One of the most talked about films at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival is the docu- mentary Among the Believers. It was one of 20 films recommended by Time Out New York and it got a lot of attention.
What is fascinating about this film is that it is
directed by Hemal Trivedi, a Hindu filmmaker who
is originally from India, and Mohammed Ali Naqvi,
a Muslim from Pakistan.
Together, the two weave the story about the Lal
Masjid or the Red Mosque in Islamabad and the
many madrassas it runs across Pakistan, which have
become the hotbed of radical Islam.
Among the Believers explores the roots of the
growth of radical Islam in Pakistan; during the time
of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and then follows the path until today.
In the process the film examines the lives and works
of a number of people including Abdul Aziz Ghazi,
the firebrand head cleric of the Red Mosque who is
an ISIS and Taliban supporter; Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy,
a moderate education activist who works at MIT; and two
young Pakistanis — Zarina, who escaped from a madrassa,
and Talha who studies at one of the Red Mosque madrassas
and is training to become a jihadi preacher.
Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Naqvi spoke with
India Abroad in Manhattan before the start of the Tribeca
Hemal, Mohammed, do you both live in New York?
Hemal: I live in New Jersey, but I spend about four
months in Mumbai.
Mohammed: I live between New York and Karachi.
How did you both connect?
Hemal: I wanted to make this film, well not in this form,
I lost a dear friend in the attacks.
Until then there had been so many small attacks in
India, but I never paid attention, because I was not a
political person. But after the Mumbai attacks I was so
shocked and I was so angry.
Also, I grew up in a Gujarati Brahmin family, hating
Pakistan. I had so much anger in me that I tried to understand the politics of it. Then I went to Pakistan.
How did you go to Pakistan so easily? And what year it
H: It was in 2009. I wanted to find out what was happening.
And you went as a filmmaker?
Hemal: Yes, as a filmmaker. I went there, I filmed at
Zarina’s school — she is the girl in the film who
escapes the madrassa. And then met Talha.
The first time I went to a madrassa I disguised
myself as Henna Khan, and said I was a Pakistani
I was going to ask you this question. You are a
Hindu. Hindus visit Pakistan and Pakistan also has
Hindus. But for a woman and Hindu to enter a
madrassa must have been a challenge.
Hemal: I had an all-Pakistani crew.
And how did you get that set-up?
Hemal: I networked. I made Pakistani friends. I
met Pakistani journalists and through word of mouth
I met Naziha Syed Ali, who is one of our co-producers. She was the first person I hired. And then I hired
one more co-producer Syed Musharaf Shah. And then
I went to the madrassa.
It seemed fine, but then I was tipped off that I was
being watched by the ISI (Pakistan’s Directorate of
Inter Services Intelligence). And I was very scared. I didn’t
want to spend the rest of my life in a Pakistani prison. I
also knew I needed someone to enter the lion’s den — the
headquarters of the Red Mosque.
How much time had you spent in Pakistan?
Hemal: About a month.
I knew I needed a man. So I talked to (Pakistani filmmaker) Mehreen Jabbar in New York and she introduced
me to Mo. He was leaving for Karachi and was here for a
day and I said let’s just meet. I saw his work and his passion and knew we would work together.
Aseem Chhabra speaks to the directors of Among the Believers, a film that explores the growth
THE INDIAN AND PAKISTANI
of radical Islam in Pakistan during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and follows the path till today
BEHIND ONE OF 2015ÊS MOST
Abdul Aziz Ghazi, head cleric of the Red Mosque, quizzes one of his newest students.
Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Naqvi.
SOUTH ASIA AT TRIBECA