Documentary on Lyari musicians to open film showcase in India


An Indo-Pakistan production by two filmmakers who never once met in person during its three-year shoot will be the first film shown in a special cinema package that begins on Wednesday, at the ongoing third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

Lyari Notes, a documentary on the budding music scene in the Karachi suburb of Lyari, will be screened as part of the ‘Cinema from the Sub-Continent’ film package, conceptualised by the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF). It’s screening at the Pavilion in Cabral Yard, is a part of the Foundation’s ‘Artist’s Cinema’ programme.

Films in the special package will be screened intermittently throughout the Biennale, read a statement.

Directed by Miriam Chandy Menacherry from Mumbai and Maheen Zia from Karachi, the film is structured as a coming-of-age story, following the lives of four girls — Aqsa, Mehroz, Javeria and Sherbano, who live in multi-ethnic, volatile Lyari.

Lugging guitars that are bigger than themselves, the girls make the often perilous journeys to a music school in the suburb. The commute is so dangerous that their instructor Hamza Jafri — a musician famous for his hard-hitting political lyrics — travels in an armed vehicle.

Covering the period from 2012-2015, the narrative intertwines personal story arcs with on-the-ground events in Pakistan — general elections, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai in 2014 and the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar later that year — as seen through the eyes of the young protagonists.

Talking about including the film as part of the package, Riyas Komu, KBF Secretary, said: “The story is timeless and universal: on the search for a space of creativity and self-expression in the face of overt threats and violence.”

“Such spaces are quickly shrinking around the world when confronted by ideologies and extremism of all hues. The individual acts of seeking them out despite the risks are crucial acts of resistance and deserve not only to be chronicled, but also communicated to diverse audiences on diverse platforms. The screening of ‘Lyari Notes’ on the sidelines of the Biennale is one such attempt,” he said.

It’s interesting how the film was made.

Menacherry and Zia communicated via Skype chats, enlisting the help of Indian and Pakistani cine technicians and transmitting footage across the border by swapping hard drives. In between, Zia would film in Karachi — when advised by the locals of Lyari that it was safe to do so — and Menacherry would edit it in Mumbai, the statement read.

Then, the film went through a crowd-funding phase in December-January 2015 and received support from about 100 contributors from across the world.