and we received funding through the USAID Ambassador to make the film,” Azhar continued. The Husn-e-Haqiqi hit maker said travelling with Sharif and his team across Pakistan, over a period of several months, was an unforgettable period of his life. “I renewed my love and my vows to the land and the culture from which I come,” he explained.
He went on to say, “After it was made, we faced another battle to release an uncensored version as some people involved in the approval process thought the film was too critical of the narrow religious mindset that has become a threat to the living culture of Pakistan, even though our film, like any good documentary, honestly attempts to portray the views of our subjects in a logical and aesthetic narrative.”
He concluded, “I had not realised that the effort of promoting and pitching the film to festivals was going to be as challenging a task as the actual production. But thanks to the tireless efforts of Jawad Sharif and Haroon Riaz of Bipolar Films, Indus Blues has finally started getting accepted at international festivals! Once it’s done the international rounds, we’ll start arranging local screenings in cities around Pakistan.”
Indus Blues is a film unlike any other because not only does it showcase the unique performances of these rarely seen musical instruments but also take the audience on a trip across the landscape of Pakistan. In many cases, these performances feature the last remaining maestros playing their respective instruments. It is an exploration of this age-old musical tradition and its state in the modern world.
The article was originally published in The Nation on September 13, 2018.