Dancer Indu Mitha says documentary How She Moves is not representative of her or her work

Updated 20 Apr, 2021 09:18am

Images Staff

The film was directed by Anya Raza and Ayesha Linnea and followed Mitha's last performance before retiring.

Photo: How She Moves documentary
Photo: How She Moves documentary

Dancer Indu Mitha has said that a documentary made on her, How She Moves, is not reflective of her own ideas or representative of her.

"I write from my hospital bed in response to your article of 12 April, to state that the film How She Moves, is the filmmakers expression of their ideas about my work, which are in complete contrast to my own ideas," she wrote in a letter to the editor at Dawn.

The film in question was directed and produced by Anya Raza and Ayesha Linnea.

"I am a dance-teacher and choreographer. I have taught in a mostly unfertile environment. My student/disciple who is my pride and joy, and the heir to my dance legacy, is my daughter, Tehreema," she wrote.

"She has imbibed all that I had to teach in dance, and has grown beyond that in performance, theory and intellect, as is the ultimate desire of a teacher. She is a deeply dedicated classical dancer, second to none, with ideas for our times, which is what I consider my legacy to be."

Mitha went on to describe some other dancers who learn from her daughter Tehreema. "Iftikhar Masih, from a modest and unlikely background is devoted to the art, teaches dance, and has performed some of the most ancient Bharatnatyam dances. Feriyal Aslam is pursuing a career in dance scholarship, specifically my style. Feriyal, Iftikhar and Zahra Khalid continue to learn from Tehreema, who is my only student fully qualified to teach my style. Fauzia Malik continues to learn abroad from other teachers of the same Kalashetra style."

When we were encouraged by our funders to agree to this film, I was told it would be a record of the last performance of those students who were studying with me when I retired at the age of 87, she said. "But it was not."

First, the filmmakers followed only one of the students, whose dance work is far removed from mine, because her non-dance life was interesting, she said. "This was never discussed with me. I would never have agreed to it, it is in complete opposition to what I consider my role as a teacher, I have never played favourites, except on merit."

The film completely ignored my better students, Mitha added.

"Secondly, it showed hardly any classical dance, which is what I am known for. Thirdly, what little dance there was, was set to western music, which is completely incongruous and a negation of my particular contribution to Bharatanatyam and of the Pakistani musicians who have contributed to this."

With great difficulty, at my insistence, some clips were added, of Tehreema, other students, and of one of the ustads I had the honour to work with, she said.

"This film should not be considered a representation of me, my work or my students," she concluded.

The documentary is described in its synopsis as pulling back the curtain on the life of Mitha as one of Pakistan's few classical dance teachers. In a statement to Images, the directors said they hold Mrs Mitha in great respect and reverence, and wish her strength and resolve during her illness.

"This film was released with the consent of Mrs Mitha and her family, after many discussions and multiple rounds of edits to satisfy the family’s requests to the best of our abilities. At the beginning of our film we clarify that it is not an ethnographic representation of her dance work but rather, our own interpretation as independent filmmakers."

Film too, is an art, and a form of storytelling. they said. "While we would have loved to capture every detail of her life, with our limited time and budget, we could not incorporate the breadth of Mrs Mitha’s life story in our very short film. We chose to explore Mrs. Mitha’s role as a teacher and thinker in society, celebrating her ability to persevere in, as she says, 'a mostly infertile environment'."

Our goal with this film was to encourage a conversation on freedom of expression above all, with the hope that collectively, Pakistan can progress towards preserving our culture and creating safe and nurturing environments for our artists to grow, Raza and Linnea said.

"The film has been widely acknowledged to be an uplifting and inspirational portrait of Mrs Mitha, told with deep love and admiration. We remain committed to supporting the arts and the larger conversation on dance in Pakistan."

The film has been screened at over 10 film festivals and has received the Top Jury Prize in the category of Excellence in Short Documentary at the 43rd Asian American Film Festival along with an Honourable Mention at Women’s Voices Now.