September Issue 2005

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | People | Q & A | Published 14 years ago

“I’ve had no support from Pakistanis at home”

– Sabiha Sumar

Sabiha Sumar may look fragile, but the dimunitive filmmaker’s body of work resoundingly belies the image.

Armed with a Bachelors in political science and filmmaking from Sarah Lawrence and a post-graduate degree in international relations from Cambridge University, Sumar headed back to the politically charged atmosphere of Pakistan in the ’80s. With the Hudood Ordinances hanging over women’s heads like the proverbial Damocles’ Sword, Sumar went to work. A study of women in jail conducted with a friend yielded dramatically disturbing data — and an activist was born. Sumar and a group of friends launched a signature campaign aimed at the repeal of the draconian ordinances and at around the same time she embarked on her first directorial venture. Who Will Cast the First Stone? , a documentary about how the Hudood laws had impacted women’s lives, aired on Channel 4 and bagged the Golden Gate award in San Francisco — but there were no takers at home. Although Benazir Bhutto was now at the helm, the powers at PTV did not allow a Pakistan showing of the film. Undeterred, Sumar proceeded to make a series of other documentaries that showed on Channel 4, German and French television, and at assorted international film festivals.

However, it was with Sumar’s first feature film Khamosh Pani, that she really earned global recognition. The film went on to win 17 international awards, including the prestigious Golden Leopard at the Locarno film Festival, the 19th Mar del Plata International film award in Buenos Aires, the Indian Star of Germany award for best film at the Bollywood and Beyond Festival in Stuttgart, and the best screenplay award at the Kara Film Festival in Karachi.

Ironically, while the film has been shown in theatres across the world — including a three-month screening in India which ran to packed houses — distributors in Pakistan have so far shied away from it.

Saddened by the response at home, Sumar has nonetheless moved on to her next feature film, Rafina, the story of a young middle-class Karachi girl looking to making a break in the fashion and beauty industry.

Will this film fare any better at home?

“I keep trying to put Pakistani cinema on the world map, but get absolutely no support at home. What will it take for Pakistanis to realise the power of cinema — not just in reference to the message a film conveys, but also in terms of the image-building good cinema can do for a country?” says Sumar.

In this interview with Newsline, Sumar talks of her sizeable body of work, her trials and tribulations, the validation success offers, and her ambitions for Pakistani cinema.In this interview with Newsline, Sumar talks of her sizeable body of work, her trials and tribulations, the validation success offers, and her ambitions for Pakistani cinema.

sabiha-sunar-1-sep05Q: Tell me about your new venture, Rafina.

A: Rafina is a feature film about the modern face of Pakistan. It’s a contemporary story set in Karachi. It’s about a young girl from Shah Faisal Colony who wants to join the fashion and beauty industry, which has grown so phenomenally despite Islamisation. So in this film I want to concentrate on that face of Pakistan, but of course the film also takes into account the social factors. Rafina is from an Urdu-speaking background, entering an English-speaking world. And we all know how hard that is, what that struggle is all about given the class and language divisions in Pakistan, the contradictions in Pakistani society.

The film has already been commissioned by ZTF and Arte, which is a German-French cultural channel, because the world is really interested in seeing something other than maulvis from Pakistan. Sundance Screenwriters Lab invited the project this year in June, and I worked there with some of the best writers in Hollywood, like Walter Bernstein, Stuart Stern and various other people. Rafina is the first Pakistani film that has been invited to the cinema market in Rotterdam.

Q: Have you written the script for Rafina yourself?

A: The script is mine. It’s based on a novella by Shandana Minhas, a Karachi-based writer.

Q: What stage are you at with the film?

A: The script is done, but it will change a little bit. Post-Sundance I have a lot of ideas about how I’m going to improve it. The locations are done, they’re all in Karachi. The casting hasn’t been done yet. If I get the right woman for the role from Pakistan, I’ll certainly cast her.

Q: Will your film crew be recruited from Pakistan?

A: We don’t have a professional film crew in Pakistan, so I’ll have to use a crew from either Germany or France. I’ve normally worked with a Dutch camerawoman, and I’ll probably ask her to come back again for Rafina. It has to be this way because we have no infrastructure for professional film-making in this country. So what we are trying to do is to also train people while filming. We are creating an infrastructure for film-making. We are conducting workshops. I personally did workshops with all the young actors for three months during filming for Khamosh Pani. We did workshops on camera, sound, light, production design, make-up, etc. We trained over 100 people. And we’ll do that again. So we hope to eventually have a professional body of people of international calibre.

Q: And who are you looking to for the funding for Rafina? What has the response been in Pakistan so far?

A: We have ZTF and Arte supporting it in part. In Pakistan it’s nil. Nobody has come forward. Nobody wants to support film-making because they don’t understand — even our western, liberal, progressive minds don’t understand what film-making can do. You know, even Hindutva in India recognises film-making as a major tool in changing people’s mindsets — and they go to town with it. I’ve had no support from Pakistanis at home. It’s sad because I think if Pakistani cinema is to be put on the world map, the funds should come from here. There’s been a little bit of support coming from Pakistanis living abroad, but that too is muted. I’ve had a lot of support from Indians, and interestingly from Jewish-Americans.

Q: Aren’t you, in fact, already considering accepting the India option?

A: Yes, I have been offered major funding from India. We are now in negotiations with them. In fact, they want to put in 100 per cent of the financing and consequently own 100 per cent of the film. The offer has come from a very large commercial production house. But I think it will be a real shame to have to hand it over to India on a platter, after having struggled so hard to put Pakistan’s name on the map and achieved it, because I have always maintained Khamosh Pani is a Pakistani film. If I have to sell Rafina to India it will go down in Cannes as an Indian film. Do Pakistanis really want that?

Q: You recently met President Musharraf. In what context was that meeting?

A: Well this is for a documentary I’m doing about Pakistan alongside my feature film. Musharraf’s interview is central to that documentary. Sundance Institute has given us a grant for it. We are looking at the possibility of screening it in Germany. Geo has also expressed interest in it.

Q: What is it about?

A: The documentary is really a journey, in the sense that it’s about Pakistan — where we are today, where we can go from here, where Musharraf’s vision is taking us. The reason I am doing it is because we seem to have lost our way somehow and I want to understand why.

Q: And what conclusions have you drawn so far?

A: I feel that if we want Musharraf to succeed with his ‘enlightened moderation,’ then the liberal and progressive forces in Pakistan have to demonstrate they support him. For example, if he attempts to repeal the Hudood Ordinances, can we, in all honesty, bring out a demonstration in support of this to match a demonstration by the MMA? We can’t even bring out a hundred women on the streets today, and I think political power is decided on the streets.

So if we can’t demonstrate our support for moderation, we need to question what’s happened to us. Why don’t we have that street power and strength, and how can we harness the support of the silent majority? The fact is, there may be a sea of people opposed to fundamentalism and extremism, but they seem to be helpless to stem the tide.

Q: Khamosh Pani in a sense captured that sense of helplessness. What was the genesis of that, your first feature film?

A: I was trying to make my leap into feature films from documentaries, and that’s always a very hard task. I actually started Khamosh Pani as a documentary. I was researching violence against women during Partition and came across a Constitutional Assembly debate which talked about the Recovery Act. This was an act signed between India and Pakistan. A woman called Miratula Sarabai in India had started tackling the issue of abducted women on both sides of the border, because a lot of cases had been reported. This act was aimed at recovering the women and restoring them to their original families. The act came into existence in 1948, and remained in force for a long time.

What this act didn’t take into account, however, was the fact that many of the women who had been abducted, had married and had children. The act did not allow women to be repatriated to their original families along with their new ones. And it was forcible repatriation.

When I met recovery team workers from the Partition era in India they told me they were having nervous breakdowns at that time. They had women screaming, biting them, pushing them, saying they didn’t want to go back without their new families. Some were breast-feeding newborns.

This happened on both sides of the border, but there are no figures for the numbers in Pakistan. And the repatriation wasn’t the end of it. Thousands of women who were returned to India found on their return that they had nowhere to go. Their families refused to take them back because they said they had lived with Muslim men. Many of those women who were left homeless went mad. I think this is one of the most horrific tragedies in history, and Khamosh Pani was born out of it.

Q: Did you meet any of the women who had been repatriated?

A: I did meet one abducted woman. And after I met her, I decided I didn’t want to meet any more — it was such an emotionally difficult experience. When I was in India, doing research for the film, somebody told me to go to an area called Bhogal Pura, where a lot of Partition families are settled. There I met Behen jee — that’s what she’s called. And as we talked, she narrated the events of Partition…

There are twin villages in Punjab called Chakri and Dairi, not far from Islamabad. Behen jee said she had a married sister living in Dairi, while she, 16-years-old and unmarried at the time, lived in Chakri with her family. She related how the men of the villages had decided that if Muslims attacked, the women should jump in the village wells and give up their lives rather than be raped. So night after night, the women waited with their daughters, their sisters, their mothers, for the announcement that they should jump. She told how in Dairi, this came to pass. Muslims raided the village, and women — including her sister — jumped in the well, and now the women of Chakri waited their turn. But the residents of Chakri were rescued by the army. Interestingly, Behen jee said she believes that a Sufi shrine just outside Chakri protected them. However, as her family fled to India, somehow she got left behind. She rejoined her family later. She didn’t say what happened in the intervening period, but I just knew instinctively that she was one of Partition’s abducted women, I wanted to ask her so much, but I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth. I still remember her face. I have the entire transcription of that interview, which I kept going over again and again and again. And from it came the story of Peero, one of Khamosh Pani’s chief protagonists.

Q: A major part of the cast for Khamosh Pani was from India. Was the film an India-Pakistan collaborative venture?

A: It was not collaborative, in the sense that there was no financing from India. I would have taken actors from anywhere in the world that fitted the roles. But I wanted original Sikhs because it was absolutely essential for me to have these very intimate scenes with them, where the men have their hair down and they’re combing their beards. And to get that really correct, you need the real thing, or somebody very professional. But we had lots of budgetary restrictions. So while Kirron Kher is a professional, we mostly had to make do with new faces.

sabiha-sunar-2-sep05Q: Who financed the film?

A: We had 22 financiers for this film, small and big. We had rather large sums of money coming from two different film boards in Germany that are for the development of cinema in Germany. Then there is ZTF which is German television. We also had some funding from France, which wants to develop cinema in third world countries. And other small bits and pieces came from here and there.

Q: Did you try to get funding in Pakistan?

A: I tried very hard. But there are no professional film boards here. No television station was interested. I tried through individuals, rich individuals, and I met with completely bizarre responses, like ‘is saal ham nay zakaat day diya hai,’ (we’ve paid our zakaat for the year), and ‘why should I fund a film when I can actually build a shelter for abandoned women, or orphaned children, or distribute Quran Sharifs, or provide dowry for 16,000 women? Why should I be giving you money?’

I don’t know of any country in the world today that does not have an understanding of what it means to develop the arts or develop the art of story-telling, of what it means to control what goes out in the media about you, the image you project. Look at the Jews, they’re a very conservative people, a very religious people, but they completely control the arts. Why? Because it has something to do with changing people’s mindsets, influencing the way people look at you.

Q: That accepted, some people have criticised the film for precisely the image factor. They say that it portrays a negative image of Pakistan. How do you respond to criticism like that?

A: I’ve never heard such criticism. I even have a letter from the President’s office saying that they loved the film and thought it was very good. I think if you look at the film, you’ll see it’s really talking about [what happens] if you allow a small minority of people to take centrestage, which is what General Zia did. Maulvis were always part of our lives, and extreme elements exist everywhere in the world. I mean look at the National Front in Britain, the Neo-Nazis in Germany, the Ku Klux Klan in America, Hindutva in India. But where do you see a situation where these fringe elements are picked up, put in the centre of politics, and allowed to dictate policy in a country? This is what General Zia-ul-Haq did to us.

But what this film talks about is really a worldwide phenomenon. I mean, if you want to get so self-conscious about it and see it only as a story about yourself, then I think you’re narrowing down the power of cinema. When I showed the film at Locarno, to an audience of 7000 people, they stood up and clapped because it resonated with them. They connected with it. Women have come up to me and said, ‘my son is getting into trouble, he’s becoming a Neo-Nazi.’ So people across the world are seeing such terrible developments in their own lives. What the film really shows is how a small group of people can take over your lives, how dangerous fundamentalism is when it’s allowed to grow.

Q: Don’t you think the film resonates more internationally today because of the post-September 11 situation and the hawk-eye focus on Pakistan which is at centrestage because of its history and fundamentalist component?’

A: That may be one of the reasons. But the fact is, the story-line and script were completed in 2000 and we started shooting the film prior to 9/11 although we had to disband for a while due to 9/11. I think when people see this film, they see world events reflected in it, they see the growth of fundamentalism everywhere. A film can only work over a long period, and across continents, if it makes connections with other people. If it’s simply a film about another country and about someone else, it would not have lasting impact.

Q: Why has the film not shown in theatres in Pakistan?

A: There’s nothing stopping it from being screened. It’s just that television stations never came forward. We asked distributors to pick up the film. They just didn’t know what to do with it. In India, meanwhile, it was picked up by a distributor and screened for three months along with films like Veer Zara and Mughal-e-Azam.

Q: Why do you think local distributors haven’t gone for it considering the accolades it has received internationally?

A: I was hoping that after its first screening at Kara this would happen. Normally that is the way of business; television stations approach you and say ‘we want to show your film.’ But I think there’s a certain apathy, a certain lack of understanding of what this film is and can do for us. But essentially it’s a matter of money. If you’re a distributor you have to invest a minimum of about five to seven thousand Euros to get a print out and start running it. And the distributors thought they’d never recover their money.

I heard they wanted to have corporate screenings of the film, but we were against that. We want it out in the cinema or on TV. I don’t want to encourage this Pakistani habit of private screenings for suited men. I’m just not into that. But the good news is that we’re negotiating a deal with GEO now to screen the film.

Q: And the film has reached a segment of the public through your travelling cinema, hasn’t it?

A: Yes, we’ve shown it to thousands and thousands of people, who’ve watched it sitting on the floor, on rooftops, everywhere. We screened it at open-air theatres we created everywhere we went, and that was across Pakistan — in 41 villages and towns all over Sindh, the Punjab, NWFP and Balochistan.

Q: Were there any impediments along the way?

A: There was one instance in the interior of Sindh, where some policemen in plainclothes came to a screening and said ‘this film is not about us, its anti-Islam and anti-Pakistan.’ But the women got up, in fact, a lot of other people from the crowd did, but the women got up first, and said, ‘listen, you guys have been lying to us all our lives and this is the first honest piece of work we have seen. This is really about us and we should be seeing more of this kind of cinema.’ They told the policemen to shut up and the men went away. At another location in the Punjab, near Jhang I think, a group of maulvis said, ‘we won’t let you show this film here until we see it first.’ So we said, ‘we don’t give in to such censorship. You don’t want to see it? We’ll move on to another village.’ And that’s exactly what we did. In one place in Peshawar, the men said, ‘we don’t want mixed screenings for men and women. We want you to show it first to men and then to women.’ We said ‘we don’t believe in such segregation. You want to see it? You see it together. If you don’t want to see it, we’ll pack up and leave.’ The women said, ‘nahin nahin, humay to dekhni hai, hum to daykhengay.’ (No, we will see the film). So we showed it, and men and women came together. Yes, they sat on different sides, but who cares — they came.

Q: What other responses did you receive from the public?

A: Well, it’s been discussed at length by the people who saw it. Many told us they loved the film. The kinds of questions that arose were amazing. For example, there was the question that came up in Wah village, which is where we had our Pakistan premiere. That’s where we had shot the film so we brought it back to the people. And one woman got up and said, ‘Saleem seems like such a nice, ambitious boy, he played the flute so well, why couldn’t he have become a musician? Why couldn’t he see a life for himself as a famous musician?’ The question opened a floodgate for me. I saw how we have never really had any options for our children. Were there any village music schools, was there even a school in a nearby town, or city, or in all of Pakistan that could have provided Saleem the option to become a musician? Could he have directed his energies elsewhere? Could he have been an important figure in any other way? No.

The only importance we accord our youth is when they become martyrs. You talk to a boy in a village in India, and he’ll tell you that he wants to become Shah Rukh Khan. A girl will tell you she wants to become Rani Mukherjee. You talk to a boy in the city of Karachi, the little boy who comes to clean your car window, and he’ll tell you ‘I want to become a martyr because that way I’ll become famous. I’ll be a hero.’ As for a little Karachi girl, she doesn’t even know how to dream.

Q: Were you very féted in India?

A: Well the fact is that I’m the first film-maker in South Asia that has won the highest award in a premier film festival. Even Satyajit Ray, who’s won jury awards and smaller awards, and of course, the national awards in India, hasn’t garnered a top international award. And I think this has kind of tickled the Indians quite a lot, so they’re keen to own me as one of theirs.

While I’m based in Pakistan, and I work out of here, I do travel to Delhi a lot. My husband’s currently working there, and my daughter goes to school in Delhi. And when I go to India, even today, I get dozens of calls the minute I arrive. I don’t know how they keep tabs on me. The fact is, when I was in Locarno and I won the Leopard, I wanted to first be interviewed by the Pakistani press. I called up people I knew in the media to say, ‘Listen I won this award.’ But they hadn’t a clue what I was talking about. For three days I didn’t give an interview to the Indian press, but how long could I hold out for? Because there was Kirron Kher, talking to the Indian press, making headlines. And the Indian press, of course, completely ignored the fact that it was in the context of a Pakistani film that Kirron Kher had won the award.

Q: Why is it that you did not enter Khamosh Pani at the Oscars?

A: Well, the Oscars requires all entries to have been shown for at least one week in a commercial cinema in the country of origin — in the case of Khamosh Pani, that’s Pakistan. If that ever happens, I will enter it.

Q: Who Will Cast the First Stone? was your advent in film-making. What inspired you to make it?

A:Well, I majored in film-making and political science from Sarah Lawrence College. When I came back to Karachi after my postgraduate degree at Cambridge, I started working on a project on women in prison, which I sort of designed myself with a lawyer friend, Nausheen Ahmed. At that time women’s organisations were already out and up in arms against the Islamic laws used by General Zia-ul-Haq, but I don’t think that there were any real figures existing at that time as to what the Hudood Ordinances had actually done, how they had implicated women and what kind of havoc they had played in Pakistani society. So we did a small study at Karachi Central Jail and came up with data on all aspects of the Zina Ordinance. We found that women were primarily in jail for having had extra-marital sex or marrying somebody of their own choice. Many women were locked up because they had gone to the police to report they had been raped; and then found that was used against them as an admission of having had sex outside of marriage. So until the complaint of rape was taken up, the women would languish in jail. There were 69 women in jail at that time — this is the late ’80s — and of these, 68 were booked for zina.

I actually used that study together with some friends to form a committee for the repeal of the Hudood Ordinances, and we put a campaign together which included a signature campaign through coupons in ads in four major newspapers.

It was around this time also that I ventured to make a film on the impact of the Hudood Ordinances on the lives of women called, Who Will Cast the First Stone? A British company called Retake was run by a friend, Allaudin Jamal. He was in Pakistan and read an article of mine that had been published at the time which was based on the research I’d done on women in prison. He contacted me and said he wanted some material for a film he planned to make.

I said, ‘Well, I’m a film-maker, I don’t want you to do it, I’ll do it.’ So I got a treatment ready, shot the film, took it to London, edited it, and then it was aired on Channel 4. He produced it and I directed it.

Q: Did the film have any impact?

A: Interestingly, prior to coming to power, Benazir herself had signed our campaign against the Hudood Ordinances, and after she came to power we expected her government to build on the ground support we had mustered through our signature campaign and the film.

But once ensconced in power, Benazir went on the defensive and refused to allow Who Will Cast The First Stone? to be screened in Pakistan. I took it to Aslam Azhar, who was chairman of PTV at that time, but he refused to show it. It was this ‘mullah hamaray sar pey charh jayengay, (the mullahs will come down on us), we can’t show it, attitude. I thought that was ridiculous, because in Benazir’s time, the power of the mullahs was far less than it is today and she had come in on popular support. As for the film, it did very well internationally.

Q: What did you do in the intervening years between that first film and Khamosh Pani?

A: I made lots of other documentaries, which nobody in Pakistan was ever interested in watching or screening. I did a film called Where Peacocks Dance, which talks about cultural nationalism in Sindh. It uses Moenjodaro as a window. In Pakistan we’ve been in great denial of our heritage. It’s been said Moenjodaro doesn’t really belong to us because it’s pre-Islamic, our history only begins in 711 AD, with the advent of Islam. This film pointed out the dangers of denying our own heritage. When the people in Sindh talk of Moenjodaro as their cultural heritage, will you deny them their Pakistani identity?

Peacocks was a documentary. It was shown at the Rotterdam International Film festival in 1993, aired on Channel 4 the same year, and we showed it very widely in Pakistan through our travelling cinema.

Q: What came next?

A: Next I did a short current affairs piece for Channel 4 again, called Karachi in Crisis, which was about mohajir-Sindhi strife. That was followed by a documentary called Suicide Warriors which was about the women suicide brigade with the LTTE. I lived with them for a week in the Tamil, war-torn areas around the jungles of Batticaloa in eastern Sri Lanka.

Q: What inspired the film?

A: I was just really curious about this image of women at war. The images that had come across from this conflict was of very dehumanised women, as if they were monsters of some kind. I was dying to get behind this story, see for myself what it was about. So I met these lovely women who actually became great friends. But it was surreal. They were suicide warriors — I knew they were going to die. Charlie, one of the women I interviewed at that time, is already dead. It was very sad when we left. My whole crew and I were crying because we knew that we may never see them again. But having lived with them we understood their motivation, we understood why women of 16 and 18 and 20 would be willing to give their lives. It’s ironic, but it’s about survival. They said they wanted to become suicide warriors because if they joined the LTTE, maybe they would live a day longer, a week longer. If they didn’t, they believed the Sri Lankan army would rape and kill them much earlier. So the idea that they might live a little bit longer and die in dignity was their motivation for joining the LTTE.

Q: Where was the film shown?

A: It was a Channel 4 film. The government of Sri Lanka of course, banned it, because they didn’t like the fact that suddenly these monstrous women were not monsters at all. They were just like any 16, 18-year-olds, singing and dancing. We actually had a candle-lit kind of girls’ night, where the girls were eating the little snacks they had collected over the day for a midnight feast, and they were singing songs, talking about Indian films and action movies.

Q: Where did you go from there?

A: I did a couple of current affairs documentaries in Sri Lanka. Then came a film called Don’t Ask Why, which is based on the diary of a 17-year-old Karachi girl. She comes from an upper-middle class background with a western education and finds herself in conflict with the atmosphere in a country that’s becoming increasingly fundamentalist. So, while it is very much a story about a regular 17-year-old, saying, ‘why can’t I go out?’ and ‘why can’t I party?’ at some level there is also the need to explore and understand what the growing trends towards religious conservatism are all about.

Q: How much of Don’t Ask Why is factual?

A: It’s not fiction. It is a documentary based on this young girl’s real diary and she plays herself in the film and actually reads aloud from it.

Q: Given the social constraints, how did you manage to get this girl to agree to come on film?

A: Well, she was very proud of it. You know how 17-year-olds are — they’re quite blasé, sometimes even over-confident about who they are and what they believe. She certainly didn’t think she was confused. But actually, she was trying to find her place in society. In the course of that she started examining whether religion was going to give her the space she wanted. And that was a very interesting experiment for us to watch. We shot the film in two spells. There was a gap of about six months between the two. At that age you are passionate about something one day, against it the next. So having given that gap we actually saw a certain kind of change in her. In the last scene, after her experiment with religion, you see her packing her bag, saying ‘I’m getting out of here for a bit because I just can’t take it.’

Q: Where was this film screened?

A: This was done for Arte, a German-French cultural channel. It was shown on a satellite channel linked to television. So it was aired all over Europe. It’s also done a lot of festivals, and it has been sold very widely. It’s got a very good distributor in America called Women Make Movies.

Q: What followed this venture?

A: Then came For A Place Under The Heavens which is my last documentary to date. That’s a very personal journey through the Islamisation process that we’ve been through. It starts way back, before I was born. It starts with what my father and mother told me about Pakistan — the ’50s and ’60s, the freedom, the ballroom dancing, the cabarets… that era which we only heard about. But I had my father’s personal footage of that time, so the film begins with that and then it shows how things began to change. It actually examines where the beginning of this change lies — and that really is in our constitution itself. Because the constitution says that sovereignty rests with Allah, and it is through Allah that it is manifested in the people of Pakistan. Now if sovereignty rests with Allah, then where is the will of the people? And I think that is the crux of the matter, the heart of our problem. We battle with it all the time in this country; every political party battles with it, every military regime battles with it, we as individuals, as groups, as women’s organisations, battle with it.

Q: Your entire body of work, beginning with the campaign for the repeal of the Hudood Ordinances to the films you have made, has a very strong social context. Where does the social conscience come from?

A: Some of it comes from my father. I grew up listening to qawallis, Sufi stories, and Persian poetry which he recited all the time and which it was almost mandatory for all of us children to sit and listen to. There were also a lot of political discussions in our house. There were eight of us siblings and we had a huge age gap between us, so there were also a lot of disagreements. But I think at some level we all agreed with our father on the need for a change in our value system and for the feudal mindset that exists to give way to something new.

My father was also a very generous man — both my parents were. They had been through very rough times when they lived in Bombay, so my parents really realised the value of having money and being in a position to give. And they gave all the time. Those were the values we were raised with.