After losing a friend in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, an angry Hemal Trivedi had set off on a personal quest to understand Pakistan. From that quest emerged Among the Believers, an 84-minute documentary that trains the lens on firebrand cleric Maulana Aziz, an ISIS supporter, and two teenage students in Pakistan. Among the Believers was screened to houseful shows at the recently-concluded International Film Festival of India in Goa.
“I am no longer angry with Pakistan. Fascist elements exist everywhere. We need to counter that,” 37-year-old Hemal told The Indian Express.
At the centre of the documentary is Maulana Aziz who aims to create an “Islamic utopia” during a bloody period in Pakistan’s modern history. His primary weapon is expanding the network of madrasas for children as young as four. The film also follows lives of two teenagers who attend madrasas run by Aziz’s “Red Mosque” network. Gradually, their paths diverge: Talha, 12, detaches from his moderate Muslim family and decides to become a jihadi preacher. Zarina, also 12, escapes her madrasa and joins a regular school, where her education is threatened by Taliban attacks.
Aziz’s foil is nuclear physicist and education activist Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy. He opposes Aziz through public appearances and lectures. The opposition against Aziz comes to a head in December 2014, when he insults a grieving nation by trying to justify Taliban’s attack in Peshawar, in which 132 schoolchildren were killed. Led by Hoodbhoy and others, Pakistan’s moderate majority calls for Aziz’s arrest.
The documentary premiered in April and earned wide publicity. It was shown at nine film festivals across the globe and has picked up eight awards. It has also earned an award at the Hollywood Film Festival, 2015.
Directors Hemal and Mohammed Naqui said they received death threats for the film. “It was an incredibly difficult film to make. We had to go into a hiatus and stop distribution till September,” said Hemal, who entered one of the radical madrasas disguised as a Dubai Muslim.
The documentary has picked up awards for its music. Pune-based flautist Milind Date, who has composed the music for Among the Believers, said: “I could not sleep for three nights after I saw the initial rushes where a young boy in the opening scene delivers a vitriolic sermon. We had to create the right mood and hence the rhythmic play of the sarangi followed by tabla and flute.” The musicians involved include Sameep Kulkarni on the Sitar, Pandit Charudatta Phadke on the tabla and Anupam Joshi on the sarod, said Date.