This weekend legends like Tahira Syed, Tina Sani and veteran Bollywood actor Naseeruddin Shah enthralled Lahore along with upcoming singing sensations Ali Sethi and, from across the border, Sonam Kalra.
What brought them all to one place? The Faiz International Festival.
The first edition of the Faiz International Festival concluded this Sunday; the four-day event at Alhamra, The Mall and Faletti's Hotel boasted of a line-up of distinguished speakers, stellar performers and some very exciting topics for discussion.
Not only this, but literary and political talk sessions, a mushaira, dance performances, book launches, theatre and puppetry workshops and Punjabi plays were also part of this diverse festival, organised by the Faiz Foundation Trust in collaboration with the Lahore Arts Council. But the festival plan wasn’t the only thing that was diverse. The audience was too: from children under 10 to senior citizens, they were all there.
Day 1 and day 2: Getting off to a slow start
Despite this, the festival did display some teething problems. The first day, Nov 19, did not have much to offer except ceremonial inaugural speeches and a play by Ajoke Theatre, Rozan-i-Zindan Se.
The second day kicked off with a keynote address by Urdu novelist and critic Shamsur Rehman Faruqi. The programme for the rest of the day had some exciting sessions to look forward to, including Tahira Syed and S.M. Zafar discussing ‘Faiz and Malika Pukhraj’ with Arshad Mehmood; ‘Novel ka Fun’ with Mustansar Husain Tarar and Ayub Khawar; Intizar Husain in conversation with Asif Farrukhi; a tribute to Pakistani women political and social activists by some mighty women including Faiz’s daughter Salima Hashmi, Zahida Hina, Khawar Mumtaz, Fehmida Riaz, Mariam Ortt-Saeed and Dr Fouzia Saeed who all shared their stories of struggle; and a Punjabi play, Chog Kusumbay Di, by Najm Hosain Syed and directed by Huma Safdar; among others.
Theatre of the Oppressed’ is a unique idea being pioneered by Pehlaj Theatre in Pakistan, providing media for people to explore collective struggles, analyse their past and present circumstances, and invent a map of struggle through theatre
Also part of the second day's line-up was a discussion on a book, Gaata Rahe Mera Dil: 50 Classic Hindi Film Songs, by Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal, with Bhattacharjee as a panellist and Mira Hashmi and Ali Aftab Saeed as the moderators.
Looking at this in the schedule would excite an R.D. Burman fan beyond anything, but what one got mostly was some of Pancham’s songs — something that could easily have been done at home. It would have been nice if the moderators had asked the author questions related to the book and his research, or to give an us insight into Pancham the composer.
Naeema Butt’s Pehlaj Theatre also held a workshop the same day on ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’. Theatre of the Oppressed’ is a unique idea being pioneered by Pehlaj Theatre in Pakistan, providing media for people to explore collective struggles, analyse their past and present circumstances, and invent a map of struggle through theatre.
The day concluded with a mushaira and performances at a separate venue, Falettis Hotel, by Adeel Hashmi and the great Tahira Syed, who performed some of her own and her mother Malika Pukhraj’s most popular ghazals and songs, which also included Faiz’s poetry, much to the delight of the audience.
Day 3: Writing gets its due
The third day started off with the Dr Abdus Salam Memorial Lecture delivered by noted British-Pakistani writer, journalist and filmmaker Tariq Ali, who was introduced by veteran rights champion I.A. Rehman.
Next up was a discussion on classic Hindi film, Umrao Jaan Ada, with its director Muzaffar Ali in conversation with the happening actor/director Sarmad Khoosat and Mira Hashmi. Ali said the famous ghazal, ‘Yeh Kya Jageh Hay Dosto’, was behind making of the film. He said the medium of film was all about intention and design where one had to inculcate soul in it, and it’s the unpredictability that creates magic.
Talking about Rekha, Ali said her eyes played a very important part and the story was rendered through her eyes. “She has intensity in her eyes, which we used with a design. Her eyes tell a story and perhaps she herself did not know what she was doing,” he added. He said he had taken Rekha to show her the real nawabs while preparing for the film and it was for him to keep the nawabs away from her.
He said transforming a novel into a script was a hard task, adding he had read Mirza Hadi Ruswa’s novel about 50 times before taking up the job of scripting. He said the human helplessness was the main attraction for him in the novel.
Another session on the same day was ‘Writing for Film, Writing about Film’, with Mira Hashmi and Bilal Sami on the panel being moderated by Khoosat. One expected to learn a thing or two about writing film reviews, critiquing films or even blogging about films as well as writing various genres of a film itself, but it fell short of the expectations.
Had the panel on 'Writing for Film' included experts in the field who’ve been writing for years, one would have had a more educational experience
The panellists mostly talked about their personal experiences in their respective fields of writing – which they should be given due credit for -- instead of what film writing and writing about a film in essence should be. Had the panel, instead of the much younger generation, included experts in the field who’ve been writing for years, one would have had an educational experience.
The day also featured poet Zehra Nigah sharing her association, conversations with Faiz and the person that he was, with none other than his daughter, educationist and artist Salima Hashmi.
Other interesting activities were three book launches, including a children’s interactive book on Faiz; a puppetry workshop with ‘Uncle Sargam’ Farooq Qaiser; a discussion on the journey of Pakistani literature over the years among Navid Shahzad, Usman Peerzada, Farooq Qaiser and Arshad Mehmood; Tariq Ali, Asim Sajjad Akhtar, Alia Amir Ali and Abid Hasan Minto talking about the leftist ideology in Pakistan and the Communist Party; a discussion on the role of progressive writers in Pakistan; and a dance performance by students of LGS and Adnan Jahangir.
Day 4: Saving the best for last
The fourth and the concluding day of the festival attracted the maximum crowd after a surprisingly disappointing attendance on the previous two days. As they say, the organisers it seemed had saved the best for the last.
This day comprised the most exciting, entertaining and enriching sessions and activities. Starting off were director Sarmad Khoosat and writer Shahid Nadeem taking the audience through the journey of their critically acclaimed hit film Manto, with Mira Hashmi moderating the session.
TV luminaries Amjad Islam Amjad, Asghar Nadeem Syed, Amina Mufti and Ayub Khawar reminisced about the days of the days of glory that TV drama in Pakistan enjoyed and talked about where it stood today, sharing their experiences over the years and stories from the days gone by.
'Progressive Politics in the Subcontinent' was another interesting topic of discussion among Abid Hasan Minto, Osama Siddique, Ali Hashmi and Rakhshanda Jalil. Atul Tiwari described Faiz’s visit to Lucknow; Indian director, poet Muzaffar Ali talked about his association with Faiz through his books as well as personal interactions; a very important topic, Pursuit of Free Speech Among Youth and the Role of Faiz’s Poetry was discussed by Ammar Rashid, Maleeha Azeem and Aisha Sarwari; and a gigantic panel of some of the best in politics and society: Raza Rabbani, Dr Abdul Malik, Aitzaz Ahsan, Abid Hasan Minto, Mehtab Rashidi, Bushra Gohar, Khawaja Salman Rafique, Shafqat Mehmood, I.A. Rehman and Nasim Zehra talked in detail about the politics in Pakistan of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
One of the best sessions of the day, besides the one on politics, involved the very talented father-son duo of Sarmad and Irfan Khoosat with the veteran TV personality Navid Shahzad as the moderator
One of the best sessions of the day, besides the one on politics, involved the very talented father-son duo of Sarmad and Irfan Khoosat with the veteran TV personality Navid Shahzad as the moderator. The best thing about this session was Navid having ample knowledge of the past and present of film and TV that she discussed at length with both Sarmad and Irfan leaving the audience mesmerised. The knowledge and experience of a moderator is what makes or breaks a discussion.
Navid began by talking about Irfan’s father, Sultan Khoosat, entering the world of showbiz as a filmmaker having made some of the most memorable films in the country. She then shared memories of her 50-year illustrious friendship with Irfan and the kind of rapport both of them shared. Irfan spoke about his early days, struggles and journey from radio to theatre to TV and eventually to film. Sarmad, the third generation Khoosat in the entertainment world, tried to recall his childhood when his famous father would barely be home, away working, and when he was, would be in the most weird costumes and get-ups, invoking a huge applause from the audience.
The festival was largely promoted through its Facebook page, explaining the very thin attendance on the first three days. Had it been properly advertised, it would have been a much-needed window for the younger generation into the wonder that was Faiz
Known for his impeccable comic timing, Irfan had the audience in splits when he spoke about his experience of being directed by his son, who would have him give multiple shots. Sarmad also talked about how he initially felt awkward directing his father, but later when he became comfortable, he also started loving his father more and understanding why Irfan wasn’t around much when his kids were growing up. The father-son duo gave several moments to the audience to applaud with their anecdotes and candid camaraderie.
All three speakers credited Yasmeen Tahir for introducing them to radio where their journeys began. Navid also asked both Irfan and Sarmad about the cinema and TV of yesteryear and today with her having experienced both eras. They also talked about Sarmad’s “labour of love and hard work”, as he called it, Manto, with Navid sharing her reservations about the film and how some of its aspects did not impress her.
Meanwhile, outside in the lawn, Huma Safdar’s Fareed Rang theatre group performed ‘Avaeen Nahi Oo Gal’, a Punjabi play by Najm Hosain Syed, drawing a huge crowd, much more than the sessions inside had, that stayed on till the end. The play revolved around politics of the Left, factory workers and the language divide. The theatre group, consisting of amateur actors, performed to perfection. The play was dotted with Punjabi songs and dances.
Generally, the four-day event was a promising first attempt at taking Faiz internationally.
It was largely promoted through its Facebook page, which mainly attracted those following activities of the Faiz Ghar besides a few others, explaining the very thin attendance on the first three days. Had it been properly advertised, it would have been a much-needed window for the younger generation into the wonder that was Faiz.
Also, some of the sessions failed to live up to the interest the topics had generated, possibly due to moderators not engaging panellists through interesting questions or in educational conversation. The organisers could have done away with a few sessions completely that had nothing to do with Faiz; a limited programme overall would have served the purpose in a much better way.
Here’s looking forward to an improved second instalment of the Faiz International Festival.