Grant Period: Two years
The present video project on ‘Sufi Thought and Everyday Life’ is a follow up to the research, documentation and video footage shot by S M Mehdi, a writer, and Taran Khan, a young filmmaker, with the help of an IFA seed grant in mid-2005. The grandfather and granddaughter pair collaborated to work in an area of shared interest––Sufism and its journey to the present form. The research, almost entirely, revolved around the concept of syncretism that forms the core of Sufi thought. This collaboration acquires greater relevance because it brought together two people separated by two generations, by diverse ideologies and perspectives and by dissimilarities in their personal relationship to Islam and hence to Sufism. The proposed film - incorporating travel, video footage, research and interviews - is expected to yield new findings that bridge these disparate paradigms.
Using an expressionistic form of imagery, the film will explore the textures and routines of ordinary peoples in an effort to find and understand echoes of a system of beliefs that are increasingly elusive yet extremely resilient and adaptive. On another level, it is a film about Muslim collective memory; a set of personal reflections that collectively serve to map the trajectory of the Muslim family in north India across three generations, of liberal Islam and the crucial juncture at which the present generation of Muslim youth finds itself, poised between its own history and an imagined ‘pan-Arab’ past. Taran and Mehdi Saab propose to project this theme in the film through certain well thought out filmic devices. Characters/actors will be drawn from everyday life. There are also characters of topical interest like Hindu couples at Shah Khamman’s shrine or destitute old women who turn to the saint for food and shelter.
Music and literature will “provide the subtext of syncretism and references to historical facts and myths” wherever required. Contemporary Sufi theme music will add to the questioning approach of the film. It will also provide an insight into the international market for Sufism, or in a more charitable view, the transnational appeal of Sufi thought, especially in Europe and the United States. Myths, legends, symbols and allegorical devices will provide other references and an interesting layer to the ‘documentary’ themes. These will be liberally and thoughtfully woven into the fabric of the film in an attempt to push the boundaries of the form. By using myths as an entry to another level of reality, a hidden aspect of daily existence can be revealed through parables or stories from history. Such enactment or references to myths will serve to bring out subtexts and comments about the present socio-economic context in sharp relief.
The film will also do away with the talking heads format, and will use allegorical images and seemingly unconnected images to explore various themes and build an argument. Rather than rely on stilted interviews and enumerations of secular credentials, the filmmakers feel this device will help in effectively communicating the minute, seemingly insignificant yet vital and pulsating rhythms of everyday life in Awadh and their connections to a thread of music from the past. Mehdi Saab, whose intimate acquaintance with the landscape of Awadh has seen him emerge as the guide during the research, will now take on the role of a narrator. And this, Taran feels, “will be a unifying element in the script and for the narrative”. Taran herself represents people on the outside echoing their questions, skepticism and their yearning to find new interpretations to structured symbols and events. Mehdi Saab’s romantic loyalty to Sufism is set in sharp contrast with Taran’s cynicism and questioning of its long-standing symbols and practices. While Mehdi Saab will play his role as the narrator in the film, Taran will handle the actual technical work. The film will be shot over a period of four to six months, capturing the Sufi spirit at shrines during the urs of a saint, at homes, weddings and other rituals. The film will unfurl as it proceeds.
This grant was made possible with part support from Anwar Siddiqi and Lord Khalid Hammed.