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Interview: “One art inspiring the other”

June 02, 2013

Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid talks about his relationship with the director in adapting the novel for the screen.

IoS: How involved were you in the making of the film?

MH: Well I co-wrote the first draft of the screenplay and along the way I was asked for input and advice. Mira kept checking in with me and I was on set for the first year. In Lahore, Mira stayed with me and we worked together then too. You could say I was a consultant on the project.

IoS: Do you think the film adaptation is true to how you imagined the novel?

MH: I think the film is aesthetically and politically solid, it’s a good film. My novel is nothing like a film so it had to change. For me, it was more about picking someone I trusted in making the film. In the end it wasn’t meant to be what I imagined. A book is one human’s thoughts — when one reads the words they drop directly into their brains. The two (film and novels) are utterly different forms, so it is not about what I imagined. I didn’t imagine the characters like this. It is one work of art inspired by the other — it is not a literal representation of the novel. No novel can be, I think.

IoS: The film straddles two very different worlds; do you think a Pakistani audience will identify with the characters?

MH: We did a screening in Lahore last year and people seemed really engaged, but I can’t generalise how people view the film. Everyone sees a film individually. In art the objective isn’t to say ‘here is something everyone loves’. It’s to do something with passion and hope they love it.

IoS: Do you think the ‘essence’ of Lahore was captured in the film?

MH: I think films don’t represent entire cities or countries. It is a tiny slice of society and the life of a few characters. In this case I think they’ve done a good job and have had a lot of ‘Lahore consultants’ along the way. The music comes from Lahore and Saqib Malik did the second camera crew in Lahore and many Pakistanis were involved, so hopefully it captures the feeling of what Lahore is like.

IoS: You said you were on set for at least a year, so what was the Hollywood experience like?

MH: Hollywood… well I remember we were in Venice for the premiere and we drove up in a limousine to the red carpet and there were 2,000 photographers all shouting “Kate!” That was an interesting experience. It was definitely different from my normal world of sitting in front of a computer.

It was fun. There is glamour and glitz but there are years of hard work with a few moments of glamour.

IoS: What was it like working with such well-known actors? Ever been star struck?

MH: Constantly, every time I meet a star I’m star struck.

Kate Hudson was very friendly and Kiefer Sutherland was remarkably humble, sweet and generous, while Liev Schreiber is an interesting and intense actor. It was a great experience. Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar had dinner with us and my mother and she hit it off immediately. She (Azmi) is a fantastically classy, intelligent and elegant woman.

In Qatar, I bumped into Robert De Niro and said I think Riz Ahmed did an incredible job and Rob agreed. If Rob De Niro thinks he did a good job, it must be a good job!

IoS: You have written three novels and out of which one has been made into a film, so what next?

MH: Well, I am taking a few months off. In the last 20 years I wrote three books, now I am going to take a break. When the next book begins to form in my head and when it begins to grab me I will start writing.

IoS: You have had a successful career so far as a novelist. Any advise to budding Pakistani novelists, screenwriters and filmmakers?

MH: Do the work. This stuff doesn’t happen out of the blue, get to work and start doing it.