The average father son relationship can be complicated. The son who is at the outset totally dependent on his mother is confronted jarringly with this other large figure vying for her attention in a foreign way. As he grows he battles for his independence sometimes leading to minor or major conflicts with the older male figure in his life. Then he grows to appreciate his father's role bringing the relationship to a new level. If you add into this mix a military made devout Muslim parental figure, forced migration from India to Pakistan after the Partition then to Canada post his working prime with an artistic, free spirited, western culture loving gay son who's devoted to his Mother and worships his eldest sister the conflicts will lean more to the major than minor.
Director Arshad Khan's Abu is a multi pronged documentary telling his families story. Before he can delve into who he is he has to first speak to his homeland and his parents background. The piece starts with an animated recounting a dream of a monster on a lonely road that provides a non verbal foreboding message. From there Khan talks of his parents diametrically opposed upbringings then on to his seemingly happy youthful childhood with his 6 brothers and sisters. Every so often he shows through 80's VHS video technology the conflicts and clashes with Dad.
The history of Pakistan plays a prominent role in the film. The 1947 partition, the lengthy dictatorship of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq during which with his father found wealth and prosperity through the election of Benazir Bhutto leading to a change in family fortune and move to Canada. Parallel to this Khan speaks to loving art and fashion, being dressed up by his sisters and family or household abusers who will as his sister Asha states pounce on a child seemingly because they feel that a child who does not know what is going on will forget the event.
The helmer mixes in video footage, family photos, first person interviews, music and film to build the narrative. The editing and choice of music and film clips are very effective to set the mood of the moment throughout the production. One sequence where a memorable relationship comes to the end is punctuated first with the Roxette song It Must Have Been Love but then replaced with a cultural piece from Reshma. It's a prime example of how the director switches back and forth from South Asian to Western influences.
Abu is the personal story of a filmmaker whose life is deeply entwined with that of his fathers. They are opposites in just about every way but continued to try to connect throughout the elders' life. Although tackling the heavy subjects of religion, migration, history, sexual orientation and abuse the project is at its heart about family relationships. As the father responds to the son at a critical moment when asked the ultimate question of a child - I love all of my children.
***1/2 Out of 4.
Abu | Arshad Khan | Canada | 2017 | 80 Minutes.
British Partition of India, 1947, Pakistan, India, Muslim, Hindu, Activism, Islamabad, Homosexuality Canada, Mississauga, Acrylic Sweaters, Montreal.