Most Indians are still fairly secular: Kalki Koechlin
Two women – one from India, the other from Pakistan — take it upon themselves to rewrite history. Or at least attempt to. In an hour-long documentary, titled Azmaish, actor Kalki Koechlin teams up with award-winning Pakistani filmmaker Sabiha Sumar to decode the equation between the two countries through their people. In the documentary, the two women travelled across the two countries, often together, to understand the role of religion, the social fabric of their countries, and the status of women in these societies. Excerpts:
How does Azmaish stand out?
Usually, we see the two countries through the prism of conflict. Or cricket, which is also conflict. With Azmaish, we try to understand India-Pakistan from a different perspective. It arises from the need to know this person across the border, without the media or the politics playing a role. It’s about what the common man on the street has to say.
Where all did you two travel?
I went to remote areas in Sindh with Sabiha — just very poor areas where women walk for hours just to get water. We took a similar journey to Haryana, where it wasn’t so much about poverty but more about the status of women, and gender inequality that shook us. We spoke to feudal landlords, truck drivers in Karachi and businessmen in both countries.
What revelations came to the fore during the project?
I realised that despite the obvious similarities in culture and language, India and Pakistan are vastly different nations. The constant blame game and comparison is unfair. Both have glaring issues and need to look inward, rather than point fingers at each other. The project made us wonder if we are looking for a religious identity in India now, and what that did to Pakistan. I am happy to report that most Indians are still fairly secular. More than ever now, the two countries need to continue cultural exchange and constant debate.
Tell us about the people you met.
I met Vijaykant Chauhan of ‘love jihad’ fame in Saharanpur, and he was quite the character. He spoke at length and very proudly about fighting Hindu-Muslim relationships. I met some girls in Pakistan who told me about their secret ambition of wanting to act when they grow up but how society wouldn’t permit. We met some feudal landlords in Pakistan, and one of them was very open to conversation despite the fact that we criticised his lot. In fact, getting Indian businessmen to talk was tougher, as soon as one mentioned Pakistan. Sabiha was very brave, and travelled to areas in Pakistan where she was the only woman, and debated with religious heads on Islam.
What was it like working with Sabiha?
She is way more experienced than I am; after all she has made a bunch of movies, including Khamosh Paani. I watched her as a guide, since this is my first. She is a very sensitive person, and that’s where we connect the most. She was trying to understand her identity — a Pakistani married to a Sri Lankan, with a decade spent in Delhi. And I am French-Indian, so we get along. We also differ, of course. She fears that India is moving towards extremism, and I try and tell her that we are too diverse for one person to rule the discourse.
What are the other projects you are working on?
We are busy with edits for Azmiash, and then the film travels to London and a few more places. Apart from this, my movie with Rajat Kapoor titled Mantra releases in March. Then I am going to begin shooting a webseries in Goa called Smoke, where I play a Portuguese-Goan DJ; and another with Konkana Sen Sharma.