Helping them play their song

Updated: Dec 11, 2014, 11:49 IST | Fiona Fernandez |

An Indian and a Pakistani director have collaborated to make Lyari Notes, a film about how musician Hamza Jafri teaches a group of young girls to follow their love for music in one of Karachi’s most volatile areas

Q. When and how did you hear of the subject?
A. Miriam Chandy Menacherry: I was following a lot of music being shared by young Pakistani artistes over the Internet. I was intrigued by this entire culture of sharing music videos online, very often biting political or social satires. I would scroll down the comments and most responses were from Indians. It was interesting to see that the interactions were often thought-provoking and filled with humour. This planted the seed of the idea, and I began to find an entry point to tell this story. That is when I read about the musicianHamza Jafri, and his school. I contacted Maheen immediately, as I had worked with her previously.
Maheen Zia: Miriam approached me with her idea for the film, and we decided to go ahead.

Pakistani musician Hamza Jafri teaches the finer points of playing the guitar to a girl from Lyari in Karachi
Pakistani musician Hamza Jafri teaches the finer points of playing the guitar to a girl from Lyari in Karachi

Q. Tell us a bit about how the two of your began working on the project.
Maheen: We had collaborated once before, which had been a good experience.
Miriam: I was making a film for the National Geographic Channel about camel racing. I had shot most of it in Qatar and the UAE, and I needed to shoot a small part in Pakistan but was not getting a visa in time. It’s when I found Maheen online.
The material she shot and sent me added a lot of soul to the film, so when I thought of the concept of Lyari Notes I knew that I would take it up only if she collaborated with me.

A still from Lyari Notes
A still from Lyari Notes

Q. How did you go about your research? What sort of person is Hamza Jafri?
A. Maheen: Hamza is shy and reclusive personally, and available professionally. He has a sleeves-rolled, hands-on approach to making music education available to a wider public, and does not have the airs of stardom.
Miriam: Hamza and his wife Nida had previously scripted and composed a musical, Karachi: The Musical, which was a big hit in Karachi. The storyline of the musical was based entirely on a rich tradition of boxing in Lyari.
Today, however, Lyari is more in the news for the skirmishes between police and gangsters who operate from here (Lyari).

The poster for Lyari Notes
The poster for Lyari Notes

Q. Given the nature of the setting and the subject, were you hesitant or afraid at any point of the dangers that might emerge?
A. Maheen: It is something that has to be navigated constantly and our best advisors are the families we are filming.

How long did the process take — from idea to execution?
A. Maheen: We will need three years by the time we wrap up.
Miriam: It’s been two years to just film it, and another one year to wrap. We hope to release the film next year.

Young girls passionate about music are the heroes of Lyari Notes
Young girls passionate about music are the heroes of Lyari Notes

Q. Now, you need € 8,500 to wrap things up — and have taken the crowdfunding route. Could you tell us about this?
A. Maheen: It’s the last leg of principal photography, without a co-producer on board as yet. We need it to have the material ‘in the can’, at least.
Miriam: For a documentary one needs to shoot as the narrative unravels and the €8,500 is just to complete our principal photography. For a while, we have been speaking with a few commissioning editors who are interested in our work; we hope we can have them on board to complete the film.
The crowdfunding itself has been a very exciting experience. We launched along with the International Festival in Amsterdam, which is the biggest festival for documentaries and they have been promoting our trailer and campaign during their ongoing festival. So, our Facebook page is a very interesting melting pot of people from all nationalities. For us, as filmmakers, it is like showing a baby incubated over two years to the outside world. We are overwhelmed by the response on our website.

Four girls from Lyari perform as a part of a music competition
Four girls from Lyari perform as a part of a music competition

Q. Why can’t you send footage to India directly? What are the other obstacles that you are facing?
A. Maheen: Courier restrictions for Pakistan. There are, of course, many difficulties of collaborating between India and Pakistan as there isn’t a tax treaty, for example.
Miriam: Technicalities for anything between India and Pakistan are fairly ludicrous. The last time I had to destroy a master tape because I had sent it for the Karachi Festival to be screened, and by some miracle it reached Karachi. But then, when it was returned to me in India, the Customs wouldn’t clear it despite several written descriptions of its contents. Just a few days ago, a few Pakistani musicians who had performed in Delhi and were booked to perform at the NCPA in Mumbai, were not permitted to perform despite over 1,000 tickets having been sold! Yet, two members of the troupe from UK were given permission. This is sheer pettiness and discrimination. Politics and diplomacy has its ups and downs with different regimes but bridges of art, culture, sport and even commerce should be strengthened. This is the way to ensure stability in this region.

Maheen Zia & Miriam Chandy Menacherry Co-directors, Lyari Notes
Maheen Zia & Miriam Chandy Menacherry. Co-directors, Lyari Notes

Q. What will you take back from this film?
A. Maheen: In our subjects, we have discovered that persistence and vision find their channels regardless of obstacles encountered, and hopefully, the same will be true of the film!
Miriam: It is a film with soul and poetry. I keep my fingers crossed that it makes a mark with audiences wherever it is screened, be it in Karachi, Lyari, Mumbai or Amsterdam.

Q. What is the road ahead for Lyari Notes?
A. Miriam: The last part of the filming is when a lot of things fall into place and take shape as we have been following many threads.
Maheen: A 48-minute and 70-minute cut and a lot of sharing/screening globally, as well as sponsorship for four girls to continue their musical education.

When will India get to see it?
A. Maheen & Miriam: We hope that India and Pakistan see it simultaneously next year.

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