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India looks to Pakistani views, via the screens of Goa

GOA, June 29, 2008: For a country sometimes viewed as 'the enemy' in geopolitical rivalries or the cricket-field, the films of neighbouring Pakistan, currently being screened at the South Asian Film Festival here in Goa, are drawing significant interest and appreciation.

Screened in Panaji (also called Panjim or Ponnje) -- though with a small audience, reflecting the overall lack of publicity for the first SAFF being held here -- was reporter Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy's documentary 'Pakistan's Double Game' (2005).

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[From Pakistan's Double Game, and film-maker journalist Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, above right. Photos FN]

Pakistan is considered a frontline state in the US's "war against terrorism". Since September 2001, Pakistan has arrested top Al Qaeda operatives and launched a drive to fight extremism carried out in the name of religion.

Obaid Chinoy travels across Pakistan to gauge reactions of ordinary citizens who feel their President is "selling out to the West". From Karachi jails, she goes to meet with army personnel and police officers. Their message: extremism is gaining strength, and their violent ideology is difficult to counter.

In Lahore, she meets with a Guantanamo Bay detainee, who talks about abuses faced at the hands of the US. She also meets with ordinary Pakistanis keen to fight back the fundamentalists. Her story of the ideological battles between radicals, moderates and the army comes to the screen.

India has screened the Pakistani film 'Khuda Ke Liye' (In the Name of God) at a star-studded premiere in Mumbai. The debut movie from TV and movie producer Shoaib Mansoor has also won the Silver Pyramid Award at Cairo's International Festival.

It is also being screened across India, probably reflecting a coinciding of concern about growing religious intolerance in South Asia. This makes it the first film to receive full release since the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965, after which time both countries decided to officially ban each other's films.

Again back to Goa, 'Khuda Ke Liye' is a film about the difficult situation in which Pakistanis in particular, and Muslims in general, are caught up since 9/11.

Educated and 'modern' Muslims find themselves in a difficult situation because of their approach towards life and their Western attire, is a point the film makes. Yet, the West sees those with Muslim names to be potential suspects of terrorism and fundamentalism.

Unlike most Indian and Pakistani films, based on the romantic saga, dance and song, this film is based on some very serious issues, raising a lot of controversial questions boggling the Muslim mind these days.

Another Pakistani film, 'Women of the Holy Kingdom', also by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, notes that In Saudi Arabia, women need permission from their male guardians to study, work and travel. They are forbidden to drive and to mix with men in public. Women there are now clamouring for more rights.

"Check out the film Khamosh Pani," suggests a local film buff.

This film ('Silent Waters') is a 2003 French/German production about a widowed mother and her young son, set in a late 1970s village in Pakistani Punab, which is coming under the influence of religious radicalism.

This film's story starts in 1979, in a Pakistan under President General Zia-ul-Haq's martial law. This is no documentary, but a story set against a seemingly well-adjusted middle-aged woman, her 18-year-old son Saleem, his love Zubeida, and the period that saw the official Islamicization of Pakistan.

Events escalate when Sikh pilgrims from India pour into the village. Later, a pilgrim looks for his sister Veero, who was abducted in 1947. This awakens heart-rending memories.

Director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has two other films in this festival -- Journey Through Afghanistan and Iraq, The Lost Generation.

In the first, the journalist returns to Afghanistan to find out how life has changed for women in five years since the invasion by the US and its allies, to investigate whether women have been "liberated", as claimed by President Bush.

She suggests the liberation of Afghan women is more theoretical. That it is naive to think a country could be transformed so quickly, when the oppression of women was the consequences of centuries of tribal and cultural practices -- not the sole invention of the Taliban.

The west should be asking hard questions about where all the millions of aid money has gone, with so little to show, the film says.

In the second film, it's pointed out that in five years, over four million Iraqis -- 20% of the whole population -- have been driven out of their homes due to war and sectarian bloodshed. Two million have become refugees, in Syria and Jordan.

Obaid-Chinoy calls this the biggest and most catastrophic refugee crisis in the Middle East since the Palestinian diaspora of 1948.

Among 45 films screened at the SAFF in Goa, some nine came from Pakistan. The others were 'World Ka Centre', 'Chandni' and 'Reinventing The Taliban'. The first tells the impact of 9/11 on Muslims, while 'Chandni' focuses on issues of the Darwaish (eunuch).

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NORONHA Frederick

Frederick Noronha is a festival reporter with and
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