Guest Post by Shreya Kalra
In India’s public space, it’s hard to locate women in the herds and herds of men. This might be a provocative statement for some, but look closely and the number of men in public will outweigh women by an arm and a leg. India isn’t by any measure the worst place to be a woman in front of countries such as Saudi Arabia, but it’s not that great either. In that context, Sabiha Sumar’s Azmaish: A Journey Through the Subcontinent came as a fresh surprise. The documentary follows two women travelling through India and Pakistan to discuss politics and the evolution of these two children born from the same womb in 1947.
I will never forget the mundane train journey I took from Jodhpur to New Delhi earlier this year. It was so dull I have no reason to remember it other than one image that left a lasting impression on my mind. A few families were travelling together and as is so commonly seen, the men and women sat in segregation. The men were sitting in the berth right across from me, discussing politics – the highs and lows of the Modi era. The women? Well, they were just taking care of the children.
Imagine my delight then when I watch Azmaish and see two women leading a political conversation in two countries, where women are so often silenced, marginalised and sidelined. The documentary begins with the camera peering into the eyes of men, with a woman’s voice leading the narrative. Sabiha Sumar wants to know the desires of these eyes. What do they live for?
The narrator then takes us into the house of a male government leader. She dines sitting adjacent to him in a house where women occupy completely separate quarters. She asks him pertinent questions about religious extremism in Pakistan, corruption, and a political regime completely dominated by elites.
Sabiha then travels to India, where she meets Kalki Koechlin, who is curious about where India is headed. The two of them are as curious as those who want to participate in the palpable change happening around them. Together, as they travel through Mumbai, discussing and comparing each other’s countries. This inclusive discussion is one of the documentary’s strongest features. Sabiha and Kalki don’t promise to know the answers – these two old friends are just fishing around and wondering as much as the next person.
Sabiha and Kalki don’t promise to know the answers – these two old friends are just fishing around and wondering as much as the next person.
They wander around speaking to locals – RSS members, laughing club members, young people, boys, girls, Muslims, Hindus. They ask them about where India is headed, what they think about the current government, Hindu nationalism and the largest democracy’s future.
Azmaish captures the uneasiness, a mutual feeling residing in most of us across the globe from US to Europe to the Middle East to Pakistan to India. With excellent camera work that immerses you right in the crowded streets of Mumbai and Karachi, Sabiha and Kalki manage to connect with you viscerally. Azmaish is a political-philosophical conversation that we find ourselves having more often of late given the chaos of global politics today. The two women ask questions that we’ve been pondering more over than we have in a long time. Is India becoming too strong in Hindu nationalism? What are the liberals doing? Where are women in today’s India?
Azmaish is a feeling we all resonate with. Haven’t you undeliberately caught yourself feeling it? Where do my desires fit in with the identity of my country? Azmaish starts with Sabiha peering into the undeciphered yearning eyes of men, trying to decrypt their desires, and ends on a poignant note of two friends making a wish on a mountain that overlooks their connected-disconnected nations.
Also Read: ‘Naseem’ Film Review: An Age That Had Passed
Featured Image Credit: Azmaish Campaign Facebook Page