Taran Khan

Arts Collaboration

Grant Period: Over six months

Taran Khan is an independent filmmaker and writer currently based in Aligarh. She holds degrees in communication (Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi) and Development Studies (SOAS, London). Her work includes videos on the WSF process at Porto Alegre (2003) and Mumbai (2004). She is also researching narratives of women linked to Left-associated social movements in post-independence Mumbai. Her areas of interest include issues of gender, identity and the environment.

Taran Khan’s work has dealt with themes like the biographies of Muslim women in post-Independence India, through emblematic events like the Partition and the Babri Masjid demolition. Her grandfather, S.M. Mehdi, is a writer who has been associated with the Progressive Writers’ Movement, IPTA, and the larger left-associated Urdu literary renaissance. They share an interest in Sufism, especially as it survives today in small-town Awadh and Punjab. This grant will enable them to travel through Awadh and Punjab, exploring and documenting Sufi cultural practices with the eventual aim of making a film on the subject.

An interesting element of the project is the differing views that Taran and Mehdi Saab hold on Sufism, and the dissimilarities in their personal relationship with Islam.  Mehdi Saab sees the institutionalization of Sufism as having led to its decline. Regarding Islam itself, Taran’s is harder to ascertain, and she herself acknowledges that this question is an intensely difficult one for her to answer. On the one hand, she writes about how her experience of being Muslim has been shaped by a world-wide revival among Muslim youth of their pan-Islamic identity, which makes them adopt the hijab and argue for purging ‘Indian Islam’ of its corruption by Indian practices. On the other hand, she is aware that the veil, for instance, is both a visible symbol of resistance as well as representative of the segregation of women in her home town of Aligarh.

Both collaborators consider their exploration of the cultural aspects of Sufism as a means of exploring their own relationship to Islam as well the idea of Indian Islam. At the same time, they see their separate roles as scriptwriter and director for the film as allowing them the space to conduct this search in a way that can be individual even as it is dialogic.

This seed grant will lead to the creation of texts by both collaborators in the form of travelogues or logs of their journey, as well as a series of slides/photographs and audio recordings. All these will together provide the basis for the video product they will eventually create.

This grant was made possible with support from the Sir Ratan Tata Trust (SRTT).