Kashf (Lifting of the Veil) premiered at the Santa Fe Film Festival on Dec. 5, 2008. Unlike the violent and extremist images of Pakistan that play in the American media, Kashf provides a journey into the mystical side of Islam. Told in English, Kashf is the story of Armaghan, born to his childless mother because of a promise she makes to a Pir (Holy Man) she meets at a Sufi shrine. Born in Pakistan and raised in the United States, Armaghan returns to Pakistan 25 years later, unaware of the family secret that is about to change his life.
Directed by Ayesha Khan, the film provides a lush view of the mystical and dangerous city of Lahore said to be guarded by Sufi saints. For Armaghan and the viewer the physical and material worlds uneasily blur as he pursues a mysterious woman through the streets of Lahore. Her changing form makes her impossible to find. Armaghan’s spiritual quest is deftly woven with the humorous tale of his cousin Ali who is on his own quest to become an actor, even if he has to resort to the disrespected world of Lollywood.
Both men experience fantastical hallucinations and eventually join forces to solve the mystery.
Khan, herself a Pakistani American, tells a story of Pakistan that is multilayered and complicated. Filmed on location, Kashf provides a view into a world of mystery and beauty, of humor and violence, and song and dance. The story is universal. Armaghan is on the hero’s quest, meeting along the way messengers, guides and the master who is waiting for him to awaken his calling. The film explores the human question of who we are and why we are here.
The film is Khan’s attempt to bring the stories of Pakistan to English speaking audiences and to work with Pakistani people to make her movie. There is only one professional actor in Kashf, the rest of the performers are working for their first time on a production. In fact, reality and fiction blur in the role of Ali, the actor never told his mother that he was making a film; instead he told her he was working at a call center. This tidbit is woven into the story. Director Khan told the audience post premiere that the anecdotes in the story are real. The mystical experience of Armaghan actually happened to people she interviewed.
Shot in a mere 28-days, the film features the city of Lahore, filled with Sufi shrines, mosques.
“There is a saying that if you haven’t seen Lahore, you haven’t seen anything,” Khan said.
Confronted for being a woman, for her scarf not fully covering her hair, Khan had to deal with unique struggles to make her film. But eventually, her entirely male crew came to respect her and according to Khan, went from being sloppy, unshaven and dragging their feet to clean cut, shaven, professionals ready to make their next film with the “boss lady.”
One gets the sense that another line in the film, also written by Khan, is more truth than fiction:
“Filming this is going to be easy, but living it is going to be the real test,” the mysterious woman says to Armaghan.
“Living what?” Armaghan asks.
“The life you chose when you decided to come back.”
Khan left Lahore in 2007 to finish editing the film because the city was often without electricity. Her furniture is still in storage in Lahore. She was hoping to purchase the home where she shot some of the film. She was hoping to be able to remain part-time in Pakistan.
“The country is really experiencing some crisis,” Khan told the audience.
Kashf tells a different story. One of the mysticism and beauty involved in the human journey.