Saturday, January 26, 2013

Josh, a new indie feature film set in Pakistan

Last night, Virginia and I were in a packed auditorium at Stanford watching a preview screening of a terrific new indie feature film, Josh. Josh جوش  (Against the Grain), the first feature film by director Iram Parveen Bilal, is set in modern-day Pakistan.

Although the movie touches on many social justice issues, Iram made it clear that she didn't want to make another documentary about Pakistan.  She succeeds in showing us, rather than telling, something true and challenging.

In the post-film Q&A, Iram said she aspired to do for Pakistan what Slum Dog Millionaire did for India. As someone who has been privileged to attend a handful of previews from Participant Media, Jeff Skoll's socially responsible film production company, I get that the way to truly reach society is through story telling and mass media.  I was delighted that Iram's film succeeds in telling a great story about the coexistence of an almost medieval feudal rural society and a modern cosmopolitan generation. 

We also heard from one of the musicians, Manesh Judge, who helped make the powerful soundtrack.  Virginia had heard of Indus World Music, his San Francisco company that is dedicated to Raaga music, both classical and popular. 

We felt lucky to be included at this early stage in the film's roll-out: it was a chance encounter with the director that landed us on the list for last night's screening.  I met Iram last year when I was the evening speaker for Caltech's Gnome Club Founder's Night event.  It was exciting to hear that Iram had ditched her career as a brilliant scientist to become a filmmaker.  She says it's because of her impatience to change society faster.  As a person who parlayed a Caltech education into social entrepreneurship (an atypical choice for Techers), I could sympathize with her desire to make social impact!  And, I couldn't help remember that the famous director Frank Capra was a Caltech grad and Gnome Club member.  Maybe Iram is the Caltech cinematic heir to Capra!

Even though more than half of the dialog is in English (most of the rural dialog is in Urdu with English subtitles), it's not clear if U.S. distributors will show it widely on the indie film circuit here.  Iram is mainly pinning her hopes on festivals and a theatrical release in Pakistan and India. 

If you get a chance to see this film, take it!

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