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Culture

Young Pakistani filmmaker provokes audiences with Marx and 'Islamic punk'

Ammar Aziz from Pakistan loves to provoke. With his documentaries on leftist movements in his country and his work on punk in Islam, he has earned praise and brickbats alike.

Ammar Aziz

Ammar Aziz is a firm believer in reflecting reality

Ammar Aziz firmly believes his films need to reflect the reality of the downtrodden. Speaking to DW at the Talent Campus organized alongside the Berlinale film festival, the 22-year-old explained that documentary was a "realistic medium where you get to explore real life and deal with social and political issues."

Aziz had been chosen to participate in the Talent Campus on the basis of his film, "Rise of the Oppressed" about the powerloom weavers of Faislabad, an industrial city close to Lahore in Pakistan's Punjab province.

"People start working at the age of five or six and they keep working till their last breath, until their 60s." They earn less than one dollar a day.

The area is full of cotton dust and workers often suffer from lung diseases as a result of inhaling polluted air, he added.

'Things are changing in Pakistan'

Aziz does not only portray the workers’ misery in his film but looks at their resistance. The Labor Education Organization and the Labor Qaumi Movement campaigns with and for the workers, them, offering incentives for education and organizing protests.

"I have shown their real lives, their suffering and misery, but the end is very optimistic, since these workers are getting united. Things have started changing in Pakistan."

The entrance of the Talent Campus building in Berlin

The Berlinale Talent Campus promotes budding filmmakers

Aziz says the Marxist, leftist movement has been very influential in bringing about this change, especially since it is no longer dependent on upper-class leaders, who live in cities.

His other documentary - "Hashtnagar - A song of another world" - is about farmers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, on the border with Afghanistan, who resorted to armed resistance to protest feudal lords.

"The people of the valley continue to live in peace despite strong opposition by the Taliban," Aziz explains. "The film emphasizes a female guerrilla fighter, a street theater group along with other local people who continue to resist against religious fundamentalism and feudalism."

Islam or punk?

Aziz's revolutionary stance has angered several fundamentalist organizations, as did his work as a production manager for the documentary "Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam." Based on the novel "Taqwacores" by American author Michael Muhammad Knight, "it is a fictitious idea, where there are punks with tattoos, they play guitars but also offer prayers. Interestingly, the documentary deals with South Asian identity post 9/11."

This idea, says Aziz, found a resonance with South Asians who could synthesize their identities with western punk culture. South Asian identity, he believes, need not be strictly based on Islam, it can also mean Islamic symbols and the culture in its entirety.

Students offer prayers at the Jamia Binoria madrassa in Karachi

The Jamia Binoria in Karachi is known for its conservative standpoint

While "Punk Islam" is a new movement and only a "sub-genre of punk music," Muslim conservatives from the Jamia Binoria madrassa in Karachi were displeased.

"They started writing discriminatory things about me in the papers," said Aziz. "They called me 'maloon,' which means a cursed heretic and someone they have a legal right to kill."

Although he seems unfazed by such reactions to his work, he has settled on a less provocative topic for his next documentary. He is currently filming bangle manufacturers in Hyderabad. "Thousands of women make these bangles, but they can’t afford to wear them."

Author: Manasi Gopalakrishnan
Editor: Anne Thomas

 

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