UW Symposium | Perween Rehman: The Rebel Optimist


UW Symposium
Bldg and Room: UW2-005
18115 Campus Way Northeast
Bothell, WA 98011
10:00am – 1:00pm

10:00 am – 11:15 am:  Perween Rehman: The Rebel Optimist
15 min Break
11:30 am: Roundtable Conversation on Freedom of Expression and Documentary Filmmaking in South Asia

This roundtable conversation will explore the role played by filmmakers in South Asia in reporting on controversial topics and the challenges of documentary filmmaking in South Asia. While filmmaking as a form of art is protected by article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, can filmmakers in South Asia exercise this right freely? And if so, what strategies can they adopt in exposing rights violations and inequities in the region? 

Join us for an in-depth exploration of these topics in a roundtable discussion with filmmakers, academics, and community members.


Sudhir Mahadevan is an Associate Professor of Film Studies in Comparative Literature, Cinema and Media. He is the author of A Very Old Machine: the Many Origins of the Cinema in India (SUNY Press, 2015, Orient Blackswan, 2018).



Alka Kurian is a Senior Lecturer and Faculty Coordinator at the University of Washington Bothell (UWB) where she teaches teaches postcolonial film and literature, gender studies, and human rights. Alka has a single-author book entitled Narratives of Gendered Dissent in South Asian Cinemas (Routledge 2012, 2014). She is a co-editor of New Feminisms in South Asia: Disrupting the Discourse Through Social Media, Film and Literature (Routledge 2017)Alka has published various book chapters on South Asian film and was the founder-co-editor of the peer-reviewed journal Studies in South Asian Film and Media. She is a board member of Tasveer a South Asian Film and Art non-profit, for which she has been volunteering since 2006.

Sarah Menzies has been a freelance videographer and filmmaker since 2010, and she founded the production company Let Media in 2012. He short documentary films, including The Mirnavator (Director/Editor, 2017), A Steelhead Quest (Director/Editor, 2017), and Catch It (Director/Producer, 2014) have screened at festivals such as Mountainfilm in Telluride, CO, Banff Mountain Film Festival, Port Townsend Film Festival, Wild and Scenic Film Festival and many others. Seeking personal character-driven stories, Sarah’s films showcase the good that exists in the world, illustrating to audiences that everyone is capable of creating positive change

Shilpi Gulati is a filmmaker based out of New Delhi. Her body of work largely engages with gender, identity and oral narratives of regional communities in India. While her independent projects Dere tun Dilli (2012) and Inside Out (2010) have been screened at various festivals across South Asia, her last film Qissa-e Parsi won her the National Award in 2015. Shilpi is also an actor and workshop facilitator with pandies’ theatre – a group that works on creating theatre with women and young adults with a view to articulating trauma and creating self-expression. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Cinema Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University; Lock and Key is her first feature documentary.

Zakir Thaver is a Science/Education Media Producer. After majoring in physics from the College of Wooster, Zakir worked as a Consultant for Granada America in New York. He produced a UNESCO funded science TV series in Pakistan, and has worked in curriculum development as well as distance learning via TV at the Aga Khan University.


Anand Kamalakar is a Brooklyn based film director, producer and editor. The Gowanus Canal (Winner, Best Film, Brooklyn Film Festival), Chief Engineer Conrad, Citizen Sharma, Building Bridges, 300 Miles to Freedom and Garwin are some of the films he has directed. Heart of Stone a film he produced and edited won over ten awards including Best Film at Slamdance Film Festival, Philadelphia Film Festival and Cinequest Film Festival. It also won an award for Best Editing at the Santa Fe Film Festival. Anand has worked as an editor for Primetime (ABC), Dateline (NBC) and 20/20 (ABC) and was the editor of the 2004 Emmy nominated ABC special on the Iraq war titled Brothers in Arms. Anand was also a creative consultant on the academy award-winning documentary Born Into Brothels. His last project Holy (un)Holy River premiered at the Telluride Film Festival and has won several awards around the world.



This symposium is organized in collaboration with the South Asia Center at the University of Washington Seattle and Bothell.

Poster Perween_Rahman_-_The_Rebel_Optimist

PERWEEN RAHMAN: The Rebel Optimist – An architect and urban planner, Perween Rahman dedicated her life for the poor of Pakistan. She was shot dead by armed assailants on her way home in March 2013.

Film Description

Photo 2 rickshaw_in_orangi
Perween Rahman: The Rebel Optimist

67 mins || Urdu || Pakistan || 2016

“No one is safe in this city. Those who think otherwise are living in a fool’s paradise,” says Perween’s best friend and colleague Anwar Rashid as he navigates the chaotic roads of Karachi. An architect and urban planner, Perween Rahman dedicated her life for the poor of Pakistan. She was shot dead by armed assailants on her way home in March 2013.

When she joined the Karachi based Orangi Pilot Project, founded by Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan, Orangi’s lanes were full of filth and choking gutters. Back in the early 80s, the people of Orangi, most of them migrants from India and Bangladesh, were taking their own steps to improve sanitation. Dr. Khan assigned Perween the task of developing a low cost sanitation model for Orangi.

Perween’s pioneering work in Orangi led her on a collision course with the various mafias in the city. She surveyed the water supply to Karachi and pinpointed locations from where water is being stolen from the bulk supply lines. She mapped and documented Karachi’s informal settlements to provide the poor security against land grabbers. Perween had an alternate vision for the development of Karachi. “Development doesn’t come from concrete. Development is not five star hotels and mega road projects. What we need is human development.”

Headshot Mahera_Omar
Director's Bio

Mahera Omar explores social, urban and environmental issues in Pakistan through her documentary filmmaking, including the development of Karachi, education projects in Hunza and Shigar, and adventure travel filming. Her documentary Sea Turtles, produced for Geo Television, won the 22nd Genesis Award in the Brigitte Bardot International Category. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Biology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and veterinarians are the superheroes in her book.

Press & Awards
  • Pakistan International Film Festival

Karachi, Pakistan || March 29, 2018 || Best Documentary Feature

  • Nepal Human Rights International Film Festival

Kathmandu, Nepal || March 7, 2018 || Special Jury Mention Award