Filmmaker Rahul Aijaz.

“I don’t want to be branded as a Sindhi-language filmmaker. I want to be known as a filmmaker, who sometimes makes Sindhi films, ”Rahul Aijaz tells me over the phone.

At half an hour, it was one of the few short conversations between us.

Aijaz – who started as a film student at Szabist, became a notorious film critic for Express Tribune, became a film professor at the Institute of Business Management (IoBM), and is now a filmmaker – often likes to be distracted for long periods of time. long phone calls. calls.

Surprisingly, his short film A Train Crosses the Desert stays on track (apologies for the pun).

The film recently premiered in Pakistan at the Pakistan Arts Council and was screened at the prestigious Kazan International Film Festival of Muslim Cinema, South Asian International Film Festival (NYC, USA), Jaipur International Film Festival (India), Muestra Itinerante De Cine Mx-MICMX (Mexico) and Asian Film Festival, LA (USA).

Like the deep and serious love of filmmaker Rahul Aijaz for cinema, gravity and solemnity seep into every corner of his short film Sindhi A train crosses the desert

He was also a finalist at the LIFFT India Filmotsav – World Cine Fest (India) and the 8th International Silk Road Film Awards (Turkey), and received an honorable mention at the Deep Focus Film Festival (USA). Like Aijaz’s deep and serious love for films, gravity and solemnity permeates every nook and cranny of his short film, be it the subject, the temperament of the story, or the conception of the production.

Scenes from train A crosses the desert.

The majority of the film takes place in a small cramped room, where two brothers – one seriously ill, the other his guardian – contemplate life and death. It’s a picturesque and heartbreaking experience that stems from a world of suffering and a fascination with the macabre, says Aijaz.

“I’ve been moved and inspired by the idea of ​​death – especially suicide – for some time now,” he explains.

Aijaz lost his uncle to suicide at the age of five, then his 22-year-old cousin to cancer about two years ago.

News of her cousin’s death came in the middle of Moammar Rana-starrer Azaad’s premiere, I remember. They were close, despite the age difference.

Aijaz, whose imagination has been ignited by the works of David Lynch, the French New Wave and neorealism, bases his entire narrative on the conversation between brothers (played by Nadir Hussain and Tariq Raja) – both aware that cancer drags on. their life in the gutter.

Rather than spell things out, Aijaz keeps his film subtle. There is a discreet deliberation among brothers about euthanasia, with an ever-present feeling of guilt for surviving and continuing to weigh heavily on the guardian brother.

The parallel between Aijaz’s inner voice and the characters’ actions is hard to dismiss during the nearly 20-minute film.

Funded by the Goethe-Institut as part of its Film Talent program, and with support from the IoBM, each image is full of detail. For example: in the middle of a scene, a shot slowly shifts the focus to a patch on the wall that has height markings of growing children. It’s a minor blow, but it adds gravity to the circumstances the two brothers are going through.

The title, says Aijaz, comes from the poem of the Egyptian poet and journalist Ashraf Aboul-yazid A train crosses the desert from the book The memory of silence (the film opens with A prison, another poem from the book). The translation from Arabic to Sindhi was carried out by Nasir Aijaz, the father of the filmmaker.

The movie poster

The choice to shoot the film in Sindhi is a deliberate one. Nobody has the idea of ​​making content in the language, fulminates Aijaz. In fact, he has never seen a Sindhi movie in his life. In the absence of an archiving system, most films in the language are lost in time and the language’s regional television networks, he says, produce only cliché content that barely scratches the surface. of Sindhi culture.

Aijaz doesn’t want the label of a Sindhi filmmaker, however. His next short is in Urdu and the next one will probably be in Sindhi, he explains. His long-term goal is to make a Sindhi feature film but, given the state of Pakistani cinema – and due to his own background as an entertainment journalist and Pakistani film critic – he doesn’t have a lot of hope for miracles.

The best bet is to make a film for international audiences, take it to festivals and then bring it to Pakistan, he once said to this writer. A train crosses the desert seems like a good case study in this regard.

Posted in Dawn, ICON, October 10, 2021

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