Sands of time

Real locale Director Mehreen Jabbar shot much of the movie near the India-Pakistan border

Real locale Director Mehreen Jabbar shot much of the movie near the India-Pakistan border  


Pakistani filmmaker Mehreen Jabbar brings out the region’s politics through a personal story.

The film is a strong human interest story about Members of a family separated for no fault of theirs

Based on a true story, “Ramchand Pakistani” might be an unknown name in India. But this Pakistani movie gained attention at the recent Tribeca Film Festival, (TFF) New York, in the competition section. It will soon travel to the Seattle Film Festival. Directed by debutante filmmaker Mehreen Jabbar, it stars the familiar Nandita Das and Pakistani actor Rashid Farooqui with others. With TFF having concluded only last week, Mehreen takes time to answer some questions from her home of five years, New York.

Yet to be released in Pakistan and with plans to release it here “Ramchand Pakistani” is the story of a young Dalit Pakistani boy who wanders into India (June 2002). The movie explores his and his father’s trials in an Indian jail, while their mother (Nandita Das) waits for them on the other side of the border.

Based on a true incident, Mehreen elaborates, “On the face of it, it is a strong human interest story about a family that is separated for no fault of their own. But there are layers upon layers of subtext — about relationships, discrimination and the politics of the region told not in a propagandist way but through the eyes of a child and a woman.”

The movie, set against the sand dunes of the Thar, is written by Mehreen’s father Javed Jabbar (former Pakistan Cabinet Minister and Senator) who is also the movie’s producer. Through his NGO, which works in the desert, he met the father and son when they had recently returned from India. This meeting proved to be the movie’s genesis. An independent movie, Mehreen’s mother Shabnam, was one of the first to back it.

In her mid-thirties Mehreen is an acclaimed independent filmmaker and has created TV series and TV films for over ten years now. The locations have varied from New York to Lahore. The inspirations have ranged from Ismat Chughtai’s short stories to Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder”.

“Ramchand Pakistani” was shot in the Tharparkar desert, close to the Indian border, in Mirpurkhas and in Karachi. Mehreen recalls, “The desert was beautiful, raw, breathtaking. It was a challenge to arrange for the logistics of putting up around 80 people in an area which has no metalled roads, running water or electricity, but our production team managed to work the odds in our favour.” She says, nearly wistfully, “It was invigorating to wake up at 5 in the morning to the cool desert air and travel back at night under thousands of stars.”

Awaiting the release of “Ramchand Pakistani” in Pakistan, Mehreen feels that the film industry in Pakistan has declined over the last 30 years. Cinemas have been torn down. And theatres have lost their audiences. But with “Khuda kay Liye”, she sees a renewal, “For the first time in many years, people flocked to the theatres and there was a lot of talk about the revival of the film industry,” she asserts. According to her, the next generation of filmmakers in Pakistan will come from television.

Accolades for “Ramchand Pakistani” are still flowing in, but Mehreen already has her hands full. She finished a TV serial two months ago for a Pakistani producer and will be doing another TV serial in New York in August. All the while, she’s thinking of the next story, the next film.

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