Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cinema for Peace-building

If there’s one thing in common between the people of India and Pakistan, it would certainly be the love for cinema.

Cinema or simply film is a story conveyed to the audiences through the use of audio-visual medium using animation techniques or visual effects.

The history of cinema goes back to hundred years ago in late 19th century when the films developed occasionally for special festivals. The gradual development of the cinema turned it into one of the most important tools of communication and entertainment, and mass media in the 21st century.

Nowadays, films are considered to be an important art form, a source of popular entertainment and a powerful method for educating or instructing people. It has not only remained to be a source of entertainment but also work as tool of public opinion and helps in setting the mind of a society.

Films are also called objet d'art (artifacts) of cultures reflecting the specific cultures, and, in turn, affecting them.

In the words of Ingmar Bergman, “No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.” This citation substantiates the belief that film is the most powerful form of all communication techniques and leaves a profound impact on the psyche of an individual and in turn affects the society.

This influential tool if used for the purpose of disseminating peace messages to the audiences of different cultures can infuse the feelings of peace, tolerance and compassion among people of diverse cultures.

Today as Pakistan is struggling with serious issues of terrorism, extremism and violence of human rights. While the neighboring country, India is also facing the threats of terrorism. It is only the diffusion of peace messages through chinema which can bring the two countries together to combat the menace of terrorism together.

As after the world war in Europe hundreds of films were produced with message of peace, neglecting violence and bloodshed. This played an important role in the constructive development of their society and for reducing the violent behavior of a society.
In the same way, Pakistan and India should both work on films conveying the message of peace and unity in order fight off the elements of extremism in the society and promote peace in the region.

Peace is at the core of a successful society. However, despite of co-existing in the same region for hundreds of years, sharing same background, culture and history, we are unable to maintain peace between two neighboring nations which encourages the adversary i.e. terrorism.

However, fortunately the people of both countries have strong bonding with each other because of hailing from similar backgrounds. In fact people-to-people contact has never weakened even when there are tensions at government level.
To keep this bonding strong and deep, there is a need to strengthen the cinemas of Pakistan and India to put across the messages of peace through our films, which portray the feelings of the society.

Indian cinema is considered as world’s leading film industry producing hundreds of films each year in different regional languages. In this regard, the Indian cinema has a greater role to play in promoting peace in the region.

On the other hand, Pakistan film industry is small and was not lucky enough to flourish as compared to Iran or India. But during the past decade, Pakistani film industry has produced some high class films which have been popular among the masses.

In recent times a few co-productions films of Pakistan and India were also produced which broke the ice between the film industries of both countries and conveyed a good gesture to the audiences.

Mohammad Nazim, student of Film and Television at National College of Arts, Lahore believed that films have direct impact on the society as compared to other toolsof communication. “Usually it is said that we depict the real face of society in films, but in fact of people get inspired from characters in the films and then imitate those characters. This is why it is necessary to produce good films with message of peace which could promote religious and ethnic harmony in region” Nazim added.

Sarmad Saeedy, a journalist and researcher believed that “Films can change the behavior of the society because film is culmination of all art forms... Film is the combination of other forms of art so it results in setting grounds for peaceful and positive trends to over all society.”

To promote the message of peace through films, several youngsters from Lahore city of Pakistan, started a film club named “Dhanak” (meaning: rainbow) in collaboration with Institute for Peace and Secular Studies. The film club is defined as a film screening place which goes beyond the black and white categorization of our usual cinematic experience. The club, the rainbow of ideas, themes and issues provides a unique experience to its audience every week.

Diep Saeeda, social activist and chairperson of Institute for Peace and Secular Studies sharing thoughts on Dhanak said that “the basic idea behind our work is to create alternative discourse and to explore grey areas, if people start thinking after watching few films it means we are achieving our goal.”

It is said that good films are those which make the people think and let them wander off into the boundaries of imagination.

Sharing thoughts on different purposes of films, Umer Latif, a film critic and Engineering Student at National University of Science & Technology said “Cultural activities provide people an alternate way to express themselves for if they do not express in a positive manner, they might find other ways which could be violent as well.” He further said that films have been and still are used for propaganda purposes especially as an effective means for political and military propaganda. If films can be used for these dreadful means such as propaganda, then it can surely be used to promote peace. It should be.”

Relating the idea of peace-building and Dhanak film club, Umer said that “the basic idea behind Dhanak is to raise social and political awareness among the masses as well as underline the importance of common human heritage transcending the bounds of caste, creed and nation.”

Sahil Zafar, a young film critic had a different viewpoint to explain the nature of films. “Film is a medium; you can use it to promote peace, hatred, a vision, an ideal world, a critique of social norms, or just playful expressive images.”
Breaking down the points, Sahil explained in detail “For example, Leni Riefenstahl used it to make propaganda (but excellent and effective) movies to glorify Hitler's image and his vision. Bunuel used to show his hatred for Bourgeoisie & church, Chaplin used it to preach humanity in a different way, Jafar Panahi used films to expose ills present in Iranian society, Hanake used to expose the roots and reasons of creating evil ideologies through films, while, Godard used films for sheer entertainment and Bergman used it to study human beings, etc.
It is simple a medium which can be used to portray any idea or message in your mind.”

Recently an Indian film “Udaan” (2010) was screened at Dhanak film club. The film, directed by Vikramaditya Motwane, though did not get huge response at Box Office, but critics and movie fans loved the theme and storyline of this film here at Lahore. The film screening was highly praised by the youth of Lahore and they insisted that these types of human and psychological issues should be portrayed in the films.

Sana Jamal, a journalist and a movie buff commented “people of all ages watch the films, adore the films, discuss films and learn from films alike. Therefore there is a need to replace the stereotype subjects of the films with such themes which people can actually relate to in their lives. I feel the filmmakers today have a great duty to educate people as well as to entertain them.”

Film is like a mirror which is often used to portray the society. But if used as a medium for peace-building among nations and cultures can do wonders for the human society by bridging the differences. Films with a peaceful message can bring the people of different countries closer on the basis of humanity.

Message of peace can be promoted by making movies based on real-life issues, by using a realistic approach to discuss the social harms and by addressing the issues that are causing confusion in minds.
The medium of film works well because one is conveying the message embedded in entertainment which is one captivating forms of communication. Film gives an opportunity to the filmmaker to create an alternate reality, make the viewers part of that reality and allow them to experience it as well. But the task of a good filmmaker is not only to engage the audience in the world of cinema but also to instruct the audiences on the issues which might seem hard to convey through words.

A good film should not be a roller-coaster ride; it should a memorable experience, a worthwhile learning process. For only such good film can bring change, write a new history and could prove to be a new beginning… as Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy said “Let us forgive each other - only then will we live in peace.”

This Article was Published in Indian Magazine "Trail Blazer" January 2011 Edition.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Walled City and Gates of Lahore (Part 1)

The Walled City of Lahore

The concept of walled city is not new to the students of history and it has traditionally been associated with the defense of the city as the wall used to be the first defense line of the city. The concept is centuries old with its mythical presence in Greek epics and folk tales around the world. The gates of a walled city had their structure from this point of view and streets as well used to be narrowed in order to restrict the movement of heavy invading forces, their elephants or horses.

Wall of Old City
Lahore traditionally has 12 gates alongside its main wall which surrounds the city. Each gate has an old tree usually Banyan or Bohar tree a gol Bagh (Circular Garden) and a shrine near it. There also used to be an inn traditionally called “Takya” where travelers used to stay on nights as gates were closed at evenings. There used to be a Hamam as well at each gate for this purpose. Chopal system was the specialty of all gates where people used to stay at evenings and used to chitchat. The Lahore gates like other walled cities were constructed to enhance the defense of the city. And therefore the amendments or restorations in colonial period are mere embellishments in Gothic style and don’t have that functionality which was their prior characteristic in the period of Mughals. The wall encompassed the city and defined its boundary wall as the world advanced and population grew up the city stepped out of its wall and the gates lost their importance and left only as the monumental of their glorious past. The subcontinent has been famous for its walled cities mainly for the cities of Lahore and Delhi. Interestingly enough Delhi has a Lahori gate which faces Lahore and Lahore have a Delhi Gate.

One of the Gol Baghs( Circular Gardens) of Walled City
The Gates of Lahore

The Gates are Lahore as known as Delhi Gate, Kashmiri Gate, Sheranwala Gate, Masti Gate, Taxali Gate, Bhati Gate, Lohari Gate, Shah-Alami Gate, Mochi Gate, Akbari Gate, Yakki Gate, Roshnai Gate and a small gate knnow as Mori Gate.

1.Delhi Gate

Delhi Gate
Delhi Gate is situated on the eastern side of the wall of old Lahore. It is the oldest and the most important gate after the Lohari Gate. It was built in the times of Mughal Emperor Akbar when he made Lahore his capital in Punjab. kanhaiya lal kapoor writes in his book Tareekh-e-Lahore, “ This gate faces east and thus opens in the direction of Delhi and so it is called Delhi gate…Amritsar and Jalandhar are also in the same direction.” Masjid Wazir Khan and Shahi Hamam were built in the area of Delhi gate in the times of Shahjahan and further constructions were made outside this gate during the the stay of his son Dara Shikoh and that is why it was called Dara Chowk. 

Wazir Khan Mosque
It was trading hub in Mughal period and so it is now. During Sikh reign it suffered a serious blow as the structure was badly damaged. It was rebuilt in British era as the main structure was deteriorating and the ceiling was in shabby condition. Architect Ghafir Shahzad writes in his book “Ghar Ghaliyan aur Darwazy”, “ it has striking resemblance with British architect for its façade, dual columns and the style of windows.” Heavy traffic and encroachments have affected the beauty of Delhi gate. We learnt during our research that the government of Punjab have launched a project “ Sustainable Development of Walled City of Lahore Project” in collaboration with the Agha Khan Trust and World Bank to restore and preserve the cultural heritage of Lahore. Telephone and electricity system will be wired underground. the road from Delhi gate to Railway station will be rebuilt and broadened in order to avoid heavy traffic and to curb encroachments around old buildings and Jharokas. There is a ray of hope for this gate in this project.

2.Bhati Gate

Bhati Gate
Bhati Gate is on the southern side of the wall of old Lahore. It was also rebuilt in British period. It also has resemblance with Gothic architect especially for its dual arch. Its originally beauty was not revived in restoration. Bhati gate was the center of art and literature as “Paisa” newspaper and literary Magazine “Makhzan” were published from here and well known dramatist Agha Hashar, short story writer Ghulam Abbas, poets Sagar Siddiqui and Allama Iqbal and many others also used to live here. Theater companies and circus used to be staged here. Here the Pakistani film industry originated and flourished. But now it all has become a past.

3.Lohari Gate

Lohari Gate
Lahori Gate and the area around it is the oldest part of the walled city or “shaher-e-Panah”. Famous Anarkali Bazar is on its opposite side. It was the only gate that was rebuilt on its original design in British period as other gates were built on Gothic style. It had the vital importance from defense point of view in Mughal period and it was true representative of Lahore among all gates. Today its structure is in pitiable condition. The dome is about to fall and 21 feet wooden gate is badly damaged. Advertising banners and wall-chalking have enveloped the entire building. But all the same it stands there reminding its glorious past.