Produced by Indus Valley Productions, Kashf- The Lifting of the Veil is Pakistan’s first English-language feature film in 30 years. The movie explores Sufism – the mystical side of Islam – through the eyes of Armaghan, who was born after an oath his mother made to a Sufi Pir when she was childless. Armaghan’s mother promises the Pir, who blesses her, to let her son ‘walk the Sufi path’ when he grows up. However, he returns to Pakistan from America after 25 years, unaware of the secret about to change his life. According to the film’s website, Kashf “is a story of universal relevance exploring humanity’s basic questions of who we are, and why we are here.” The movie has been shown at several film festivals, including the Santa Fe Film Festival, where it was nominated for “Best Editing,” in 2008 and is currently on a screening tour [join the Facebook group to see how/when you can watch the film]. Below, is CHUP’s interview with Kashf’s incredible director, Ayesha Khan:
Q: Congratulations on the recent success of your film, Kashf – The Lifting of the Veil, and the critical acclaim it has received! What has the creative journey been like from writing the short story on which the screenplay is based 15 years ago to showing it before audiences today? Do you feel like the film would have been received differently then than now?
I wrote the screenplay for KASHF: The Lifting of the Veil in 2003 when I found the short story going through old papers. In 2004, I came to Pakistan for pre-production and to check out the local scene. There was such great energy with the media opening up and there was an option for a co-production with India. However, due to funding issues, I had to return to NY and restart again in 2007. When we re-started we made a conscious decision we would make this a Pakistani production, meaning cast and crew, except for Departments heads from NY to see if we could pull it off.
Quite frankly, I don’t think the film could have been made 15 years ago. As regards audience reaction – I feel the world at large as well as Pakistan is more ready for this film now. Part of it is philosophical – a re-examination of our priorities as the human race, who we are, why are we here and who will walk with us… as the movie touches on these questions.
Q: Your film delves into the mystical side of Islam – Sufism. How prevalent was Sufism while you were growing up in Lahore, Pakistan? Is it more or less prevalent today?
The fact is that we all grew up with Sufi stories swirling all around us in Pakistan – whether we identified them as Sufi or not. Bulleh Shah’s poetry was constantly recited by my grandmother, as well as bedtime stories of Mullah Nasruddin by my grandfather. And of course, there were extended relatives who visited the mazaars [tombs].
It’s difficult to gauge how strongly it influences Pakistan today versus the past but one must keep in mind, unlike Wahhabism which is a recent phenomena, Sufism has been part of this land we claim as Pakistan since before the 12th century. It permeates and enriches our culture and our identity in ways which are visceral and we should as a nation be determined to preserve that. Despite the horrific bombing of Rehman Baba’s Shrine in Peshawar – I don’t think the Sufis are leaving anytime soon.
Q: A recent piece by BBC News posed the question, “Can Sufi Islam Counter the Taliban?” Do you think Sufism can counter the hardline Islam practiced by groups like Taliban and Al Qaeda? Do you think your film could have a place in this debate?
Personally, I feel it is the people of Pakistan who will counter the Taliban and only the people of Pakistan when they decide to do so. Whether they are Sufi is beside the point and again compartmentalizes the issue.
It is up to the citizens of any nation to stand up for what they truly believe in and demand that any government elected by the people fulfills those promises. The biggest recruitment ad today for the Taliban is unemployment, poverty, alienation and Wahabi proselytism (excellent read on this in A Necessary Engagement). If the government was serious in its intent and reached out with a long term goal of education to people in Pakistan and providing means with which they could be economically viable, the elements at risk would themselves realize the fabulously coined label of Taliban are nothing but thugs who are hiding behind a façade of Islam which has nothing to do with the practice of Islam.
In the U.S., the movie is already creating a ‘perceptional shift’ in American audiences vis a vis Pakistan as it exposes them to something different other than bearded terrorists. For Pakistanis, I hope the initiation into the Sufi path as depicted in the film would remind us in the words of one of our reviewers “the paths to happiness and fulfillment (and God), though obscured or veiled, are many and findable, with effort and determination.” – Patricia L. Sharpe
I would in all optimism like to see a new cinema emerging out of Pakistan telling our stories. I would like to see Pakistani audiences preferring to go to see Pakistani movies first and foremost – and lastly, to see a film industry emerge competing not just on the international front but being backed by a distribution model within the country.
Q: Finally, what would you like audience members to take away from your film?