‘Through luck or something,’ Pakistani film lands Venice Film Festival premiere

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Abdullah Malik (Shani) and Alina Khan (Alina) in a still from ‘Darling.’ The lead actors are starring in Saim Sadiq's debut short film which premiers at the 86th Venice Film Festival in September this year. Photo taken December 26th, 2018. (Photo courtesy Mo Azim)
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Director Saim Sadiq and Assistant Director Sana Jafri at the playback monitors behind the scenes of ‘Darling' on December 26th, 2018. (Photo courtesy Jaffer Raza Jafri)
Updated 28 July 2019

‘Through luck or something,’ Pakistani film lands Venice Film Festival premiere

  • Darling is the first Pakistani film ever to get a screening at one of the world’s ‘big three’ film festivals
  • This year’s Venice Film Festival will run from August 28 to September 7

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani filmmaker Saim Sadiq’s said on Saturday it was by “luck or something” that his film ‘Darling’ has landed a world premiere at the 86th Venice Film Festival this year, making it the first Pakistani film in history to get a “big three” screening.
The big three refers to the largest and most prestigious film festivals in the world in Berlin, Cannes and Venice, which is the oldest of the three.
But Sadiq, 28, whose masterpiece addresses taboo questions of gender in the Muslim majority country of 208 million people, said he had no idea his film would be accepted.
“I sent it in during the open submission call with zero expectations that it would be chosen,” Sadiq told Arab News on Saturday by telephone. “Through luck or something, we got in.”
Darling, set in a dance theater in Pakistan’s romantic, eastern city of Lahore, follows the story of a young boy named Shani, played by Abdullah Malik, and a transgender girl named Alina, played by Alina Khan, a trans female actor. This is Khan’s first ever on-screen role.
“The film follows the journey of these two people, exploring their relationship, questions of identity, and dance,” Sadiq said.
With a total run time of 16 minutes, Darling will show in the film festival’s new Orizzonti section, a competition of short films submitted from around the world. It is the micro version of Sadiq’s upcoming feature-length film “Gulabi,” which is currently in the funding stages of production.
After studying anthropology at the Lahore University of Management Sciences in Lahore, Sadiq said he decided to follow his passion for film, and went on to graduate in film studies from New York’s prestigious Columbia University.
His decision to pursue film-making came as a shock for his “very normal, very conservative” Pakistani family, he said, which follows a long line of traditional army careers. 
“I remember when I told my parents about wanting to be a filmmaker, it was shocking for them,” Sadiq said. “Nobody does film especially from the family background I come from... so there was a big departure, a big leap of faith.”
“Nice Talking to You,” a 2018 short film by Sadiq, was an official selection at South by Southwest this year and Palm Springs International Shortfest 2019. Last year, he won Vimeo’s Best Director award at the Columbia University Film Festival.
“I was born and brought up (in Pakistan), and I am completely infatuated with our country,” Sadiq said. “I don’t want to portray Pakistan in a bad way or a good way... just trying to show a true image of Pakistan which is a mix of everything.”
In the future, Sadiq said he hopes to tell more Pakistani stories in a still fledgling industry.
“I think the industry is so new it can be an almost childlike space where we are deciding what to make of it,” he said. “Films do not have to be particularly mainstream or very commercial. Small indie or art-house films have a market and an audience.”
“The premiere and the honor of showing our film at the Venice Film Festival gives me hope that people who are trying to do something different can see it pay off,” he said.
This year’s Venice Film Festival will run from August 28 to September 7.


India’s Magsaysay award winner says ‘democracy is in danger’

Updated 07 October 2019

India’s Magsaysay award winner says ‘democracy is in danger’

  • Kumar is pained by the decline of independent institutions that have upheld the flags of democracy for more than seven decades

NEW DELHI: Ravish Kumar is nervous about the “danger that Indian democracy is facing today” and how “a systematic attempt is being made by the ruling establishment in Delhi to suppress all the dissenting voices in the country.

“Journalism prepares you to face the unknown everyday, so I was not really surprised when I got the call from the (Magsaysay) award committee,” Kumar said.

“The problem was that I was asked to keep it a secret until they had made a public announcement. It was painful to keep quiet for almost a month,” he told Arab News with a smile.

“When the news became public, I realized what I had been bestowed with. I feel the award is a vindication of trust in good journalism. People felt as if the award had been bestowed on them,” he added.

It is this concern for democracy and its institutions that earned Kumar the prestigious Magsaysay award for 2019.

Instituted in 1957, it is awarded every year by the Philippine government in memory of its former president Ramon Magsaysay for “integrity in governance, courageous service to the people and pragmatic idealism within a democratic society.”

Kumar, who works as a managing editor of India’s leading bilingual TV channel, NDTV, has created a niche for himself in the world of journalism with his daily primetime show, which draws huge audiences from across India. 

At a time when most mainstream TV channels and newspapers have stopped questioning the government and challenging its narrative, Kumar’s reporting takes a critical approach to the lawmakers.

For this constant critique of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), the government does not send any of its spokespersons on his show or the channel.

He laments that a large section of the Indian media has become “an extended arm of the government and the mouthpiece of the establishment.”

For his outspoken attitude, Kumar and his family have received threats from “people who are subsidized by the ruling party.”

“I don’t have any hope for the media. It is dead in the country. Just a few are holding the placard of fearless journalism,” he said, adding that “the death of independent media has affected true reporting from Jammu and Kashmir.

“The situation in the region is so bad that after the abrogation of its special status, even the significant moderate voices in India have been pushed to the militant camps,” he said.

Describing the government’s policy on Kashmir as “brazen,” he questioned the “audacity of the government to hold local body elections in the valley when there is a complete lockdown.

Kumar is pained by the decline of independent institutions that have upheld the flags of democracy for more than seven decades, adding that he was aghast at the Supreme Court’s silence on the abrogation.

“Why is it taking so long for the apex court to intervene on the issue of the internet lockdown in the Kashmir valley? Can you imagine the American Supreme Court behaving the way the Indian judiciary is acting on such a crucial issue?” He asked.

He said that the decline of independent institutions such as the media, judiciary and election commission is gradually creating a democratic imbalance.

Kumar understands the award has given an extra responsibility on him and that he felt “burdened with expectations.” So great are those expectations, he has not ruled out entering politics.

“Politics is a good thing. I tell everyone to join politics,” he said, adding that his current responsibility is to “warn people about the danger that is lurking in Indian society.”