Thursday, Oct 21 2021 | Time 07:54 Hrs(IST)

Indian-origin filmmaker retells story of Zanzibar's freedom struggle from the British

Indian-origin filmmaker retells story of Zanzibar's freedom struggle from the British

New Delhi, Sep 14 (UNI) An Indian-origin Tanzanian filmmaker, Amil Shivji who grew up watching Bollywood movies, has released the East African nation's first-ever adaptation of a Swahili literary work about its struggle for freedom from the British colonial rule, it was reported here on Tuesday.
The film titled 'Tug of War' is part of the official selection at the 46th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which began on September 9. The film, adapted from a famous novel of the same name by celebrated Tanzanian writer Adam Shafi, tells the love story of a young revolutionary and an Indian-origin runaway bride set in the backdrop of the resistance movement in Zanzibar in the 1950s.
Shot in Zanzibar, an autonomous archipelago in the Indian Ocean lying close to mainland Tanzania, 'Tug of War' is the second feature film of Shivji, a fourth-generation Tanzanian, whose ancestors first arrived from Porbandar, Gujarat. The film, part of the Discovery programme of the Toronto festival, had its world premiere on Monday in Canada's business capital that boasts of a large South Asian diaspora.
"Zanzibar was the biggest market for Hindi cinema outside India in the second half of last century," says Shivji, who grew up in Tanzanian capital Dar-es-Salaam. "Bollywood still plays a big role in the culture of the island, which has a very strong Indian community, whose ancestors arrived here in the late 19th century," he adds. "Zanzibar is a beautiful melting pot of cultures and Gujarati is one of the four official languages," says Shivji, who teaches cinema at the University of Dar-es-Salaam.
In adapting a Swahili novel, Shivji attempts to reclaim and retell the history of the freedom struggle from the people's point of view. "We never had a chance to tell our history. It was always told from the colonial point of view," he says. "Reclaiming our history is very powerful," he adds. Tanzania gained independence from the British in 1961.
Shivji, whose first feature film, 'T-Junction' (2017) was about class contradictions and prejudices in the story of two young women from working class backgrounds, first came to India as an eight-year-old with his parents. "We did the touristic visit going to Delhi, Agra and Jaipur," says the director, whose parents are both lawyers.
"My father is a visiting professor of law at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi. He always talks about JNU," says Shivji, who fell in love with the songs and dances of Bollywood films as a young boy. Years later, he remains in touch with Indian cinema, though more inclined towards movies with strong storytelling elements today than the "westernised, urbanised mainstream Bollywood cinema".
Shivji, who read Shafi's novel in the secondary school where it is a reading material, returned to the literary work when he was making his debut film. "A neighbour gave the novel to me to help me with the inspiration. It was so poetically written, I knew immediately it spoke to cinema with its visual imagery," says the filmmaker. A few years later, Shivji moved to Zanzibar to write the script for the film, finally beginning the shooting in December 2019. "We completed the shooting before the coronavirus pandemic hit the country and worked remotely to complete the film," he adds.
His second feature film starting the film festival circuit, Shivji is eager to visit India again. "I am now looking forward to visiting India again, this time hopefully to participate in a film festival," he says.

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