The trailer for what sounds like a fascinating film about the survival of the poetry and music of the Sindhi Sufi Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai (or Bhitai), directed by Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jayasankar. The trailer includes one of Bhittai’s poems. Let me just copy the description from Vimeo:
Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, a medieval Sufi poet, is an iconic figure in the cultural history of Sindh. Bhitai’s Shah Ji Risalo is a remarkable collection of poems which are sung by many communities in Kachchh and across the border in Sindh (now in Pakistan). Many of the poems draw on the eternal love stories of Umar-Marui and Sasui-Punhu, among others. These songs speak of the pain of parting, of the inevitability of loss and of deep grief that takes one to unknown and mysterious terrains.
Umar Haji Suleiman of Abdasa, in Kachchh, Gujarat, is a self taught Sufi scholar; once a cattle herder, now a farmer, he lives his life through the poetry of Bhitai. Umar’s cousin, Mustafa Jatt sings the Bheths of Bhitai. He is accompanied on the Surando, by his cousin Usman Jatt. Usman is a truck driver, who owns and plays one of the last surviving Surandos in the region. The Surando is a peacock shaped, five-stringed instrument from Sindh. The film explores the life worlds of the three cousins, their families and the Fakirani Jat community to which they belong.
Before the Partition the Maldhari (pastoralist) Jatts moved freely across the Rann, between Sindh (now in Pakistan) and Kutch. As pastoral ways of living have given way to settlement, borders and industrialisation, the older generation struggles to keep alive the rich syncretic legacy of Shah Bhitai, that celebrates diversity and non-difference, suffering and transcendence, transience and survival. These marginal visions of negotiating difference in creative ways resist cultural politics based on tight notions of nation-state and national culture; they open up the windows of our national imaginary.
For more on the film and its directors, including some reviews, visit its website.
Poem and recitation by Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Video by umer05, whose description is worth quoting in full:
Faiz Ahmed Faiz is amongst the most famous poets of last century. Faiz, who was hounoured by Lenin Peace Prize in 1963, was seldom subjected to arrests by the right-wing pro-imperialist military regimes of Pakistan. Once, during the dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq, he was arrested and taken to the police station in front of the public. In this context, he wrote ‘Aaj Bazar mein’.
The video starts with a ‘mushairah’ (public recitation), where Faiz presents the poem, and describes its context. Then the video, with the melodious voice of Nayyara Noor in the background singing the verses of Faiz, shows the sufi culture of Pakistan, which was suppressed by the religious fundamentalist government of Zia-ul-Haq. Then, there are some clips of public floggings and public hangings of political dissidents, which were employed to ingrain terror in the people of Pakistan. Public floggings were a norm during Zia’s time. The video, then, takes us on a trip to a well-known red-light area of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. This red-light area is in the neighbourhood of a very famous mosque, a contradiction unresolved.
Poem by the great Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
Music and video by Laal.
Love the interplay between the text of the poem and the drama in the video. The Wikipedia article linked above says that Laal are
known for singing socialist political songs, especially those written by leftist Urdu poets such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Habib Jalib and Ahmed Faraz. The band received mainstream attention during the Lawyers’ Movement, in which it led support to the reinstatement of the then deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad. […] Laal has not only managed to reconnect the people of Pakistan to the forgotten revolutionary socialist poets, but also introduced them to the youth
—which should serve as a reminder that, in some cultures, poetry still retains considerable power.