There have been many Pakistani documentaries over the years that have received international praise. However, few may be as saddening and eye-opening as Indus Blues. It follows the Indus River across Pakistan in search of the last few dying vestiges of Pakistan’s oldest and most culturally rich instruments.
Indus Blues is a nominee for the Best Documentary category at the Regina International Film Festival. It has additionally also won Best Documentary feature at the Guam International Film Festival. Indus Blues has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from film critics all over the world. Justifiably so with its surreal visuals and on-point background score.
The documentary features Jawad Sharif as Director & Editor and Arieb Azhar as Creative Producer.
Jawad Sharif is no stranger to making stunning documentaries with examples like “K2 and the Invisible Footmen”. Sharif has a particular knack for breath-taking filmatography and attention to detail.
According to many, Arieb Azhar has a voice so beautiful you can feel it encompassing your soul like an ocean and seeping into every crevice.
According to sources, the two conceived the idea for this documentary back in 2014. They have since traveled all over Pakistan with the goal of capturing the last of Pakistan’s greatest instruments.
Indus Blues explores everything from snake charmers to Sarinda players. The documentary takes us all the way from the Karakoram Mountains to the coastline of the Arabian Sea. It brings to light 9 dying instruments of Pakistan and features 11 last-of-their-kind musicians. Indus Blues is a one-of-a-kind feast for the senses as it showcases performances from rarely seen instruments rich in culture.
Each folk artist featured in the documentary speaks of the history of their instruments and the struggle to keep a dying art alive. Divided by politics and religion, Pakistan is losing its cultural integrity as it forces such art to die out.
“We hear accounts of the struggle of the featured artists with terrorism, economic difficulties, and social issues surrounding music and dance. Each one of them affecting their survival,” said Jawad.
Nawaz Zohaib Hassan, one of the artists featured, said, “When we die, future generations will be shown in books that ‘These were the instruments and these were the last musicians to play them’”. [Translated from Urdu to English.]
Sachoo Khan, the last Saroz player from Balochistan, summed it all up in one saddening sentence:
“When peace and love have been erased then what instruments and what music can be left?” [Translated.]
Musician Arieb Azhar took to Facebook to share how Indus Blues came about. “Around three years ago, my talented friend Jawad Sharif approached me with a desire to make a film on the dying instruments of Pakistan,” he said.
“With the invaluable help of Yasser Nomann, who was working at Lok Virsa, I put together a proposal in which we mapped all the endangered instruments from the various regions of Pakistan together with the remaining craftsmen who still make them and the master musicians who still play them.”
“In the case of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s sarinda, we discovered that there are no craftsman left who still make that instrument, and only one master musician who can play it. I pitched the proposal through the platform of FACE with whom I used to work and we received funding through the USAID Ambassador to make the film,” Azhar continued. The Husn-e-Haqiqi artist explained his team’s journey across Pakistan. He explained the beauty he saw and the bonds he formed over a period of several months. Azhar called it the most unforgettable experience of his life. “I renewed my love and my vows to the land and the culture from which I come,” he explained.
He went on to say, “After it was made, we faced another battle to release an uncensored version as some people involved in the approval process thought the film was too critical of the narrow religious mindset that has become a threat to the living culture of Pakistan, even though our film, like any good documentary, honestly attempts to portray the views of our subjects in a logical and aesthetic narrative.”
“I had not realised that the effort of promoting and pitching the film to festivals was going to be as challenging a task as the actual production. But thanks to the tireless efforts of Jawad Sharif and Haroon Riaz of Bipolar Films, Indus Blues has finally started getting accepted at international festivals! Once it’s done the international rounds, we’ll start arranging local screenings in cities around Pakistan.”