Dostain Baloch on storytelling, reading and the power of films
This story is about a storyteller. A story about a person who has strong opinions and beliefs and for whom art is catharsis, someone who doesn’t have any idols, who raised his voice against Lyari’s gangsters, who doesn’t want fame - yet has become a famous filmmaker in a short span of time.
Dostain Baloch was born in Lyari, but soon after, his father was transferred to Balochistan. He lived in his native province for six years. During his time in Balochistan, Baloch found his first teacher: his great grandmother. She used to tell him stories. He credits those stories for his initial interest in storytelling.
Baloch has been an activist from a very young age. When Lyari was in the midst of conflict, he founded an organization called YELL (Youth of Education, Learning and Leadership), a platform for artists where they could use acting and theatre to raise their voice against gangsters, as well as to create awareness on women's rights. However, there was a lot of pressure on them to suppress their movement. This also led to his friend Deepak Maheshwari being shot and injured.
Baloch, himself, was also getting threats from gangsters in this time and had to go underground for a few days in Mirpurkhas. When things got better and I thought my work was done, I left it all, he says. “When my catharsis ended, I didn’t care if my name was in the papers or not. I think when you do something you shouldn’t bother with the projection of it. We don’t need to say that I did that, when our work is done, we just need to sideline ourselves,” says Baloch. After the decline in the power of gangsters, he came back home. He then sidelined his activism and started studying in film school.
“If instead of 2019, I was to live in the 18th century, I believe I would still be telling stories,” claims Baloch. When he started writing stories, he realized this was his true calling. Here he was a creator because he could create his own world, his own characters. “Art is a way to express yourself. It is a medium to express your thoughts, emotions and feelings.”
Currently, Dostain Baloch is in the fourth year of his BS degree in film studies at Biztek University. He was the second Pakistani to be selected as a participant at the Locarno Film Festival, with the first being his teacher Jami Mehmood.
Recently, he received the award for most promising script. His film “Mirror of the Madman” received the best storyline award in Pakistan, it was also nominated for a film festival in Russia, while he won second place at the Karachi Literature Festival. Another film ‘Threads of Shame’ was nominated in a Canadian film festival and screened at Locarno. Overall, he has directed four films, two documentaries and two short films.
While talking about his films, Baloch says, “My films are different because they are based on reality. I want to make films that can raise the “why” in our society. When people start questioning and learning because of my work, that is when I feel content. I want our society to aspire towards being ideal but if I can't make that possible, I can still create my own ideal world.”
Baloch names Abbas Kiarostami as his favourite director. He admires his realistic approach and considers him his mentor. His favourite director from Pakistan is Sarmad Khoosat and Baloch says he would love to have an opportunity to work with him.
Talking about his love for reading, Baloch says he became a reader when his father challenged him to read Saadat Hasan Manto: “You talk about stories but have you ever read Manto? Read one story and if you don’t find it amazing, you can throw the book away,” Baloch recalls his father as saying. That story was thanda gosht after which he was submerged in Manto’s world.
As his love for books increased, he read Rabindranath Tagore, Maxim Gorky and Russian literature, and started transforming into an artist himself. His recent reads include Haruki Murakami, Anton Chekhov, Ismat Chughtai, Intezar Hussain and Ashfaq Hussain.
When asked about where his ideas come from, Baloch says it is largely his experience. “Ideas travel from experience, emotions, circumstances and from observing the society. Mix all these things, and an idea is formed.” Whenever an idea comes to his mind, he writes a script and turns it into a short film.
His upcoming movie is Goosh, a Balochi word that translates to ear. This film is based on his observations of three years and revolves around a therapist who is a professional listener. It will be his last short film. After that, he plans on working on his feature film, Hani Zindagi, which will be a romantic film based on a Balochi folk story.
When asked about the philosophy of his life, Baloch says, “I’m here to put a dent in this society, in this universe. I am here to leave a mark. When you realize you have a short time, then you don’t waste your time. Exploring is the purpose of my life, be it in any way.”
Contributor: Naila Naz