How She Moves celebrates Pakistan’s rich classical dance heritage – Film & TV


The documentary follows the legendary classical dancer Indu Mitha and the history of this art form.

The short documentary How she moves celebrates the millennial traditions of dance and music in the piece of land we now call Pakistan. The documentary follows Indu Mitha, a 90-year-old ballet teacher from Lahore, and her students as they prepare for her latest dance recital.

With the partition of India and the removal of a Muslim-dominated state, the divided South Asian states faced new challenges. Among the challenges that affected the newly created Pakistan more than the historic state of India was the need to create a new national narrative, which was to recognize the culture and history of the land on which it stood. , so as not to alienate the population from their own ancestors.

At the same time, paradoxical as it is, the new narrative also had to separate itself from said culture and said history to justify the need for separation.

For reasons beyond the scope of this article, the power to define the existential narrative of over 75 million people has fallen into the hands of a few elite circles. These circles, blinded by their own aspirations for wealth and a careless desire for control, were ruthless with this narrative construction. In the quest to differentiate ourselves from our cousins ​​across the border, art has suffered deeply. We were told we look more like Arabs, and now apparently Turks, but nothing like the people who literally roamed our streets less than a century ago.

Art which found great appreciation and patronage under the Muslim rule of the Mughals, ironically, was now seen as a threat to the very foundation of the new Muslim rule in South Asia. The state that flaunted the former capital of the Mughal Empire – Lahore – as one of its largest cities now wanted nothing to do with centuries of local culture. Among the degraded art forms from the prestige of Mughal darbars to hidden quarters with a small audience was dance.

Clearly though, with such a rich performing arts tradition, they couldn’t just stamp out the parts of the culture that didn’t fit their vision. Among the rebels who loyally fight this war on the arts is Indu Mitha.

A rebellious artist

Indu Mitha – a legend by all means – was born a Bengali Christian, at the intersection of two minorities discriminated against by ethnicity and religion in Pakistan, in 1929. At the time of partition, her family moved to Delhi from Lahore , which is where she attended college and learned the craft she would dedicate her life to. Bharatanatyam, a classical Indian dance form originating in Tamil Nadu, has become her strong point and she is her performer. She started teaching in India and when she emigrated to Pakistan after her marriage in 1951 she continued to teach in Pakistan, where she has been teaching for 60 years. The art form, originally associated with Hindu deities, under her creative vision became a tool of resistance, as she used it to explore themes of feminism and secularism.

How she moves was created by directors Anya Raza and Aisha Linnea. Raza is a Pakistani-Dutch filmmaker with extensive experience working in non-profit organizations, and currently about to complete her first novel. His approach to topics is thought-provoking, with a greater message of compassion. Linnea is a Pakistani filmmaker based in Islamabad with a particular interest in the study of subcultures in Pakistan. His work has earned him international recognition, in the process of making a name for himself in the field.

Pictures spoke to directors to learn more about their exciting business.

What made you want to produce a documentary on Indu Mitha and when did you first hear about her?

Raza first studied dance with Ms. Mitha as a young girl in Islamabad and was impressed when she met the confident, articulate and charming teacher. She was known for her discipline, her grace and the wealth of her historical knowledge.

There is hardly a better subject for a filmmaker than preserving art and creating space for self-expression, especially in a country like ours, she said of comment. of his film.

Fast forward two decades, when we heard that this was Ms. Mitha’s last presentation with her students, we knew it was a moment in Pakistan’s history that needed to be captured. At the age of 90, Ms. Mitha’s contribution to the preservation of ancient classical dance, despite a backdrop of growing intolerance in Pakistan, is a legacy to be celebrated. In a tight-knit conservative society like Pakistan, dance is a poorly understood subject and women expressing themselves publicly, especially physically, are rare.

What are the most surprising things you learned while filming?

Ironically, one of the earliest evidence of human dancing, the 4,300-year-old bronze statue of the Dancing Girl, was found in our own country, at Mohen-Jo-Daro in 1926, and is one of the most emblematic symbols of the Indus Valley. What’s even more ironic is that Pakistan is currently pursuing the return of this statue from the National Museum in Delhi.

Watching dance requires vulnerability, it is an intimate experience. Maybe our discomfort with someone else dancing stems from our own personal struggle with our bodies. As a nation, we struggle with conversations about our mental and physical health because we are unable to recognize our own bodies in the guise of modesty – to our own detriment.

In our research, we noticed two very distinct trends when it comes to dance in Pakistan. On the one hand, the influence of Bollywood and other Western dances on the erosion of classical dance, and on the other hand, the extremism, nationalism and suspicion of dance as an art form legitimate eroding even more all forms of dance. In the last three years we have seen dance classes banned, people killed for dancing, movies and advertisements banned for showing dancing, apps banned for showing people dancing … the list, unfortunately, is long.

How long did it take to produce this movie, from when you got the idea to when it was finally ready to screen?

We learned that Ms. Mitha was making her final presentation at the CAFN just weeks before filming began and therefore didn’t have much time to pre-produce. With the support of anthropologist / dance researcher Dr Feriyal Aslam, our first grant only arrived the day before the shoot and we toured consecutively for about two weeks.

Lots of interviews were done afterwards, as well as a few pickup shoots, but what really took time was the editing. The reason being that we actually decided to do something closer to 20 minutes, but after working with several editors here and abroad the consensus was that we needed at least double in order to show precisely why the teaching of classical dance in Pakistan was so scarce. feat. It was a delicate balancing act through the stories of Ms. Mitha and her students, exploring complex topics such as identity, rights and dreams.

How was the film received?

We’ve been screened at over 10 film festivals spanning Portland to Bolivia and Macau to name a few, but we’ve also been awarded the Best Jury Award in our Documentary Short Excellence category. at the 43rd Asian American Film Festival as well as an honorable mention at the Women’s Voices Now.

So those are two great honors and the general reception everywhere has really been better than what we could have imagined. It’s obvious from the trailer alone that people are feeling inspired by the very captivating Ms. Mitha.

You said dance is a misunderstood subject, do you hope to change that with this documentary?

Language itself can be an oppressive tool and something you see through the film is how different segments of society can come together to communicate and create art when it is not verbal. There is a big gap in Ms. Mitha’s classes in terms of socio-economic position and gender, however, thanks to the power of Ms. Mitha’s teaching, dancing was a way these students were able to connect. each other. It says a lot, but we’ll have to let you watch the movie to decide what that means.

Overall, the purpose of the film is to contextualize our history, to highlight the importance of preserving our culture, and to show the impact that an empowering teacher like Ms. Mitha can have. We hope that a takeaway reflects the rich culture of Pakistan, and the need for its documentation and preservation, but also for education – so that Pakistani citizens are no longer deprived of the inspiring art of legends such than Indu Mitha.

How can Pakistanis watch the documentary?

We just had our premiere in Pakistan through the US Embassy and Pakistan US Alumni Network, as well as another month of festival screenings currently with Women Through Film.

What often happens with documentaries is that they get lost in the world of theaters and festivals and never reach the communities they come from, which can benefit the most. We have therefore developed a “boxed projection experience” with an interactive discussion guide, so that everyone can lead a projection! We are working in partnership with festivals, NGOs, universities and artistic spaces to disseminate the film across Pakistan.

Many people have reached out to put them in place and we hope for many more. If you are interested, contact us and we will organize it together!

Where can we find out more?

Instagram! Just follow @howshemovesthedoc for all the information on the screenings and everything we are up to!


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