February Issue 2011
Giving a Voice to the Voiceless
Filmmaker Deneb Sumbul’s documentary An Untold People’s History, made in collaboration with Heinrich Boll Stiftung and Shirkat Gah’s The Green Economics Initiative, found a receptive audience of activists, educationists, NGOs and CBOs when screened at Karachi’s Beach Luxury Hotel on January 11.
Deneb’s 105-minute “story of the ordinary people of Pakistan and how successive policies have impacted on their daily lives and the economy,” is an exposÃ© of all the wrongs that have been committed by successive governments in the name of development.
Divided into three sections, Entrenched Power Structures, Creating Our Own Mafias and Robber Barons, and Fighting the System, the film not only highlights the tyrannical and oppressive policies but reveals the connivance of the policymakers with feudal lords to manipulate the system and the people. It traces the effects of the nationalisation and privatisation schemes and the ulterior motives behind it, and the losses the labour class and the rural poor have incurred as a result.
The film features the views of stalwarts like Professor Anita Ghulam Ali, Dr Tasneem Siddiqui, Hina Jilani, Arif Hassan, Dr Pervaiz Tahir, Karamat Ali, Ramzan Memon, Nasir Mansoor, Shahid-ur-Rehman, Rana Shafiq-ur-Rehman and Amir Bux Shar, some of whom were personally present at the showing.
Lawyer and human rights activist Hina Jilani stated that whereas every enterprise should contribute to society, the reverse has happened in Pakistan. Economist Shahid-ur-Rehman summed it up succinctly: “Our current system is neither capitalist nor socialist. It’s actually opportunist.” Vociferous in his criticism of the manner in which successive governments have handled — or rather mishandled — the country and its affairs, Rana Shafiq remarked: “You can’t manage land, so you give it to the Arabs or other companies and call it corporate farming. You can’t build roads so you give the job to the army on ‘Build, Operate, Transfer’ (BOT) basis. You can’t make a motorway so you get Korea to make it. If you can’t run a country, then it give it to someone else to run.”
Asked how long it took her to put the documentary together, Deneb says the filming took a total of six months — after which she ended up with 40 hours of recorded material — and the editing took an additional three months. She was captain of both ships: she was behind the camera taking the shots and later in front of the computer screen, editing and putting the film together.
An Untold People’s History is Deneb’s third production — she is a late bloomer in the field of documentaries. She spent 10 years with a multinational firm, but eventually “got sick of shampoos and soaps,” Deneb remarked at the launch event. With an activist mother like Najma Sadeque, it was but natural to chart out a more meaningful course. For this venture, Deneb joined forces with Sadeque, presently project director of Shirkat Gah’s “The Green Economics Initiative,” who conceptualised the film.
An Untold People’s History’s primary aim is to raise awareness, give a voice to the voiceless and bring to the fore problems which have been in our midst, but never really on the agenda. What is presented in the documentary is just the tip of the iceberg, says Deneb. The end credits of the documentary read: The End (but the struggle continues). Deneb plans to follow this up with a sequel that addresses the problems highlighted in the film and provides solutions.
Farieha Aziz is a Karachi-based journalist and teacher. She joined Newsline in 2007, rising to assistant editor. Farieha was awarded the APNS award for Best Investigative Report (Business/Economic) for the year 2007-2008. She is a co-founder and Director at Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum of Digital Rights.