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Afzal-Khan: Changing perceptions

By Saadia Qamar
29th January 2012

Fawzia Afzal-Khan, a native Lahori, who is now based in the United States, has received a US grant called The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) under the category of ‘Bridging Cultures through Film’. The grant requires a Humanities scholar to work with an independent film-maker to develop a film about a subject that would meet the criteria of building bridges across cultures.

The Express Tribune spoke to the distinguished scholar and director of women and gender studies at Montclair State University in New Jersey, United States about her project.

Since her early childhood, Khan had been trained as a singer in what she calls “North-Indo Pakistani music”. Having performed as an amateur singer in both Pakistan and the US, she said the project is close to home and has high expectations from herself, “I want to pay homage to the lives and careers of Pakistani female singers who have not been given full credit or empathy for their contributions and struggles.”

Regarding the film, Khan claims, “I have worked hard to shatter stereotypes in the West about Pakistan and Muslim cultures in general and have given particular focus to women and gender issues as this is my passion and scholarly interest combined.” Regarding the primary theme of her research, Khan adds, “Crucial questions will be asked regarding gender and performance in the Pakistani cultural context.”

Partnership with film-maker Sarah Singh
On partnering with an independent film-maker Sarah Singh who happens to be her co-director in the forth-coming project, Khan says, “I was lucky to have met her. Sarah is an award — winning US film-maker of Indian descent. Singh’s first documentary features interviews with survivors of the Indo-Pak partition.”
Khan adds another reason for this unique partnership. “Not only will Sarah’s experience help in shining a positive light on Pakistan and its women singers, it will also help build bridges between Pakistan and India.”

Selection of Pakistani female singers
Khan plans on, “Choosing a few singers who have performed in different genres ranging from classical, semi-classical to popular culture in the past and the present. There will be representation from Punjab, Sind and NWFP based singers and Balochi singers will be added later on.
Another highlight of the film will be the inclusion of several mother-daughter singing pairs across the country ranging from Malika Pukhraj and Tahira Syed, Surraya Multanikar and Rahat Multanikar as well as Noor Jehan and Zille Huma. Besides covering these singers, there will be archival footage with live interviews from a combination of contemporary pop, sufi and classical legends such as Roshan Ara Begum, Abida Parveen, Zeb and Haniya, Meesha Shafi and Deeyah.
Coming back to the question of bridging culture divide, she asserts, “There are so many misconceptions and stereotypes in the West about the role and status of Pakistani women. And by making this film, some of these stereotypes can be challenged within the West by showing the full extents of musical and cultural contribution Pakistani women have made to the region since 1947.”

Originally published in The Express Tribune, January 30th, 2012

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