Azmaish: A Journey Through the Subcontinent
(Pakistan, 85 min.)
Dir. Sabiha Sumar
Programme: TIFF Docs (North American Premiere)
The personal is political for Sabiha Sumar. The Pakistani filmmaker embarks on a daunting task to interrogate the complex relationship and divide between India and her native country. Her journey yields both challenges and rewards as she reflects upon the currents that shape national identity and collective consciousness and, in turn, shape the lives of all the inhabitants within a nation’s borders.
Sumar admirably covers all her bases while tackling the Indo-Pakistani divide in all its complexity. At home, she visits her countrymen from different classes and regions. Candid interviews and conversations over dinner, events during which she is often the lone woman at the table, yield a range of perspectives and experiences. The concepts of “Pakistan” and “Pakistani” are fluid, while ripples of fundamentalism signal that shifts of conservatism aren’t unique to Britain and the USA.
Similarly, Sumar encounters Hindu fundamentalism on the rise in India. The director receives aid from her friend, Bollywood actress Kalki Koechlin, to serve as her guide, peer, and ally while learning about the neighbouring state. More conversations and interviews ensue as the pair takes the cultural pulse with men, women, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and then some.
Azmaish favours a journalistic approach that leaves something to be desired stylistically with its lengthy interviews and filmmaker voiceover. While it might be better suited for a feature 60 Minutes than for sixty minutes on the big screen, one cannot deny the significance of the effort and the merit to Sumar’s approach. This inclusive film puts every hue of green and saffron into the film that Sumar can find. The range of answers yields a difficult commonality between the two nations, namely that both Pakistanis and Indians recognize a decline in secularism, as rise in the mingling of church and state, and an upswing in conservatism that gives pause for thought.
Sumar certainly has lots to consider and she offers her observations in voiceover narrative. These reflections outline how one person must situate her or his own beliefs within those of a larger cultural consciousness. They invite our own musing and search for meaning in an increasingly frantic world.