Pakistan’s short ‘Darling’ wins big at Venice Film Festival

Pakistani director Saim Sadiq after receiving the Orizzonti Award for Best Short Film for "Darling" during the awards ceremony of the 76th Venice Film Festival on Sept. 7, 2019 at Venice Lido. (AFP)
Updated 10 September 2019
0

Pakistan’s short ‘Darling’ wins big at Venice Film Festival

  • Filmmaker Saim Sadiq says his masterpiece is a protest against taboo and a celebration of Pakistan’s transgender persons
  • Darling is set to screen next at Toronto International Film Festival

LAHORE: Pakistani filmmaker Saim Sadiq’s masterpiece “Darling” has won the Orizzonti Award for Best Short Film at the prestigious 76th Venice Film Festival.
The Orizzonti section of the film festival is dedicated to new trends in international cinema, featuring short films and feature films competing from around the world. 
Written and directed by Sadiq, Darling tells the story of a transgender girl vying for the spotlight and a naive boy, who fall in love in a Lahore theater.
“I wanted to do a film that talked about sexuality in Pakistan because it’s something we don’t speak about in films, books or television and it’s still very rare to find a piece of art that sheds light on this topic,” Sadiq told Arab News, and said his inspiration came from another film about mujra (a South Asian dance format for women) that he had already scripted and titled ‘Gulab,’ which means rose.
“I was inspired to make Darling as a protest about what we can and cannot talk about in Pakistan. However, I didn’t want to portray it in a depressing and tragic way... rather (in) a celebratory way. I wanted to set it in the subculture of the mujra dance world that is extremely vibrant and also a culture that we don’t own or talk about,” he said.
On the impact his film might go on to have on the future of Pakistani cinema, Sadiq said he hoped it would spark more originality and less replication, for an industry he said was undergoing its “rebirth.”
“I hope this film allows people to redefine what you can make as a Pakistani film and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a commercial ‘masala’ film,” he said.
“We’re at a stage in the industry where its rebirth is happening and we don’t have to replicate the films of Hollywood, Bollywood or Iran. We can be more specific to our culture and our cinematic language. I also hope the visibility from Darling can land more work for Alina and hopefully other trans actors who want to work in the entertainment industry but don’t find a space where they feel welcome,” he said.
The film’s stars are Abdullah Malik and Alina Khan. Khan, who is a transgender girl off-camera as well, made her acting debut in the award-winning film and was selected despite stiff competition.
“Casting for “Darling” was not an easy task,” Sana Jafri, casting and assistant director for the film, told Arab News. 
“We wanted to stay true to the essence of the film, set in a stage theater in Lahore. It’s tougher to find and work with non-actors, but we went through that route as these new and raw actors bring a certain level of authenticity, honesty and nuance on-screen,” she said. 
Jafri has worked with the transgender community in the eastern city of Lahore for the last three years and was also nominated for a prestigious national award for her music video, “Madam,” which highlighted the everyday lives of transgender persons in Pakistan. Jafri met Khan through her various projects in the community and they quickly became friends. 
When the Darling team struggled to find the right fit for the character of the lead female role despite scores of auditions, Jafri set up a meeting between Sadiq and Khan.
“It was not an audition that we went for, but just to get to know a transgender dancer and her life. Since we were at her place, she was more comfortable and opened up more and when Saim saw her dance, lost in her own world, we shared a glance and knew... she is our darling,” Jafri said.
After years of brutal persecution, transgender Pakistanis gained recognition in 2009 when the Supreme Court granted them special status with rights equal to other citizens, and ruled they could receive national identity cards as a “third sex.”
Through the making of the film, Jafri and Sadiq said they took cues from Khan to more authentically tailor the role to her real-life experiences.
Darling is set to screen next at the Toronto International Film Festival which runs until September 15 this year. 


Blasphemy accusation in Pakistan sparks ransacking of Hindu temple, school

Updated 16 September 2019

Blasphemy accusation in Pakistan sparks ransacking of Hindu temple, school

  • The violence erupted in the southern province of Sindh after a student accused the Hindu principal of blasphemy

KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: A crowd in Pakistan ransacked a school and Hindu temple after a Hindu principal was accused of blasphemy, police said on Monday, the latest case to raise concern about the fate of religious minorities in the predominantly Muslim country.
The violence erupted in the southern province of Sindh after a student accused the Hindu principal of blasphemy in comments about the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. The enraged crowd ransacked the school and damaged a nearby temple, a district police chief said.
The principal had been taken into protective custody and police were investigating both the alleged blasphemy and the rioters, he added.
“It seems the principal had not done anything intentionally,” the district police chief, Furrukh Ali, told Reuters.
Insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad carries a mandatory death penalty in Pakistan, which is about 95 percent Muslim and has among the harshest blasphemy laws in the world.
No executions for blasphemy have been carried out in Pakistan but enraged mobs sometimes kill people accused of it.
Rights groups say the blasphemy law is often exploited by religious hard-liners as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle scores.
The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan condemned the weekend violence, footage of which was recorded in a video and circulated on social media. It called on authorities should take prompt action.
“The video ... is chilling: mob violence against a member of a religious minority is barbaric, unacceptable,” the commission said in a post on Twitter.
Hindus make up about 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s population of 208 million, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslims.
In January, the Supreme Court upheld the acquittal of a Christian women who spent years on death row after being convicted of blasphemy in a case that had drawn alarm from religious and human rights advocates.
In March, Pakistan’s government sacked a provincial minister for making offensive comments about Hindus as tension between Pakistan and Hindu-majority neighbor India ran high after a militant attack in the Indian-controlled portion of the contested Kashmir region.