Issue 53 / Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's 'Song Of Lahore' Is An Ode To Pakistan's Old World Music Scene

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s ‘Song Of Lahore’ Is An Ode To Pakistan’s Old World Music Scene

Jun 04, 2016

Academy Award- and Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's knack for storytelling has won over audiences the world over. Her recent work, Song of Lahore, unfolds an artistic story that captures the old world charm of Pakistan.

It's with great pleasure that I was able to speak to Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy for ANOKHI once again, having spoken to her at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival for her film A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers; and her artistic integrity and intent remains the same. While speaking to Obaid-Chinoy it becomes clear that each film, each script, each story, each scene and each location she comes across speaks to her in ways she can only communicate.

With her 2016 Oscar-winning documentary short A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Obaid-Chinoy was able to address the heavy topic of honour killings and it was so powerful she was able to influence the Pakistani government to change laws against honour killings. Her previous Oscar-winning documentary short was Saving Face (2012) which opened the eyes of the world to acid attack survivors and their inspiring journey of acceptance and confidence.

Following in the same vein is Obaid-Chinoy's most recent docuementary-feature, Song of Lahore, which looks at the musical influences and traditions of Lahore, Pakistan as it once was and what it has become today. Through the film, Obaid-Chinoy attempts to share one message: "that music, art, culture — they are all intrinsically linked to humanity. And music has no language," she says.

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy during the making of Song of Lahore.
Photo Credit:


Song of Lahore is a visual attempt at capturing the Pakistan that once was with a vibrant and diverse musical atmosphere. With its ancient palaces and stately gardens, the Lahore of Pakistan's 1947 independence was a haven and a muse for musicians, artists and poets. The city came alive to the beat of a tabla drum; with a musical culture passed down over centuries and a thriving film industry, opportunities were great for the legion of musicians that called Lahore home.

Today, this vision of Lahore exists only in myth. Islamization, ethnic divisions, war and corruption have torn apart the cultural fabric of Pakistan, and the sounds of the tabla no longer drift through the old city's bazaar. Song of Lahore makes an attempt to capture this. "I grew up listening to my grandfather’s stories of a time in Pakistan which was very different than what I knew. The musicians all played on the street and in orchestras, etc. When I discovered that the musicians at the Sachal Studios were trying to restore and celebrate our musical heritage, I thought we could try to restore Pakistan’s musical past through their story" says Obaid-Chinoy to ANOKHI.

Still from Song of Lahore.
Photo Credit:

"The film captures how globalized the world has become. Through the internet a group of obscure musicians from Pakistan were able to have an online hit, which leads to invitation to play at jazz at Lincoln Center and performed to sold out audiences on the world stage. The internet has made it easy to bring the world together" she continues.

But in a world full of millennials as the driving force of digital technologies and online music sharing and purchasing platforms, and illegal file sharing at an all-time high, what place does a film like Song of Lahore have in the cinematic landscape? How can a film capturing the long-lost musical traditions have on a generation of young movie-goers and music listeners who are constantly jumping to the next big trend? For Obaid-Chinoy, Song of Lahore is an exercise in realizing that cultures, traditions and art forms all share a common space whether digital or non-digital, long lost or a trend, it's all still relevant today.
"At a time when the world is a divided place; ethnicity, color, religion — it all divides us. But this is a beautiful film which shows that music has no language. People from different cultures and upbringings can come together and be one on stage. And when they play music people listen and see humanity, they don’t see the divisions that exists" says Obaid-Chinoy to ANOKHI.

Trailer for Song of Lahore.
Video Credit: YouTube – Broad Green Pictures

"We wanted the audience to realize that Pakistan has a rich musical past that has been threatened for years by lack of stage patronage. That historical past can be very relevant to today, and instruments that seem like they are from a lost era can be relevant and continue to live on" says Obaid-Chinoy.

And with every film, so personal to the touch and so whimsical and realistic in theory, surely it must shape Obaid-Chinoy in some way as an artist and storyteller. But for Obaid-Chinoy her experience with Song of Lahore was quite spontaneous and through that spontaneity, very authentic and true to fact. "When I started the film I didn’t know where we were going to end up. I knew we wanted to document their voices but was unsure of where the story would go. Over the next year or so their lives dramatically changed (with the success of "Take Five" online). To be on that journey with them, and see how someone’s fortune can completely change, that was very humbling. I always say as a documentary filmmaker it is the absolute best when you don’t yet know the outcome."

Main Image Credit:

Daniel Pillai


Daniel is the Digital Media Manager for ANOKHI MEDIA and the host for ANOKHI's entertainment channel, PULSE TV. As part of the dream team, Daniel manages all multiple channels under ANOKHI’s portfolio, while also training new on-air talent, and showing budding p...


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