Recently a video about a Pakistan-India peace film pitch became viral on social networking websites. We went ahead and found out more about the campaign, and discovered how a Pakistani filmmaker is making an effort to raise finances for his feature film project through which he is aspiring to bring peace to the Indian Subcontinent.
Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I have been fascinated by stories all my life; I was bothered by the state of Pakistan’s film industry like anyone else back then. Couldn’t figure out early on that I should be studying at a film school, which in a way was a blessing in disguise. Not knowing what to do with myself, I joined a computer school.
By the time I graduated in tech, I had won the annual national interactive multimedia championship twice in a row (ACM - GIKI).
What led you towards film-making?
Way back I used to follow a TV show called Music Channel Charts. I’ve just always had a thing for music videos, and I was watching a lot of them from all over the world. The scene in the early-mid 2000s was inspirational but it was Jami’s “Strings – Duur”, which made me say for the first time… “That is what I want to do!”
I wanted to learn from big directors. I decided to take up a job with an advertisement agency but realized everyone is too cautious in that space. Most are scared of doing anything actually new, tiny improvements on old concepts are considered giant leaps. I kept pushing to bring totally unique ideas but got tired of clients telling me my concepts were ‘unrealistic’ for the Pakistani market. They wanted the same old scenes of family sitting on a dining table, jingles, dancing people and boring dialogues, so I got tired of constantly being told that my concepts were 'unrealistic'.
So I left the ad scene. I was eventually picked up by a Silicon Valley based technology company. We’ve worked on some really breakthrough projects together and it’s been great. I kept filmmaking going on the side. More importantly, before I moved, I was still doing a lot of filmmaking in Karachi. I got the privilege to work as an assistant for director Jami. Jami and I ventured to create a video for a Faiz Ahmed Faiz poem which I directed, named ‘Tum Yeh Kehtay Ho’, for which I created a miniature war field over a span of three months. It was an invaluable experience and Jami really matured the filmmaker inside of me. I have constantly been working on short-films since and I couldn’t ever resist falling in love with it. This is what I have always meant to do!
Filming in US:
I did indulge in to the US indie filmmaking scene; it was a lot fun and had great people, but it was not the same as working in Pakistan. I realised that I am from Pakistan, I grew up here – all my concepts have undertones of ambitions I have for Pakistan. The films I think of are Pakistani. I belong here and so do my films. That’s why every vacation to Pakistan has been a film project. The last one being ‘Seerat’ featuring Abdul Sattar Edhi. I have been diving into completely different type of filmmaking, from narrative short films to documentaries to animations, this is my film school. It has taught me more than anything else could have.
What was the idea behind the central characters in your first feature film – the two soldiers being from Pakistan and India?
The Pakistan-India conflict is a very classic conflict. Growing up, I remember how we were made to look at India. Many at each side consider the other side the absolute embodiment of everything evil. We have been repeatedly at war, pointed nuclear bombs at each other and blamed one another for causing natural disasters.
Interestingly enough, most Pakistanis have never even met a Hindu person. It’s easier to de-humanize someone you can’t understand, hidden behind a wall of ignorance. We aim to break this wall.
Pakistan and India will remain next to each other – learning to live with each other is the only way out. We are trapped together, just like the Pakistani and Indian soldiers, in our film.Two soldiers trapped together, who discover more than their differences that lead them to question their pre-conceived animosity.–Courtesy Photo
How is the process of working on the film going? What are some of the hurdles you are facing?
The film’s process is going great! The most important hurdle at the moment is investments. We are half way through and are seeking appropriate partners to venture with us on the project.
How is the response on your documentary pitch so far?
The video pitch response has been great. Even when the pledge and donation inflow was slower, it instead generated leads to serious investors for the film. Aside from the monetary aspects, people in general are very excited about it. Money comes and goes but the kind of love we have been receiving will go a really long way in my heart. It reminds me who all this is for, it energises my team and I really appreciate all the kind gestures by everyone. It’s really their love which will make the film good, not the money.
Before doing the documentary, did you pitch your idea to any production house?
No. The video pitch is the very first step in terms of reaching out to people.
Do you think by involving the audience in each step of the filming process, you will be taking away from the impact of the end product?
No. We control what the audience learns and what they don’t.
By looking at the ground realities of both the countries, do you think this film will have a realistic approach?
Reality is overrated. All great things in the world were unrealistic once. I’ll take two steps back the day someone tells me my goals are ‘realistic’.
How seriously will you be taking the advice of volunteers or people pledging?
Volunteers give feedback, it is good to look at a concept from different angles.
If I am paying (pledging) $1000 and I want to shape the film in a certain way, how would you work around it especially if you feel the input is taking the film towards another direction?
Backers do not have creative decision making authority. They get a front-row seat to give feedback and be a part of the project. They help us look at things from a different angle, it is their contribution. It is our job to responsibly address any aspects in those angles that we may have missed.