Song of Lahore

Song of Lahore

The revival of Pakistan’s fledging classical music industry and the universality of music itself are at the heart of the documentary Song of Lahore, the feature debut of Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (co-directing with Andy Schocken) who won an Academy Award in 2012 for Saving Face.

Focused on a troupe of performers who play everything from the tabla to the sitar, Lahore offers insight during it’s opening moments into how musicians in general are seen within the Pakistani society. Once an appreciated art form, classical players, the film informs us, fell into decline due to many factors – primarily the collapse of the film industry, to which they were closely tied to but most detrimentally, due to the implementation of the Shariah law following the military coup of 1977. Languishing for decades, trying to make ends meet, the creation of Sachal Studios in the early 2000s gave these local musicians hope and a renewed vigour. Under the watchful steer of it’s founder, Izzat Majeed, these performers were given a platform to practice and play, but find their true calling when they experiment with Jazz and release a version of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”, infused with classical rhythms and sounds that finds an audience on YouTube, gives them global recognition and results in an invite to play a concert at the famed Lincoln Jazz Centre.

Lahore is at it’s best when it’s focused on the individuals who make up the group, exploring their heritage of playing instruments, the social stigma that they live with and their hopes and fears. That they are talented, passionate and obviously gifted in playing such good music is delightful to both watch and listen to. Where the documentary falters is in it’s fish out of water approach to these men when they visit New York and need to practice with their jazz counterparts, attempting to be in tune with them. Having never played in a concert, the rehearsals don’t get off to a smooth start and while the film finds innocuous humour in these situations, it also becomes entertainingly less interesting. The films highlight of course is the actual concert that is performed – crackling with energy and popping with on-stage enthusiasm – letting the film finally hit the right notes. Lahore may lack the ability to probe like the best documentaries do and doesn’t seem to examine as deeply as it could, but it is an uplifting jam session full of hope and optimism.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

About Faizan Rashid

A veteran Dubai based film critic, Faizan has been reviewing movies for nearly a decade. His work has been published in local newspapers such as 7days and on prestigious online websites such as MSN Arabia and