Quietly, Two Women Film Underground Pakistani Music

Lyari Notes is a coming-of-age film that follows four girls’ pursuit of music in the high-conflict zone of Karachi.

Published: 28th April 2016 06:47 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th April 2016 07:31 AM   |  A+A-

BENGALURU: Lyari Notes, a coming-of-age film that follows four girls’ pursuit of music in the high-conflict zone of Karachi over three years, comes to town on Thursday.

One of the makers of the documentary and former journalist Miriam Chandy Menacherry has flown into the city from Mumbai for the screening that is part of Doc@Everest.

A music buff, Miriam started following non-mainstream music from Pakistan, and the comments they generated, a few years ago.

“I noticed that most replies to the comments were by Indians,” she tells City Express in a telephone conversation. “The music was mostly very political, and the interaction very tongue-in-cheek.”

This virtual music scene, a window into the underground alternative in that country, kept her hooked over the years. Then the filmmaker came across ‘rockstar’ Hamza Jafri and his Karachi school of Music Art and Dance (MAD). It was after this that she decided to make a film on the school.

“Very often when you see films by people from outside who come and shoot in the country, you catch yourself thinking, ‘This is not India!’” says Miriam.

She didn’t want her film to evoke this response. “I was very clear I wanted someone from Pakistan on board, right from the start,” she says. “And Maheen (Zia) seemed the natural choice.”

The Karachi-based filmmaker had worked with Miriam on one of the latter’s films, Robot Jockey, nearly a decade ago.

Maheen, says Miriam, was largely responsible for the shift in focus from the school to four eight- and nine-year-olds.

“Being from Karachi, she realised the significance of Hamza’s programme for children from Lyari to experiment with music,” she says. “That, amid the violence, they managed to pursue music.”

Once identified, the four girls made for great subjects. “For one, they continued when many others dropped out of the programme,” she explains. “And they were the best of friends.”

So Maheen has shot them while at the school as well as when they met outside the school.

“We have them responding to the violence around. The Peshawar shootout: we were shooting when that happened,” Miriam says. “Malala also won the Nobel Prize, so we have them discussing about it.”

Maheen had to be very cautious, shooting in Lyari and the city of Karachi. Strikes and violent incidents would often rudely interrupt filmmaking.

“So she took all the initial shots indoors or on terraces of houses,” says Miriam. “It was only towards the end, when we had most of the rushes we wanted, that she risked taking the crew out on the streets.”

Not putting the girls or the filmmaking in jeopardy meant that Miriam stay put on this side of the border.

“Initially, I had problems with the visa, but later on I didn’t join Maheen because we didn’t want to attract too much attention to the project,” she says.

In spite of the volatile atmosphere in which the film was made, it’s not a heavy watch.

“The girls were a real surprise -- so bubbly and full of life. Everyone who has watched the film says it breaks stereotypes about growing up in Pakistan,” offers Miriam.

All Over Skype

The two filmmakers hadn’t met in person till about a year-and-a-half into the project.

“We finally did in Amsterdam, at the IDFA summer school, and everyone there was keen on the project. They were also anxious that we got along,” she recalls with a laugh. “But we hit it off.”

But until then, the two mostly interacted over Skype. “About once a week, Hamza was part of our chats too,” she says.

Outreach in India, Pakistan

Al Jazeera has aired a shorter broadcast version of the documentary, but the two are talking about screenings across their respective countries.

Vikalp presents Lyari Notes, a film by Maheen Zia and Miriam Chandy Menacherry, at Everest Talkies, Fraser Town, on Thursday at 7 pm

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