GT talks to filmmaker Sabiha Sumar about her latest venture
What makes Good Morning Karachi different from your other films?
Good Morning Karachi reflects what has been happening in Pakistan over the past 10 years with the opening up of the media and how that has afforded opportunities to young people. Literally overnight, some 32 TV channels cropped up. We donâ€™t have a major film school, a TV academy, no notable learning ground, since our country has never invested in any of that. Yet with so many channels coming up, there has been a need for directors, producers, camera people, anchors, hosts, the works. The fashion and beauty industries have grown alongside with the media industry. We donâ€™t have modeling schools, our models havenâ€™t been taught how to walk the catwalk. And yet, all the people working in the industry are extremely talented and have learnt on the job. This was the inspiration behind Good Morning Karachi. Shandana Minhas wrote a beautiful novella called Rafina which became Good Morning Karachi. Shandana had herself been a model for a very short period and all those experiences came into Rafina which we then made into a screenplay. If you look back to ten or twelve years ago, what were the possibilities for a woman like Rafina? If she was ambitious, bright, talented, good looking, what could she do besides getting married? She could possibly become a receptionist somewhere or a teacher. These were the two mainly respectable employment opportunities. What would she really do with that? But now, with the opening up of the media and fashion and beauty industries, it meant that women like Rafina could dare to dream. They could dare to see themselves being economically independent, calling their own shots, living life on their own terms and simply enjoying themselves. Women like Rafina donâ€™t have to say yes to marriage because they have come into their own and that is what I wanted to show in Good Morning Karachi. It has an understanding of how our culture is evolving, the urban middle class is growing and how these new industries are allowing that to happen.
How did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?
I knew quite early on that I wanted to be a filmmaker. Film to my mind is the only art form that has the power to change the way people think about the world and about themselves. When I say itâ€™s the only medium, there are other art forms that are very powerful too, but film is a mass medium and it reaches very far and wide. The atmosphere at home, growing up, was always full of literature, poetry and music. My parents, believers in Sufism, brought us up with stories from Rumi and Hafiz and a lot of Farsi poetry too. So I grew up with the sense that storytelling is a powerful thing and that stories can change the way we think about the world. We can actually humanize societies. It was with this thought that I started making documentaries. I wanted people to reflect and to think about the stories I was telling.
How is fiction more persuasive than factual storytelling?
I do narrative feature films because the story often tells itself better as fiction. Khamosh Pani started out as a documentary initially. But when I came across women who had been through the trauma of being abducted during partition, who were now languishing in ashrams in India, or living what had initially been very difficult lives in Pakistan, my thoughts changed. For a documentary, I would have to bring these women out to talk to me about what had happened to them and that would be scratching their wounds. It just didnâ€™t seem right to me. So I thought: how can I use my research material to tell their stories but not have to rely on their specific truths? It worked out very well because then I distilled all my research into the story of Ayesha, a Sikh woman who lived in Pakistan. And I was also able to look in into the Islamization process in Pakistan in 1979. So the whole dramatization of these facts became what is Khamosh Pani. I think itâ€™s a powerful story.
Tell us something funny that happened on the set of Good Morning Karachi?
We had a partly Dutch and Pakistani crew and it was nice to see these guys learn from each other. Everything was working really well. One day we had to put up a billboard of Aamina Sheikh, who plays the cardgirl in the film and we had one of those rickety old ladders â€” it looked hellishly dangerous. Martin, our Dutch gaffer (head electrician) was entrusted to go up the ladder to do some lights when our German production designer rushed up to me say, â€œMartin is a father and what if something were to happen to him?â€In the meantime, the local light boy had rushed up the ladder, fixed the lights, and come back down. And he probably had many children himself!
Why the focus on Karachi?
Because itâ€™s as much about Rafina as it is about Karachi the city. The movie is very much in the context of a violent and hostile yet beautiful place. Karachi is a commercially thriving city that offers great opportunity. It has beauty and horror mixed into it. Thatâ€™s the context in which Rafina operates and you canâ€™t leave the city out of the story.