A Karachi artist bridges borders with Gully Boy
A community cinema in Karachi is using streaming and the internet to screen Indian films, though desi films are barred there nowUpdated: Jun 03, 2019, 10:15 IST
Asad Kamran, 24, a painter and an architect of Karachi, enjoys comparisons between Mumbai and his city; two cities, which have, he says, “worked against and with the hangover of the British Raj”. The other divides -- of war, history and politics -- which have kept relations between Indian and Pakistan fraught, he would rather not dwell on. In 2019, after the Pulwama attack in J&K, the All Indian Cine Workers Association announced a ban on Pakistani artistes. The Pakistan government reciprocated by barring the screening of Indian films in its theatres.
Cinema 73 housed in a garage painted black, seats around 40 and has a movie shown every Sunday at 7.30pm. Its audience is the middle- and upper-middle-class residents of apartment blocks that emerged in the Karachi of the ’80s, domestic helps, and their kids. But thanks to social media, the news of both Pakistani and Indian movies being shown in this neighbourhood has travelled, and numbers may grow. In an interview to Vice India, Asad has clarified that while “state institutions” may ban, “in our personal capacity, we should still be able to enjoy” art from across the border.
On March 3, a Sunday, Asad, opened his community cinema to the public with the screening of Gully Boy – Pad Man and Hamid were shown on subsequent Sundays. Asad has skirted the piracy question by streaming the films from YouTube and Netflix.
When Asad inaugurated the community cinema, he stated in his introduction that art has the ability to transcend barriers and restraints that politics often creates. “Cinema 73 is a response to my surroundings, and will hopefully be a precedent for individuals and artists to create their own spaces in their own communities, to talk about things that affect them. I am making my own voice count through an artistic expression that is Cinema 73,” says the University of Edinburgh graduate. Cinema, he feels, has the ability to form human connections through the screen.
Does cinema take precedence over your other artistic interests?
I have been eclectic in my interests. Architecture gives me logic; painting instills in me creative freedom. I exist in between the two disciplines. I have held multiple art shows in Karachi and in Istanbul, have worked at an architecture firm till recently, and now I operate a community cinema as well. It all ties in together.
What is the story behind the name Cinema 73?
I live across the Arabian Sea, in a community called Seaview Township. The block I live on is number 73, hence the name. Seaview is the public beach strip of Karachi, and this is where south Karachi touches the Arabian Sea, which is also shared by the city of Bombay.
What motivated you to build a community theatre?
My academic thesis was titled, ‘Digital Karachi -- Understanding the City through Social Media/Media’. My research was heavily inspired by the work of the Pakistan Chowk Community Centre, which is based in the old town of Karachi, with an emphasis on reclaiming public squares. I also looked at the work of Karachi’s The Tentative Collective, which has a fascinating project called ‘Mera Karachi Mobile Cinema’. I would say these two initiatives were central to my research which led me to founding Cinema 73.
The first Indian film you showed was Gully Boy. How did the audience react?
People see the value of a beautiful film with a thought-provoking message. But the song Doori from Gully Boy seemed to be the trigger that led to the inception of Cinema 73. “Koi mujhko ye bataaye/ Kyun ye doori aur majboori/ Iss duniya ki kya story/ Kiske haath mein iski dori. Right mein building aasmano ko chhu ri/ Left mein bacchi bhookhi sarkon pe so ri/ Kaisi yeh majboori.” Bombay and Karachi, both are dynamic and young. They are so close and yet extremely far....
Is your theatre also a space where you discuss subjects that are controversial in both countries?
There are often conversations that take place among movie watchers after the screening. I overheard children talking about women’s hygiene after watching Pad Man, and endangered Markhors [the national animal of Pakistan] in the north of Pakistan after watching the computer-animated film Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor. We also played Hamid (an Indian film on Kashmir), which was also appreciated by the audience. After multiple screenings, there has been a normalisation of Cinema 73 now. The neighbourhood kids show up before the cinema doors even open up!
From the Indian films you have watched or the books on India you may have read, which Indian city draws you the most?
I am reading Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, which really excites me to visit Bombay! I have also watched Beyond the Clouds, and that too made me really want to visit India. It seems like a country, which is so close yet beyond my reach. I have heard stories of people with grandparents buried in India, and have not been able to visit their graves. We share such an intertwined history. Imagine a subcontinent with open cultural exchange. That’s of course the idealistic artist in me speaking.
You must have made friends with Indian students at Edinburgh.
I was fortunate enough to indulge in conversations about culture, movies and society with friends from India. There was camaraderie among us. I remember watching the film Swades one night, and the conversations it led up to about belonging, borders, nostalgia and home. Shout out to Maithili, Tarini, Karan, Anisha, Rishabh, Arunav, Aniket!
Favourite Indian actors: Ranveer Singh, Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Favourite Indian actresses: Deepika Padukone, Kangana Ranaut
Favourite Indian films and TV serials: Rajneeti, Guru, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Zoya Akhtar’s films in general. In TV, shows like Mirzapur and Made in Heaven