September 24, 2002 
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A still from Some Kind Of Arrangement
Ali Kazimi's arrangement
A chat with the avante garde filmmaker who won kudos for his work at Toronto

Firdaus Ali

He has taken a potshot at everything, from flowing rivers to famous personalities. He is perhaps the only Indian filmmaker to make a film on yet another Indian, the original inhabitant of North America, the Red Indian.

Ali Kazimi is an avant garde filmmaker who has the conviction to film what he believes in. He came to Canada two decades ago. He has since captured many a heart-rending image on celluloid.

Born and raised in India, he is a science graduate from St Stephen's College in New Delhi. Way back in 1983, he won a scholarship to attend the film production program at York University, Canada. Since then, Kazimi has worked as a writer, director, cinematographer and producer on several international and ambitious projects.

Recently, Kazimi's film on arranged marriages Some Kind Of Arrangement was screened at the Film Festival in Toronto. The film is based on financial, political, religious, social, ethnic, linguistic or cultural reasons.

Some Kind Of Arrangement is a smart, stylish and thoughtful examination of how the tradition of arranged marriages is being adapted and transformed in North America. This award-winning 46-minute documentary focuses on second-generation South Asians who make it clear that arranged marriages are not what they used to be.

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Nowadays, they involve negotiation, get-to-know-each-other sessions and the option of saying 'no'. "I hope to stay away from stereotypes," adds Kazimi, talking about the film that has open dialogue and intense tκte-ΰ-tκtes with people who favour arranged marriages. The film captures the irony, fun, and dilemmas of these marriages.

Co-produced by Sondhi Productions and NFB, Kazimi's films have garnered many awards and honours. Some Kind Of Arrangement won the Golden Sheaf Award at Yorkton, the Gold CINDY Award in San Francisco and was nominated for a Gemini Award for Best Documentary. His other films include Narmada: A Valley Rises and Shooting Indians."

Some Kind of Arrangement, Kazimi's recent claim to fame, focuses on three second-generation Canadian young people of South Asian background: Preety Patel of Oakville, Hanif Abdul Karim of Vancouver and Rajni Kurichh of Ottawa. The film explores the issue of arranged marriages with a fresh approach. Engaging and refreshingly candid in their opinions, the three young people make it clear that arranged marriages are not what they used to be.

Nowadays, they involve negotiation, beginning with introductory phone calls and matrimonial classifieds in East Indian community newspapers and continuing with long distance trips, lengthy get-to-know-each-other sessions and the option of saying No. For those who eventually say Yes to an arranged marriage, the tradition represents a celebration of, and commitment to, their Indian heritage.

Preety is the quintessential woman of the 1990s --- confident, independent and career-driven. But she is about to do something most of her contemporaries would never consider --- the 20-something accountant is preparing to enter an arranged marriage. After her wedding, Preety is embarking on a new stage of life. As she says, it is a time to "get to know the other person, and accepting whatever comes our way."

Then there is Rajni who, after several unsuccessful years of searching for a mate, places ads in the matrimonial classifieds: "Beautiful energetic Punjabi [woman] Canadian born and raised, 28, 5' 2", systems business analyst, sincere, straight-forward, affectionate, fun-loving, zest for life. Excellent East-West blend seeks compatible Hindu Sikh professional. Mutual respect and equality. Please call or e-mail."

She wants cultural compatibility, to be able to speak Punjabi with her children, cook Indian food and listen to Indian music. "A big part of me is Indian even though I have been raised here," she admits. After over 200 responses she has not met a suitable mate and is discouraged. She decides to relocate to the Silicon Valley that has a higher density of Indian men and keep searching.

Hanif acknowledges, "I am not sure what form of journey marriage will take because I understand the singularity of the human condition. Yet, I hope to create a kind of ambience where some kind of nourishing can take place." He travels to Toronto where his aunt, a matchmaker, has arranged for him to meet four women. "This is, I think, the purpose of my life --- some kind of migration towards a wholeness, a completeness --- an understanding of what it means to be Muslim."

Three months later and back home in Vancouver, he meets someone by chance and marries her. The focus moves among the three young people and shows them interacting with their parents, their families, their friends and interviewers as well as sharing their feelings and experiences with the audience.

Some Kind of Arrangement was also aired on CBC and received a nomination for the 13th Gemini Awards.

Kazimi's debut as a filmmaker began with his docu-drama Narmada: A Valley Rises, which touched people's hearts with its sincere approach and unbiased stand. It was based on the Narmada Bachao Andolan and captured people's emotions among the turbulent waters of River Narmada. The film won several major international awards at the Chicago and San Francisco film festivals, not to mention the Silver Conch Award and the International Critics' Award at the Mumbai Film Festival in 1996. The film was about the fight for the heritage of a land and its river.

Though Narmada was a film about India and its people, it was never shown on India's Doordarshan Television Network. "It was telecast over six times on Canadian television, but those who were concerned with the subject never got to see my film," laments Kazimi.

Another claim to fame was the Genie award-winning and internationally acclaimed film A Song For Tibet, of which he was associate producer and cinematographer. In this film on Tibet, a land of snow and mountains, of burgundy-clad monks and prayer wheels, this mythical image of Tibet hides the tragedy of a forgotten people.

A more recent film shown at the Toronto film festival a few years ago, was Shooting Indians. It is also a film based on 'an obsession'. It deals with the native issues of Canada, dwelling extensively on the original settlers of Northern America, the Red Indians.

With Narmada, Shooting Indians and now Some Kind of Arrangement, Kazimi has convincingly managed to compare the parallels in the two countries --- India and Canada. Each film talks about a struggle for inheritance, existence and recognition between the new and the old.

India News Feature Service


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