Pakistan Calling: movies made by young UK and Pakistani filmmakers

Pakistan Calling, a showcase of short movies made by young filmmakers. Touching and evocative. See the trailers here.

Scenes from the short film I Am Agha, about a young Pakistani boy named Agha who lives on the streets. Courtesy Pakistan Calling
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Agha is a little boy who lives in Lahore. He sleeps on the streets along with other homeless boys on dirty ground under a worn-out blanket. He can’t be more than 8 or 9, and lives a life that no one, especially children, should have to bear.

Every day, Agha collects rubbish in exchange for 40 rupees (Dh2.6) a day, which he uses to buy naan and a bowl of curry. He sifts through filthy mounds of dirt, discarded crisp packets and straw for scraps of paper that he might sell, dropping it into a sack he has slung over his shoulder. Once, he says, he found a teddy bear in the rubbish.

“I wish I could throw this sack away,” Agha says. “I wish I could carry a school bag instead.”

Agha’s words are bleak, not what you’d want to hear from a child: “I don’t like anything or anyone. I don’t know if, when I grow up, will I end up killing myself or will I die of hunger?”

And yet, Agha, this anonymous boy from Lahore, has no idea that people are hearing his story. In 2010, three filmmakers (Atif Ahmad Qureshi, M Umar Saeed and Kiran Mushtaq) followed him for a day, letting him share his voice.

Their film, I Am Agha (, is now online as part of Pakistan Calling, a new initiative which aims to promote Pakistan and increase awareness of the social and cultural issues facing the country through film.

The project also hopes to provide a platform of cultural exchange for young filmmakers in Pakistan and the UK. Those who watch Agha’s film are encouraged to make a donation to the Azad Foundation, an organisation that provides food and shelter to Pakistan’s street children.

Pakistan Calling is a joint project run by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) in London, and The Samosa, a British- Asian news website. It has also received funding from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

At present, there are 39 short films on Pakistan Calling’s Vimeo site and the RSA’s site.

Anwar Akhtar, the founder of The Samosa, says it’s important to show that there is more to Pakistan than the stories of extremism and terror that make mainstream news.

“Everyone has an interest in Pakistan but the films reflect that Pakistan is not a failed state,” he says.

“There are some extraordinary welfare organisations doing a lot of good work there – such as the Edhi Foundation and The Citizens Foundation [both charities work with impoverished communities] and by showing the work that they do, we can engage British Pakistanis to be a force for good in terms of development in Pakistan.”

Akhtar hopes the films will inspire people to contribute to Pakistan through volunteering and donations.

The films from Pakistan feature young women in slums seeking out an education and films following minorities and the discrimination they face.

Some films take a celebratory tone, highlighting the positive work of countless charities and human rights’ organisations across the country.

One is about a mobile pop-up cinema that tours the slums of Karachi and encourages street children to film their own video clips (; another focuses on the work of the All Pakistan Women’s Association, an established social welfare organisation that works tirelessly to empower and support women.

Meanwhile, filmmakers in the UK are exploring what it means to be British and have Pakistani heritage, discussing issues such as identity and roots.

Akhtar says the response to Pakistan Calling has been overwhelmingly positive; he hopes to get at least 100,000 people to watch the films. He recently showed some of the films to audiences of young British Asians in Bradford, and he hopes to be able to do a film tour across the UK in the future.

I am a Agha from Pakistan Calling on Vimeo.

“They said it was fantastic. It raises aspirations for young British Pakistanis here to see the good that is being done in Pakistan, and it gives them pride,” he says. “These are positive narratives about Pakistan.”

Mera Karachi Mobile Cinema from Pakistan Calling on Vimeo.

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