Syed Ali Nasir
satisfied with what I make, a perfectionist of sorts, so up till now I felt that I had a great deal of experience to gain from making short films and until I got this figured out I would not take the next step”. He admits he has already been through a transition and sees a change in his own work from the time he started out. Today, he has an award for Best Short Film (Room 708) under his belt, won at Kara 2003. Lust, which showed at the festival this year, deserves a mention; with its chilling confession by the first Pakistani serial killer and paedophile and a collage of stills, we catch a glimpse of the man’s reality. Nasir through his films offers a slightly unconventional cinematic experience where the audience is left without a clear-cut explanation. His films are highly subjective and open to interpretation and hence unique in their treatment and impact.
After a short stint at a Pakistani TV channel, Nasir decided that the pace and pressure that TV directors work under was not for him. He prefers a more gradual medium where time constraints and daily deadlines do not dictate creativity. Nasir feels answerable to himself for the kinds of films he makes and does not see himself as a crusader for any kind of cause. He insists that he will take on projects as and when he feels ready. Having just completed his first documentary for The Citizen’s Foundation, Nasir confesses, “My ultimate dream is to make films about Karachi. This is a city of millions of people from distinct ethnic and cultural backgrounds and each has a story to tell, from the fundamentalists to the neo-liberals, from the makrani and balochi to the urban youth. We have such a rich diversity of languages and histories which should be captured and put out there for people to appreciate”.
Nasir mentions films such as Requiem for a Dream, Amores Perros and City of God as his favourites and in the broader sense, feels drawn towards Spanish cinema. “Hispanic cinema is far more visceral and honest in its treatment of real issues, and that is why I feel inspired to take films like City of God and base it on the metropolis that is Karachi”. Nasir ended his experiences at Kara 2004 with an award for Best New Talent and a confession, “film-making for me is mainly about putting my ideas and concepts out there, I haven’t worked so far with a specific issue or target audience in mind, which I’m sure will happen in time. But each phase is a stepping stone for me. I love making films and that’s why I do it, not for market value but for self satisfaction. It’s as simple as that”.
Hammad Khan, Bar at Law and working for the British Board of Film Classification, comes across as unmistakably amiable and driven in his approach. His family was forced to leave Pakistan in the 80’s but on his return he spent some of his adolescent years in Islamabad and Peshawar and felt a great sense of relief and belonging. Hammad recently was inspired to cast aside his role as bystander and foray into filmmaking with Samovar. Hammad has a clear purpose in mind. “I want to put Pakistani cinema on the map; we have no excuse for not being there”. While filming Samovar, Hammad discovered that his fictional storyline was far more real than he had anticipated. He began to realise that what he was capturing on screen using ordinary local residents was doused in reality and a great number of young men shared experiences with the main character Owais. Hammad took on the story of a young graduate boy who is jobless and constantly hounded by radical Jihad recruiters. In order to lend authenticity to the film, it was shot entirely in Pashto with a loose script where the actors were encouraged to improvise and act as naturally as possible under Hammad’s direction. The result is a darkly honest film where you find yourself understanding the characters’ mindset and choices. This film uses a great deal of symbolism to carry the story as Hammad does not believe in over-stating emotions and situations. The boiling samovar (tea container) and the leaking tap, the parrots trapped in cages, snake charmers, and posters of political parties with their false promises on walls convey volumes in Owais’s story.
The remarkable aspect of this film was its ability to make the audience understand why Owais does what he does without dramatising his situation or providing a definite conclusion. Hammad wanted to highlight a social ill affecting our society not only in the frontier but all across Pakistan and feels there is a deep crisis of identity amongst the Pakistani youth. “The reason I chose this subject for my film is not to show our local or western audiences what is wrong with our society but to show them a true picture of what is going on and possibly unravel the causes and underlying forces behind social ills.”
Hammad has learnt a great deal from the styles of Satyajit Ray, Stanley Kuberick and Terence Mallick and is taking on several ambitious projects. Frames, his next short film currently under production, will be a spiritual journey of exploration and discovery, the story of two people living on different ends of the spectrum in Pakistan. Hammad is determined to make his mark as a Pakistani filmmaker in world cinema and feels he will continue to handle socially relevant subject matters. He states with a sense of urgency and vigour, “If I embarked on a pure commercial film I wouldn’t bring anything to the table. But we need to understand that we must inculcate a cinema culture in the younger generation and use cinema to express ideas, to raise questions, to call people’s attention towards things that matter”.
In this impressive anthology of young Pakistani directors, Adnan Malik deserves special mential. Adnan is younger brother to Saqib Malik, the well-reputed ad filmmaker turned music video director. Inspired by Saqib’s fascination with the Pakistani film industry, Adnan began research for his documentary Bhooli Hui Dastan (The Forgotten Song) which premiered on the final day of the Karafilm festival. This documentary highlights with precision, humour and uninhibited candour the state of our film industry, the factors behind its decline and the possible solutions to this quandary. The film is not cluttered with big names or spotlight-seeking celebrities, but with a select few well-known actors, directors, producers and cinema owners. The honesty and rawness of their opinions is brilliantly captured and a thought provoking debate ensues on camera.
The blame for the demise of Lollywood bounces around from film financers to the unprofessional attitude of actors to apathy of the audience and no one takes responsibility or accepts their role in the destruction or resurrection of the film industry. But what does emerge through this documentary is an awareness of cinematic history, of political interventions and social changes and their repercussions. The point that comes across is that cinema relies on audiences for support and Lollywood is an integral part of a society whether we acknowledge it or not. This documentary tries to cover as extensively as possible the strengths, the failings and the handicapped state of the cinematic industry. In the words of one of the individuals in the documentary, “the Pakistani film industry died 20 years ago but it has taken decades to finally bring it to the graveyard; that is why everyone has suddenly taken noti