Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Bonhomie Beyond Borders

Lyari Notes’ is a documentary about four girls, who live in a suburb of Karachi, and try to learn music among the violence and mayhem

Photos: Filmmakers Maheen Zia (left) and Miriam Chandy Menacherry; the poster of the film

By Shevlin Sebastian

Someday I will see,
So will you,
When bread will become cheaper,
And life will be precious,
Such a day will surely come for Pakistan’

These lyrics are part of a song sung by a group of children, at the Music Art and Dance (MAD) school at Karachi, while principal Hamza Jafri smiles indulgently. This is a scene from the documentary, ‘Lyari Notes’, which was shown recently at the Kochi Muziris Biennale.

The film is about the lives of four girls, Aqsa, Mehroz, Sherbano and Javeria, who live in one of the most violence-prone areas of Karachi called Lyari. And even as they dodge bullets and mayhem, they try to learn music at the MAD school.

You know 'Lyari Notes' is an unusual film, when, in the beginning credits, the words, 'An Indo-Pak Production' can be seen. And it is indeed a collaboration with the Mumbai-based documentary film-maker, Miriam Chandy Menacherry and Maheen Zia of Karachi.

But what was even more usual was that they never met till one-and-a-half years into their partnership, and, that too, in Holland, because the film was co-funded by the International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam. So Maheen would shoot in Lyari and send the rushes to Miriam and she would edit it. “Both of us felt that if I went to Lyari, it would be a big distraction,” says Miriam.

The idea for the film came when Miriam, a music buff, happened to see songs of Pakistani underground artists on You Tube and found it very political and saucy. One which became a viral hit was ‘Aalu Anday’ (‘Potato and eggs’), which was sung by the Lahore-based 'Beygairat Brigade'. “The song was a lampooning of the political system, as well as the military,” says Miriam.

And another artist that Miriam came across was Hamza. “He also had put up videos making hard-hitting political statements,” says Miriam. “Then I came to know that Hamza runs a music school and that became the starting point for the film.”

It is a moving film and touches on a host of subjects: whether music is acceptable in Islam, the massacre of 132 children at the Army Public school in Peshawar by the Taliban on December 16, 2004, as well as discussions about the impact of Malala Yousafzai winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.  

Regarding the film’s message, Miriam says, “We wanted to represent the voice of the silent majority. The news out of Pakistan in the mainstream media is always about guns and violence. We wanted to capture the everyday life of people, even as they get caught up in the violence around them.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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