Mulaqat (Sandstorm) is a tender Pakistani film about a young woman posing for herself

If Bollywood was the soundtrack of her childhood, Anglo-Pakistani filmmaker Seemab Gul would gravitate towards Iranian cinema as an adult in the UK, it was closer to our culture, Pakistan embraces tragedy in its poetry , her literature and her art, ”not“ her songs and dances, ”she says, and observes that Pakistan’s television drama market thrives on the suffering of women, because viewers are housewives. Gul made the young protagonists of his new film, Mulaqat (Sandstorm), watch Iranian films, those of Abbas Kiarostami, at the cost of boring them, but they understood and delivered.

Growing up in Karachi, she had access to ICQ, early software, texting through computers. “My friend was talking to someone who pretended to be in Russia. You never know who is on the other side. It is sometimes fascinating and exciting, sometimes scary, ”she said,“ You have read that British teenagers share their most explicit images on the Internet. It was alarming, ”said the director whose film about two teenagers and online dating, set in present-day Karachi, was screened in the Orizzonti Corti (short film) competition at the 78th Venice International Film Festival. earlier this month, and was the only South Asian presence in this category.

British-Pakistani filmmaker Seemab Gul. (Photo: Paisley Valentine Walsh)

One enters Mulaqat expecting prejudice to play, but one comes out with a modified perspective on the Foucauldian gaze – at school, at home and in intimate relationships – which imprisons and the agency which frees. . Zara (Parizae Fatima) likes to dance in the privacy of her bedroom, her girlfriend tells her that “good girls don’t dance obscenely”, her teacher tells her to wrap her chador (scarf) properly, because “the Ghazalian theory links social stability with the virtue of women, her dress reflects her character … Woman is an arrow from Satan’s quiver.

After Zara sends her dance video to her friend online (Hamza Mushtaq) the guy appreciates it but finds it a bit slutty, and if there was a leak, nothing like that will happen until to be friends, he said non-threateningly. He prefers girls covered in public. It is the question of a woman’s honor, over which the whole world, except the woman concerned, seems to have the slightest control. Where did he – a teenager – learn to parrot an adult? Social indoctrination, after all.

mulaqat movie Zara (Parizae Fatima) watching herself dance on a phone screen in a still image from Mulaqat (Sandstorm).

Zara is on a thin line between what others expect of her and her nonconformity. In times of dilemma, decision-making and action – in the calm before the storm – it is surrounded by darkness (power cuts) or, as is the case at climax, by a storm of sand – the exterior manifests its inner state of mind. Will the mulaqat (meeting) take place? Violence is not always overt or physical, emotional coercion permeates intimate relationships.

Gul grew up in Karachi and came to the UK with her diplomat father in 1994. She graduated from London Film School in 2009 and fought to make films. “It’s not easy to find a job in the UK, nothing is easy, because I am a woman of color and an immigrant,” she says hopeful after the screening in Venice.

During her studies in London, Gul was involved in political activism, from anti-racist protests to name calling against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, she was even arrested for it. Her short film One Day in Whitechapel (2015), about the English Defense League and Islamophobia, was born out of the racism she faced in the UK. “As an immigrant we were called all kinds of horrible names at school. It was harder for the boys. My brother was beaten. I had little prospect of success in a very competitive, small and white male dominated capitalist art world in the UK, ”she says.

A photo from Seemab Gul’s short film titled Mulaqat (Sandstorm).

Seeing politics from a female perspective has some appeal to Gul although she does not want to be labeled a “type”. Her “portrait film, with a circular narrative” Zahida (2018), about the eponymous firecracker, apparently Pakistan’s first female taxi driver, aired on English TV channel Al Jazeera, the trailer garnered over 13 million views, positive reviews, and the film won an award at the Seattle Tasveer Festival. Zahida is “a local legend, who is looking to gain acceptance,” Gul said, adding: “TV channels, UK producers told me no one wants to see an older woman (Zahida Kazmi was in her 50s) on TV which is a horrible thing to say I had put the project on the back burner for years, ”she says.

According to Gul, a member of the Brown Girls Doc Mafia filmmaking collective, there is no “concept of independent cinema in Pakistan.” People work in commercials and want to be paid in dollars. Some don’t read scripts and men aren’t used to receiving instructions from a woman, but they’re very hardworking, ”says Gul, who was a 2019 Berlinale Talent and participated in the Locarno Open Doors program.

Mulaqat “isn’t about who to trust, I didn’t want the boy to be seen as evil because we’ve done it before, Muslim men have been demonized in the West. I wanted to have a gentle perspective on the boy. He also grows, learns. To show the impossibility of the situation in our world, which is quite restricted for young women and the possibility of their desire, ”says Gul.

To quote Zahida’s dialogue, is it “a sin to be born a woman in Pakistan”? Gul says, “Conservative Islamic values ​​are seeping into men’s mentality, it’s strategic, and it’s frightening for women in Pakistan. Religion is spiritual and private. In Pakistan, it’s political, and it’s scary. There have been horrific honor killings in recent years, but femicide is practiced from Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and China to East Asia . It is about controlling women or getting rid of them at birth. It is not just a Muslim problem, not just a patriarchal problem, and not just a Pakistani problem.

“Things are getting better for women, slowly but surely,” she adds, “education for women and a better economy are essential, it frees people from old values. Wearing clothes or not wearing clothes is not freedom. Freedom is of the mind, the right to make choices.

She says, “We admire the Indian concept of educating the masses, as many children, as many girls as possible in school. This is the key to progress, it is not going as well in Pakistan as it is in India. Things only happen when there is economic freedom and investment ”, and being Pakistani and making a film from inside Pakistan,“ I wanted to show a modern side, East meets West… and the Internet bringing this new world into the old world, ”she said.

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