8.8.09

The Price of Freedom

What do a lawyer, a PR manager, an editor and an aspiring politician have in common? Well, it's not the set up for a punch line, far from it. These four represent the subjects of a documentary titled Made in Pakistan.

It features a raw, unedited and a verbatim look into the lives of these four Pakistanis and how they react to the ever volatile situations around them. Volatile situations that had led Pakistan to be labelled by a magazine as "the most dangerous nation on earth."

Nasir Khan, the writer and director, recalls his reaction when he read the infamous article. "I read it from start to finish—each and every word, and I had an instant emotional reaction, and that reaction is this documentary." Immediately Nasir began to work on the documentary which would become Made in Pakistan, and Nasir is no stranger to filmmaking, especially documentaries. A graduate from McGill University in Canada, Khan started work in television at the World Affairs TV Production shortly after he returned to Pakistan and established a production house, Talking Filmain. His first documentary was Muslim Gear, which documented Muslim fashion in the western world. In Pakistan, his reality television show “Pounds” was aired on a local satellite channel in 2008 and his serial “Na Jane Kyun” is currently on air on national television channel.

In Made in Pakistan, almost immediately, one can figure out that the two men and two women show a distinct bifurcation of Pakistan as a whole. The working class man and the struggling, minority—yet growing—working woman. In this case, its two working women, Tara Mahmood, the PR manager and Rabia Aamir, the teacher and magazine editor. They represent the modern Pakistani, the glamorous elite whose worlds are either hidden from prying eyes or at the forefront of 21st century Pakistan. Tara's world is perhaps the most modern of them all. She casually admits how socially advanced the parties are but at the same time, she's dedicated to her work, which she carries through many hurdles.

Rabia is Tara's complete polar opposite—save the fact that they are both dedicated to their jobs. As a magazine editor, she carefully manages her team and as a working mother, she takes care of her young daughter. Together Rabia and Tara show that while it may not be easy being a woman in man's world, they both are quite comfortable in their shoes. Hence, their lives do not reflect the true struggle of the Pakistani woman working in a Pakistani man's world. "We went in not knowing how Rabia or Tara would be, it was by pure chance that we got two women whose lives were successful and they overcame all the obstacles," said Nasir Khan, also agreeing that the documentary missed out the opportunity to highlight the difficulties. And though the documentary does miss out on this key aspect, there are many others that it covers at the same time.

Mohsin Warriach, the aspiring politician, and Waleed Khalid, the lawyer, represent the real Pakistan—at the grass roots level. They are the struggling class and the ruling class; the two of the largest and powerful classes in Pakistan. Warriach's political aspiration is captured at every moment, from him meeting with reluctant and hesitant voters to him meeting the people living in destitute areas. The look on people's faces range from hope to hopelessness. They either trust him or do not—whatever the case, Warriach keeps his head high.

As a lawyer amidst a situation of lawlessness, Waleed is probably the most interesting of the lot. His determination shows with every scene he's in—someone truly affected by the crisis of the emergency rule on a personal level and wanting to do something about it. Waleed can best be described as the everyman who wants to make a difference. Not only is he a practicing lawyer, he also teaches law, and it is his discussions with his students that we are privy to are the some of the most interesting moments on film.

Nasir Khan captures many galvanizing moments from each of the individuals in this documentary, against the backdrop of the nation under a state of emergency. And from the start it's pretty clear that these subjects were not chosen at a random. Each of them had their purpose and each of them makes this documentary interesting to watch. As a Pakistani myself, I found myself smiling to the ironies presented here and often thinking about the all too familiar troubles faced by each of the subjects. Thankfully, Nasir steers clear from mimicking Michael Moore's guerrilla style documentary filmmaking and only lets the subjects speak for themselves.

One might think that Made in Pakistan paints a very rosy and serene picture of the country, even with all the trials and tribulation, a fact that Nasir quickly addressed. "The thing is, we wanted to portray everything, even the negativity, but our subjects were so positive, their tone was so positive, that at the end of the day, when you look at it, they really are the spirit of Pakistan—and show that no matter what, they, us, we'll all get through this."

The only downside to the whole documentary screening was perhaps the lack of enthusiasm shown by the audience. After a much hyped first day, Karachi showed a muted response to the documentary during its remaining days and missed out on a great documentary. Nasir said, "Sadly, we don't have much of a documentary culture going on here, perhaps it'll pick up because of this, at least we hope so."

The production house, Talking Filmain and Nasir's team, have had tremendous support from the production company that have released the documentary across the three cities, Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. "I can't stress enough how much Still Waters Production have helped us carry this through," said Nasir Khan. "Their support has made these shows possible—and we're looking forward to showing the film in Lahore and Islamabad."

Speaking about the release of Made in Pakistan, Head of Productions at Still Waters, Naad-e-Ali Zaidi has said, "Made in Pakistan brings forward Pakistan's upper middle class in a documentary which explores the country through four individuals. It allows us to perceive this under-represented class as a realistic part of our social fabric, which despite modern misconceptions, co-exists within the same space as the stereotypes of terror and fundamentalism with which Pakistan has come to be associated. Made in Pakistan accepts that we are living amidst social, political, religious and economic unrest from one situation to another, and shows that life goes on."

Made In Pakistan is a tremendous effort that speaks for itself in volumes. Easily one of the better if not best documentaries made, it is neither shocking or unsettling, in fact, it provokes the viewer into thinking, as a good documentary should, about what it really means to live in Pakistan and to be made in Pakistan.

1 comment:

Partylicious said...

Interesting review and insight :)