From Waahi to Saf-e-Awal: A snapshot of the winning films of 'It Happens Only in Pakistan' over the past four years

We present to you an overview of the winning entries over the past four years since the very beginning of the competition.
Updated 03 Dec, 2022

It Happens Only in Pakistan, a storytelling competition launched by and Deutsche Welle (DW) four years ago, serves as a celebration of budding filmmakers who bring light to the never-before-seen image of Pakistan. This time around, as we celebrate five years of the competition, there are four themes — Pakistan's food, songs and dances, cultural spaces and nature and the environment.

The three winning films take home prize money worth Rs600,000, Rs350,000, Rs250,000 and Rs150,000 each for two honourable mentions respectively.

But, before we begin with the entries for this year, in celebration of the fifth year, here are the winning movies from previous competitions.


Theme: Heroes of Pakistan

First Prize: Saf-e-Awal

A film by Muhammad Afnan Yousaf and Rehan Zafar from Capture Crew Studio

Saf-e-Awal introduces a frontline worker, Ashfaq Ahmed, who is among the very first medics to sign up and serve Covid patients. His story is that of resilience and unwavering dedication in the face of the pandemic, as well as his own illness.

Second Prize: Humari Rabia

By Khawaja Athar Abbas and Khawaja Bilal Abbas from Athar-Bilal Films

It's the story of a football champion Rabia who dreams big and overcomes challenges along her path.

Playing against all odds, Humari Rabia the documentary navigates through her battle with not just her disability but the stigma surrounding women opting for a career in sports. Her story serves as inspiration for those who have dreams of their own.

Third Prize: Indus Woman

A film by Halar Khoso, Imran Ali, Uzair Shah from Mad In Films.

Halar Khoso's film highlights the commitment of one woman towards providing the young of her community everything she was herself deprived of. Capturing what life in the Bagri community of Sindh offers to the underprivileged, this film is a reminder of what strong women — irrespective of their age, marital status or socio-economic background — can do to empower those around them.

Baby Bagri's commitment to transform her community leads her to establish a school and training centre in the heart of a place that shows little empathy towards those born and raised in the shackles of poverty.

Two films were recognised as honourable mentions; each won Rs100,000 in prize money last year.


A film by S. Khurram Ali, Sehar Ali, Syed Khurram Ali, Marina Syed, Ali Sahil, M. Yasir, Mohammad Amin, Syed Shehroz, Ghulam Mohammad Meer from S. Khurram Ali Films.

This film captures the courageous story of Marina Syed, a young Afghan girl who took fate into her own hands and learned to drive a bike in a society that looks down upon women challenging gender norms.

In this story of bravery and passion, S. Khurram Ali and his team highlight how one girl’s bold step became an inspiration for over 300 other girls to reclaim public spaces and find their own means to freedom and independence.


A film by Fahad Kahut; other participants include, Ahsan Khan & Aamir Hashmi, Ahsan Khan, Aamir Hashmi

The film captures not only the scenic valley of Hunza and the mountain range but the people who enliven tradition and culture by preserving their language through a platform Lief Larson Music School built by the people of Hunza to preserve the Burushaski language.


Theme: Creative Distancing

First Prize: Unbound Breath

Directed by Omer Nafees

It's not easy to become a doctor in Pakistan, especially when you're a woman from a middle class background. In this film, Dr Amna Batool takes us through a day in the life of a doctor, as she and her coworkers fight on the frontlines against the coronavirus pandemic.

Second Prize: Nidar (Fearless)

Directed by by Saad Bhatti and Adeel Qureshi

In this film, we hear the story of Ishaq Khan, one of many unsung heroes working in the background during Covid-19. The film shows how he performs ghusl (funerary bath) of coronavirus victims before their final prayers and burial rites are performed, giving solace to the families of the deceased when they themselves can't come near the dead.

Third Prize: Staying Still

Directed by Waleed Akram, Ibrahim Hassan and Sheikh Mubashir

The film takes us to the Bhati gate in the walled city of Lahore, where a brother and sister duo have taken upon themselves to educate the public about the threats from the coronavirus, and are distributing masks and sanitisers despite all the hurdles in their way.

Three films were recognised as honourable mentions; each won Rs60,000 in prize money in 2020.


Directed by Halar Khoso and Uzair Shah

Schools and businesses closed down following the nationwide lockdown in Pakistan as the number of Covid-19 cases were on the rise. This is where Tamseela Mallah and Abdul Qadir come in as the two find new meaning and new directions to their lives after things come to a halt, giving the message that no pandemic can ever lock the doors on life.

Pakistan Kay Hero

Directed by Athar Abbas and Bilal Abbas of Athar-Bilal Films

The Bismillah Tuck Shop in Islamabad may look small at first glance, but it supplies rations, groceries and food provisions to 145 families in the neighbourhood. In this film, we hear about the owner of the tuck shop who has been personally delivering rations to several families affected by Covid-19. The owner worked as a frontline soldier in the fight against coronavirus, just like any other doctor, nurse or security staff even.

The Hero Within

Directed by Ausat Ali, Fesih Muhammad Waseem and Shahum Malik

This creatively put-together film depicts how the filmmakers rediscovered their passion and learned new skills when the world as they knew it, changed around them during Covid-19.


Theme: Our Diverse Pakistan

First Prize: Seven vertical miles

Directed by Ali Haider, Ali Baloch, Hassan Zia and Zeeshan Haider

This film takes the viewers on a journey several miles under the ground, deep into the coal mines in Balochistan. These coal mines are approximately 3,700 ft deep, and the workers travel in and out through manual rail-carts while risking their lives every single day. It shows the Hazara community working in the mines and how life is equally hard both above and below the ground.

Second Prize: The disgustful

Directed by Waleed Akram, Sheikh Mubashir, Mariam Hassan Naqvi and Hammad Javed

The film takes you through a day in the life of Shareef Maseeh, a sweeper in Lahore. Shareef has been cleaning the waste off Lahore's streets for the last 35 years, but is still awaiting the respect and acknowledgement he deserves from the community and his country.

Third Prize: Boxing against all odds

Directed by Fahad Kahut, Ahsan Khan and Saad Abbasi

Aliya Soomro from Lyari boxes like a champion and dreams of winning an Olympic gold for Pakistan one day. The film documents her journey that has many an inspirational lessons for aspiring athletes in the country.

Two films were recognised as the honourable mentions and each won Rs100,000 as prize money in 2019.

Manhun Megh Malhar

Directed by Halar Khoso, Uzair Shah and Danial Shah

Mubarak Ali Mallah shares his collection and love for gramophone records in the film. Mallah, who lives in a small town named Tarai, 20 kilometres away from Badin in Sindh, cherishes his love for old, classic songs playing on his gramophone while repairing old radios.


Directed by Saad Ali Gill, Fatimah Saad Gill, Majid Cheema, Ammar Siddique and Chaand

Nostalgia reigns supreme by Saad Ali Gill, Fatimah Saad Gill, Majid Cheema, Ammar Siddique and Chaand as Ainak Wala Djinn (Shehzad Qaiser) takes centre stage and shares his story following the end of the popular kids show that ran on Pakistan Television in the early 90s.


Theme: It Happens Only in Pakistan

First Prize: Waahi

Directed by Arsalan Majid, Haris Sehgal and Ghulam Abbas

Shot by Karachi-based Arsalan Majid, Haris Sehgal and Ghulam Abbas, Waahi was chosen as the winner out of more than 2,000 entries received from all over Pakistan for the video story contest in 2018.

Waahi recounts the journey of Iqbal Mai, a woman farmer shattering stereotypes with her courage and resilience. Iqbal Mai is among the 66 per cent women who make up Pakistan's agricultural workforce.

Second Prize: Hidayatkar

Directed by Ahsan Ali, Ammar Rehmani, Kami and Bilal Sagar

The film follows the journey of independent director M. H. Hussaini, a fisherman who has written, produced and directed more than 14 films on his own.

Hussaini writes his own scripts, finds locations himself, and is also in-charge of makeup and wardrobe. In the film he said that he shot his best film for a mere Rs2,350.

Third Prize: Background

Directed by Fazal Ahmad and Abdul Basit

The film depicts the story of Jani Baba, an actor who has played minor supporting roles in more than 160 Pakistani films since the last 47 years. His expressions and charisma onscreen grab the viewer's attention from the very first scene.

Two films were recognised as the honourable mentions and each won Rs150,000 as prize money in 2018.

Pile of mud, ounce of gold

Directed by Omer Nafees, Rohan Azhar and Bilal Lateef

This film follows Arif Bhatti and his companions in Lahore's Sunehri Mandi as they sweep the streets and fish through the sewers of the old city, extracting gold out of trash.

Mir Bahar: Lord of the sea

Directed by Taimur Rahim and Waheed Ali

In this short film, Taimur Rahim and Waheed Ali narrate how members of the Mohana tribe spend their entire lives in houseboats. From funerals to weddings, everything is done on the boat — and this practice has continued for centuries.

In celebration of five years of the competition, and DW are hosting a documentary film festival and awards show on December 11. The event will have filmmaker Sarmad Khoosat for a panel discussion, content creators Patangeer for an interactive session, a live performance by band Khumariyaan and other surprise acts.

Winners of the competition will also be announced at the event for which tickets are available on Ticket Wala. It is being held at District 19 by The Commons Karachi and will kick off from 3pm to 10pm.