Pak Filmmaker Wins Award but Denied Visa to India to Collect itTop Stories

October 26, 2018 14:15
Pak Filmmaker Wins Award but Denied Visa to India to Collect it

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Mahera Omar, a filmmaker and co-founder/director of Pakistan Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) has come to New Delhi was when a friend sent her the picture of a crowded hall on WhatsApp.

Omar won the award for the best documentary for 'The Rebel Optimist' at the 7th Delhi International Film Festival 2018 but was denied a visa to come to India to collect it.

"The festival authorities as well tried to help me, but it is very difficult for a Pakistani to get a visa," Omar quoted as saying by The Week.

The Rebel Optimist shows the life and work of Perween Rahman, an urban planner and social activist who led the Orangi Pilot Project - a strategy that aided the poverty-stricken people, chiefly squatters, to figure out their sanitation issues. Rahman was gunned down on March 13, 2013, in Karachi.

Apart from the festival, Omar consistently wished to visit India as her grandparents hail from the country.

"I feel a sense of belonging. My ancestry is from there," she says. Her grandfather Zafar Omar, who used to write detective fiction, was from Aligarh. Their home, Nili Chatri, still exists but is now taken over by the Aligarh Muslim University.

The Omars, similar to many others who crossed over to Pakistan during Partition, believed that they would be back. "My aunt went to Aligarh a few years ago and found the house," she says. "The old family retainer was there. My great grandfather's picture was still up in his room. He looked at her and said to her 'you are back.' It is heartbreaking".

Her grandfather is no more, taking with him reminiscences and the lone tangible link she had with her past. She wants to return some day and hear more tales and capture the stories and scenes she had grown up hearing. "But how do I go there," she asks.

Omar, however, is not the lone Pakistani to have denied a visa. In the past, the Indian authorities have clamped down on issuing visas to Pakistanis.

In July, Pakistani scholars were obstructed from attending a meeting of the Association for Asian Studies and Ashoka University, drawing beefed-up reactions from academics.

In May, Moneeza Hashmi, daughter of noted Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz, was invited to speak at the 15th Asia Media Summit but was dropped from the list of speakers. Her booking at the hotel was canceled as no Pakistani had been invited to the conference. Former ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) chief Asad Durrani was as well denied a visa to come to India to promote his book. He, however, used video conferencing for the purpose.

Pakistan has alleged that India denied visas to more than 500 pilgrims who wanted to take part in the Urs at Ajmer.

Despite visa limitations, Omar still managed to get a second-by-second update from the festival venue. "There is a people-to-people contact there," she laughs. And it is the friendships that she had made in a third country that gave her a realistic taste of the experience of winning the award.

-Sowmya Sangam

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Pakistan  The Rebel Optimist  Mahera Omar