By Sonya Rehman
“Bajaur, NWFP, Pakistan. In 1979 following the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, millions of Afghans were forced to seek refuge in Pakistan. Nearly 3 decades later, the Afghan Repatriation Deadline of 2005, enforced their evacuation from Pakistan. The footage of Bajaur, NWFP, is a real account of the conditions of this mass evacuation, seen through the eyes of 3 Afghans as they make their way to the border”.
These are the opening lines of the Mekaal Hasan Band’s current video – ‘Huns Dhun’ – directed by Zeeshan Parwez.
Shot entirely in black and white – with two deep maroon frames (set at the top and bottom) – Parwez’s video appears terribly picturesque, like a moving portrait, ripe…and wistful.
And tenderly, the song begins, as Pappu plays his flute – which therein intertwines with the sounds that reverberate from the rest of the instruments.
Painfully aesthetic, and reflective; the song reminds one of open courtyards, high ceilings, and the scent of fresh nargis as it floats in copper bowls full of spring water.
With visuals that continuously shift from the evacuees’ mud/brick houses being broken down, trucks occupied with family belongings (depicting departure), the entire ‘feel’ of mass defeat, of injustice and yet its acceptance, to shots of the band members (Mekaal, Javed, Pappu, Gumby and Sameer) themselves, ‘Huns Dhun’ will strike many a chord within, once viewed.
There is also something strangely esoteric about Javed Bashir’s vocals. It rarely ever runs flat – balanced, with unpredictable high and low pitches, Bashir’s grasp over his vocal delivery is without pretense…without having to try too hard…almost tailor-made for the deliverance of Sufi qalams and poetry.
Vocally gifted, Bashir sings from his heart – and that, in conjunction with Mekaal’s compositional instrumentation, strikes perfect equilibrium, each time.
As aurally profound as the song, ‘Huns Dhun’, already is, Parwez has managed to juxtapose a brilliant subject matter with an earnest song.
And in this way, neither – the song nor the video – outdoes one another; hitting a flawless symmetry of sound and visuals.
As stated in the video’s opening lines, the evacuation seen through the eyes of three, young Afghani men, seem to appear as obscure, somewhat ghost-like figures of the past – of when the initial flight of refuge began, from Afghanistan to Pakistan, thirty years ago. And that is what I found to be most fascinating. Especially this one scene where the three young Afghans are featured sitting around a small bonfire, and as one lies down and looks at the sky above – a shooting star flashes past – symbolizing hope…but not without trepidation and some amount of uncertainty.
And that’s what makes the feel of the video all the more poignant, and jaded.
“The idea actually spun off from a documentary that I wanted to do on the subject”, Zeeshan Parwez states, “because a couple of years ago we used to see and witness the entire process of the Afghan Repatriation here in Peshawar. The video features real life footage of real people – and the refugees that I’ve portrayed, have been living in Pakistan for the past three decades. So at the same time, the video is a human story”.
“My videos are open to interpretation”, Parwez says pleasantly.
And open to interpretation they are. For the last scene of ‘Huns Dhun’ depicts the three, young Afghani’s staring at a mountain (which Zeeshan later tells me is the border of Afghanistan).
But the last scene doesn’t appear simply as three men staring at a mountain – it’s far more emotive than that.
While some may interpret the scene as hopeful, and a time for new beginnings, others would understand, and acknowledge the fact that after being ousted from one’s country to another, and then, decades later, asked to move again back ‘home’…the refugees were dealt with like a herd of cattle, like animals…rather than human beings.
Kudos to both Parwez and Mekaal for pulling off such perfect symmetry.
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