A still from Lyari Notes
Someday I will see, so will you, when bread will become cheaper, and life will be precious, such a day will surely come for Pakistan.” A group of children sit at the Music Art and Dance (MAD) school in Karachi and sing a song, while principal Hamza Jafri smiles indulgently. This is a scene from the documentary Lyari Notes, which was shown recently at the Kochi Muziris Biennale.
The film is about the lives of Pakistani girls Aqsa, Mehroz, Sherbano and Javeria who live in one of the most violence-prone areas of Karachi called Lyari. And as they dodge bullets and mayhem, they try to learn music at the school.
Maheen Zia (left) and Miriam Chandy Menacherry
You know Lyari Notes is an unusual film from the credits in the beginning and the words ‘An Indo-Pak Production’ roll by. The film is a collaboration between Mumbai-based documentary filmmaker Miriam Chandy Menacherry and Maheen Zia of Karachi. What is surprising is that the two finally met one and a half years into their partnership in Holland, as the film was co-funded by the International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam. Maheen would shoot in Lyari and send the rushes to Miriam and she would edit them. “Both of us felt that if I went to Lyari, it would be a big distraction,” says Miriam.
The idea for the film came when Miriam, a music buff, saw songs of Pakistani underground artists on YouTube and found them very political and saucy. One track that became a hit was Aalu Anday (potato and eggs), sung by Lahore-based Beygairat Brigade. “The song was a lampooning of the political system and the military,” says Miriam. Another artist that Miriam came across was Hamza. “He had also uploaded videos with hard-hitting political statements,” she says. “Then I came to know that Hamza runs a music school, and that became the starting point for the film.”
Lyari Notes touches on a host of subjects—whether music is acceptable in Islam, the massacre of 132 children at Army Public School in Peshawar by the Taliban on December 16, 2004, and discussions about the impact of Malala Yousafzai winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.
“We wanted to represent the voice of the silent majority. The news out of Pakistan in the mainstream media is always about guns and violence. We wanted to capture the everyday life of people, even as they get caught up in the violence around them,” says Miriam.