Hania S. Chima '14 remembers she was 15, maybe 16, when she was the lead in "Burqavaganza." A satire on the traditional Islamic veil, the play featured both men and women wearing burqas. The show had been banned in Pakistan. She performed it there anyway.
For seven years, Chima, a Quincy House resident originally from Lahore, Pakistan, has acted in plays with Ajoka, a Pakistani theater group whose goal is to promote social change. Ajoka plays have dealt with issues ranging from women's rights to religious intolerance. "Some of them are very disturbing issues to talk about in Pakistan," Chima acknowledges.
After performances in India and Pakistan, Chima would interact with the audience and recalls how a performance could influence their attitudes. Over time, audiences appeared to become mroe attuned to Ajoka's messages. Audience members no longer kept their cell phones on, talked during the shows, or left in the middle. "It sounds like a very small change." Chima says. "But I think it reflects on a lot more."
Nearly 7,000 miles away from Lahore, Chima has had to reduce her involvement with Ajoka, now only attending meetings whenever she is home. In Cambridge, Chima has transitioned from theater to filmmaking as a medium. "Films can reach out to more people," she says.
Chima still finds ways to remain involved as a Harvard student. Her sophomore summers, she worked on the pre-production of the Bollywood film "Lunchbox." Junior year, she took a full-year Visual and Environmental Studies course with Philippe Grandrieux, a visiting lecturer.
Chima is quick to express gratitude for the people who have been important in her life. She emphasizes that Grandrieux, like Madeeha Gauhar (one of Ajoka's two founders), impacted her life in a significant way. She credits Grandrieux with helping her to see the value in making films that are "more honest than sensational" and "for the sake of art," Chima says.
Her first film, "Mirror on the Wall," which she made in Grandrieux's class, "wasn't made to communicate," she asserts. "It wasn't sensationalizing. It's a banal kind of film about a banal lifestyle."
The film follows a cleaning woman in America who goes unnoticed by the people she works for. Chima's inspiration stemmed from what she had observed in some households in Pakistan. "The film comes from that sympathy for people who are almost invisible," she says.
Chima shrugs as she recalls the negative reactions of some of her friends. "I think it very close to [what I wanted my film to look like], so if anyone has an issue with the film, they would have an issue with the way I perceive films and the way I write films," she says. "The film is a state of existence."
Wearing a gold jacket and her black pulled back, Chima mentions that she has an idea for her next film. Yet she gestures with her right hand and then makes a flicking motion, as if to bat away the topic. She does not want to discuss the idea, revealing only that she plans for the film to be set in Lahore.