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Zaraab: An Ode to the Journey of Divine Provision

Zaraab is a film which explores poverty, child labour and the everyday love and longing, hopes and difficulties in making a life in the Baloch region of Pakistan.

Soukeyna Osei-Bonsu

Climbing up a sand dune in Zaraab, a feature film set in the Baloch region of Pakistan

Zaraab is a story about the journey of rizq (provision) and the passing fortunes/ misfortunes that circumscribe it, seemingly underscored by the director’s searing plea for social change in Balochistan. The award winning Pakistani feature film was directed by Jaan AlBalushi and written by Areen Shah Albalush, Zakir Daad Baloch and D. J. AlBalushi and features actors Anwar Saheb Khan, Shahnawaz Shah, Ehsan Danish and Aqib Asif.

Talking on the beach in feature film set in Balochistan

Set against the backdrop of China Pakistan Economic corridor with promises of prosperity for the people of Gwadar in Balochistan, Director Jaan AlBalushi makes a point that these promises have not diffused from the top down to the everyman, where Gwadar is instead characterised by the opposite: economic stagnation, unemployment, illiteracy, child labour, drugs and poverty.

Child labour in Balochistan

While pointing to the social ills of Gwadar, director Jaan AlBalushi does not mask the beauty of the culture, with the film frequently punctured by a wandering dervish, singing a hauntingly beautiful melody in the streets of Gwadar. A particularly striking lyric that is repeated by the dervish “He sows death and life grows” points to the opposing tensions present in the film: the difficulty in planting oneself and flourishing in a decaying soil.

Wandering dervish in Zaraab a feature film set in the Baloch region of Pakistan

The film explores through an interweaving study of connected characters, the daily hardship and work ethic required to make a living and the emotional struggle of the elderly, disabled and dispossessed in a society that is riddled with too much difficulty to allow room for them to live well.

We follow the elderly character Mama who works as a porter, delivering groceries in his wheelbarrow and his slow realisation that the modernising world no longer has need for him as he attempts to earn a living. Questions around mobility, charity and tradition in respect for the aged are alluded to, crystalised in Mama’s heart-rendering question “you have fired me at this age?”.

Grandfather and his wheelbarrow in the film Zaraab set in Balochistan

Mama’s route to honest work is contrasted by character Bakshi who takes the shadowy path to earn a living. In his desperation, Bakshi turns to petty crime eventually and inevitably biting off more than he can chew. We follow as his fate unfolds against the hollow promises of his earlier grandiose delusions of an opulent and baroque lifestyle.

Drinking tea and smoking in the feature film Zaraab

A third character we follow is Barkat, his age emblematic of innocence, goodness and purity. Despite his good nature and his longing to financially help his father out in the house, Barkat’s circumstances could not be any more different to the translation of his name (prosperity). Barkat is a child labourer – a fate he has no choice in, in order to make ends meet and help provide for his disabled father. Despite this Barkat’s fortunes take a positive turn towards the end of the film, the symbolism in his name eventually taking root.

Walking on the beach in Zaraab, a film set in Balochistan

Zaraab is a sober and heartbreaking watch with the promise of a silver lining and redemption. Boasting AlBalushi’s breathtaking cinematography – white oscillating sand dunes juxtaposed with gritty and hard hitting dialogue, this is a film which will have you thinking about questions of justice, agency and the futility of poverty and suffering in a world that has enough resources to sustain all.

Jaan AlBaluchi succeeds in merging a beautiful language, people, culture and landscape with the stark reality of a region being forgotten by the very leaders who promised them prosperity. By the end of this film I am reminded of the Quranic story of Khidr- of the Divine hand in provision and the vicissitudes that allow resources to reach the intended recipient. Zaraab is beautiful and unique, an experiment of social action meeting art, and an elegy for the poor and dispossessed of Pakistan.

You may also enjoy Madinay Wala Jahaaz (The Aeroplane to Madina), an award-winning Pakistani short film which shows the slow and simple life of the countryside and its collision with the modern urban world when a father and son make the decision to move from their village to the city. 

You can also browse a great selection of films and documentaries in Alchemiya’s Pakistan Zindabad collection. 

Soukeyna is a writer and author of the debut poetry collection All the Birds Were Invited to a Feast in the Sky with Lote Tree Press. She is a SOAS graduate as well as a Black rights activist and runs the organisation Black Muslim Forum which she founded. Soukeyna writes on humans, nature, anthropology, resistance, Islam, film and astronomy.
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