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In documentary ‘Abu’, coming out is also a way of coming home for a Pakistani filmmaker

Arshad Khan’s bittersweet portrait of a Pakistani family will be screened at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala.

The personal documentary is a narrative strategy by which filmmakers turn the lens on themselves to highlight larger truths about their worlds. It’s a perfect device for Arshad Khan as he tells the story of himself, his father, and his country of origin, Pakistan.

The Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker’s 80-minute documentary Abu (Father) is a personalised history of Pakistan, which unfolds in tandem with the journey of his family. In the 2017 production, which is among the titles that will be screened at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (July 20-24), a light-hearted tone masks many dark secrets and truths.

In Abu, 43-year-old Khan explores his family’s story, his homosexuality, and his frequently tense and combative relationship with his father. The film blends archival home video footage, animation, interviews and Hindi film clips and songs to create an arresting portrait of an experience that is both singular and universal. Stripped off its particulars, Abu is the story of a great many families in the subcontinent, whose lives after the end of colonial rule were marked by optimism, only to descend into despair and frustration as larger political forces eroded their hopes.

“Indians who have watched the film have told me that it is the same story on this side of the border,” Khan said in a telephone interview from Montreal. “The good thing is that when you leave India or Pakistan and come to the West, you realise how insignificant and ridiculous this man-made border is.”

Abu (2018).

The story of the Khans begins around the time of Partition. Arshad Khan’s father, orphaned, comes to the newly formed Pakistan with his siblings. Under the care of relatives, he gets educated, enrolls in the Pakistan Army, marries Arjumand Bano and has a brood of children. He is among the few in his social circle to own a video camera, and he records picnics, home parties and festival celebrations.

The clouds are slowly gathering, but they are not immediately apparent. Arshad is sexually abused as a child, which leads to anger and self-loathing. As Arshad grows older, he begins to understand that he is gay. Meanwhile, his father resigns from the Army and launches a string of businesses, some of which work and some of which don’t. The family emigrates to Canada in 1991, but their problems only seem to be beginning. Arshad Khan’s father struggles to make a living, while Arshad Khan battles homophobia and racism, conceals his sexuality from his parents and branches out in the opposite direction in terms of his career.

Abu (2017). Courtesy Loaded Pictures.
Abu (2017). Courtesy Loaded Pictures.

Despite the weight of the story, Arshad Khan maintains a droll voiceover even during the most despondent moments, which sweetens the blow for viewers. The film was originally made in English, but Khan also made a Hindi/Urdu version for South Asian audiences.

Khan said that he was attempting to strike a tone that was both bantering and balanced. “My voiceover was already overpowering and was controlling the narrative, and I didn’t want to control the emotions as well – I wanted to keep it objective,” he explained. “It’s unexpected – one second you are laughing and the other you are struck by something I have said. It’s actually a very dark film. There is rejection from the family, sexual abuse. As an LGBT person, I had to humourise the film to make people connect with it. This is how life is – it’s bittersweet, but there’s always hope.”

Khan embarked on Abu after his father’s death in 2011. He has previously made fictional and documentary shorts, including Threadbare (2008) and Zen (2012), and was attempting a feature film.

“This [his father’s death] wouldn’t leave me,” Khan said. He set out to profile his father through a short commemorative video tied to the first death anniversary. “That is when I realised that we are an obscenely well-documented family, we had this VHS camera that nobody else had,” he said.

The filmmaker also embraced the difficult truth that he could not exclude himself from the narrative. “I started off telling my father’s story, but then I had to tell my story too because it would not make sense otherwise,” Khan said. “My relationship with my father was difficult, and it destroyed me when he died. I could not understand why he left such a big hole in my life. I definitely didn’t want to put myself in the film, it’s the worst and most difficult thing in the world.”

Arshad Khan in Abu (2017). Courtesy Loaded Pictures.
Arshad Khan in Abu (2017). Courtesy Loaded Pictures.

After his mother and one of his sisters agreed to be in the film, Khan began patching together the story about a happy childhood in Islamabad, the ascent of dictator Zia-ul-Haq in the late 1970s, the shifting fortunes of the Khan family, their flight to Canada, and his father’s latter-day embrace of religious orthodoxy. Khan’s influences among personal documentaries included Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation (2003), Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell (2012) and Meet the Patels (2014) by Geeta and Ravi Patel.

Crowdsourcing helped the documentary over its five-year production cycle. Other hurdles were less easily surmountable, such as the deeply intimate nature of the material.

“There were numerous occasions when I could break down while recording my voiceover,” Khan said. “The editing was very difficult, especially to see my father die over and over again. My editor said, here is a tissue box.”

Equally tough was the task of revisiting memories of the country of his birth. “It was very difficult to tell the story of Pakistan,” Khan said. “It was hard realising how much we have lost. Migration is a very difficult thing, especially when I think about the drastic changes my parents had to make for the well-being of their children.”

Abu (2017). Courtesy Loaded Pictures.
Abu (2017). Courtesy Loaded Pictures.

Abu has been screened at several festivals, including the Dharamshala International Film Festival in 2017 and the Kashish International Mumbai Queer Festival in 2018. The documentary will also be shown on the Canadian broadcasting network CBC TV later in the year.

However, Khan hasn’t been able to show Abu in Pakistan yet, and he could not get a visa to come to India and attend the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala in Thiruvanathapuram.

“This discrimination is ridiculous – I have come to India many times before, including to MIFF in Mumbai in 2008 to show my film Threadbare,” Khan said. “This exclusion and uncertainty are not good for storytellers and artists. The future isn’t religious bigotry and animosity and nationalism, but globalism and universalism and collaboration.”

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The next Industrial Revolution is here – driven by the digitalization of manufacturing processes

Technologies such as Industry 4.0, IoT, robotics and Big Data analytics are transforming the manufacturing industry in a big way.

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This is substantiated by a PWC research which shows that across industries, the most innovative companies in the manufacturing sector grew 38% (2013 - 2016), about 11% year on year, while the least innovative manufacturers posted only a 10% growth over the same period.

Along with innovation in products, the transformation of manufacturing processes will also be essential for companies to remain competitive and maintain their profitability. This is where digital technologies can act as a potential game changer.

The digitalization of the manufacturing industry involves the integration of digital technologies in manufacturing processes across the value chain. Also referred to as Industry 4.0, digitalization is poised to reshape all aspects of the manufacturing industry and is being hailed as the next Industrial Revolution. Integral to Industry 4.0 is the ‘smart factory’, where devices are inter-connected, and processes are streamlined, thus ensuring greater productivity across the value chain, from design and development, to engineering and manufacturing and finally to service and logistics.

Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics are some of the key technologies powering Industry 4.0. According to a report, Industry 4.0 will prompt manufacturers globally to invest $267 billion in technologies like IoT by 2020. Investments in digitalization can lead to excellent returns. Companies that have implemented digitalization solutions have almost halved their manufacturing cycle time through more efficient use of their production lines. With a single line now able to produce more than double the number of product variants as three lines in the conventional model, end to end digitalization has led to an almost 20% jump in productivity.

Digitalization and the Indian manufacturing industry

The Make in India program aims to increase the contribution of the manufacturing industry to the country’s GDP from 16% to 25% by 2022. India’s manufacturing sector could also potentially touch $1 trillion by 2025. However, to achieve these goals and for the industry to reach its potential, it must overcome the several internal and external obstacles that impede its growth. These include competition from other Asian countries, infrastructural deficiencies and lack of skilled manpower.

There is a common sentiment across big manufacturers that India lacks the eco-system for making sophisticated components. According to FICCI’s report on the readiness of Indian manufacturing to adopt advanced manufacturing trends, only 10% of companies have adopted new technologies for manufacturing, while 80% plan to adopt the same by 2020. This indicates a significant gap between the potential and the reality of India’s manufacturing industry.

The ‘Make in India’ vision of positioning India as a global manufacturing hub requires the industry to adopt innovative technologies. Digitalization can give the Indian industry an impetus to deliver products and services that match global standards, thereby getting access to global markets.

The policy, thus far, has received a favourable response as global tech giants have either set up or are in the process of setting up hi-tech manufacturing plants in India. Siemens, for instance, is helping companies in India gain a competitive advantage by integrating industry-specific software applications that optimise performance across the entire value chain.

The Digital Enterprise is Siemens’ solution portfolio for the digitalization of industries. It comprises of powerful software and future-proof automation solutions for industries and companies of all sizes. For the discrete industries, the Digital Enterprise Suite offers software and hardware solutions to seamlessly integrate and digitalize their entire value chain – including suppliers – from product design to service, all based on one data model. The result of this is a perfect digital copy of the value chain: the digital twin. This enables companies to perform simulation, testing, and optimization in a completely virtual environment.

The process industries benefit from Integrated Engineering to Integrated Operations by utilizing a continuous data model of the entire lifecycle of a plant that helps to increase flexibility and efficiency. Both offerings can be easily customized to meet the individual requirements of each sector and company, like specific simulation software for machines or entire plants.

Siemens has identified projects across industries and plans to upgrade these industries by connecting hardware, software and data. This seamless integration of state-of-the-art digital technologies to provide sustainable growth that benefits everyone is what Siemens calls ‘Ingenuity for Life’.

Case studies for technology-led changes

An example of the implementation of digitalization solutions from Siemens can be seen in the case of pharma major Cipla Ltd’s Kurkumbh factory.

Cipla needed a robust and flexible distributed control system to dispense and manage solvents for the manufacture of its APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients used in many medicines). As part of the project, Siemens partnered with Cipla to install the DCS-SIMATIC PCS 7 control system and migrate from batch manufacturing to continuous manufacturing. By establishing the first ever flow Chemistry based API production system in India, Siemens has helped Cipla in significantly lowering floor space, time, wastage, energy and utility costs. This has also improved safety and product quality.

In yet another example, technology provided by Siemens helped a cement plant maximise its production capacity. Wonder Cement, a greenfield project set up by RK Marbles in Rajasthan, needed an automated system to improve productivity. Siemens’ solution called CEMAT used actual plant data to make precise predictions for quality parameters which were previously manually entered by operators. As a result, production efficiency was increased and operators were also freed up to work on other critical tasks. Additionally, emissions and energy consumption were lowered – a significant achievement for a typically energy intensive cement plant.

In the case of automobile major, Mahindra & Mahindra, Siemens’ involvement involved digitalizing the whole product development system. Siemens has partnered with the manufacturer to provide a holistic solution across the entire value chain, from design and planning to engineering and execution. This includes design and software solutions for Product Lifecycle Management, Siemens Technology for Powertrain (STP) and Integrated Automation. For Powertrain, the solutions include SINUMERIK, SINAMICS, SIMOTICS and SIMATIC controls and drives, besides CNC and PLC-controlled machines linked via the Profinet interface.

The above solutions helped the company puts its entire product lifecycle on a digital platform. This has led to multi-fold benefits – better time optimization, higher productivity, improved vehicle performance and quicker response to market requirements.

Siemens is using its global expertise to guide Indian industries through their digital transformation. With the right technologies in place, India can see a significant improvement in design and engineering, cutting product development time by as much as 30%. Besides, digital technologies driven by ‘Ingenuity for Life’ can help Indian manufacturers achieve energy efficiency and ensure variety and flexibility in their product offerings while maintaining quality.


The above examples of successful implementation of digitalization are just some of the examples of ‘Ingenuity for Life’ in action. To learn more about Siemens’ push to digitalize India’s manufacturing sector, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Siemens by the marketing team and not by the editorial staff.