“I was in my early 20s when I joined PTV as an assistant producer, and made a name for myself by deliveringc five hit serials in two years flat. Back then, I would work non-stop for days at a stretch. I also cast the best actors of the time in my serials,” says Farouq Mengal who, after leaving PTV, ventured into private production and today he is his own master, doing what he always wanted to do. His family initially did not approve of his showbiz work. But today, they are proud of him and even the Mengal tribe has accepted him and his line of work.
Now back after a lull period (he cites personal reasons), Farouq says he did not sit idle but wrote scripts for television and films during the time-off. “I penned three serials and film scripts and I made two tele films (Silvet, Zainbey). I produced and directed 15 serials which ran on different channels. I also wrote the script for the film Hijrat in 2014, and produced and directed it as well.”
Hijrat was released in cinemas recently but couldn’t do well, and Mengal is understandably unhappy. “This was my first film, and in retrospect I can focus on my mistakes. The content was weak, the casting flawed and the topic outdated. I also made the mistake of shortening the film, thus the continuity suffered and the romance between the lead couple was affected because of it. As work on Hijrat began more than three years ago and focused on refugees, the script lost its punch as refugee stories have since become obsolete.”
Farouq Mengal considers himself lucky to be doing what he dreamed of as a boy!
Mengal blames the distributors and media partners, saying they did not do their job. He also feels that there was a lobby working against him, and criticism began as early as the pre-release press show. “The music along with the takes and shots were good, and the camera work and lighting excellent. But the critics chose to ignore these. The media criticised me because they don’t like me. Now, I have begun work on my next film and hopefully the media will think twice the second time round. They forget that Hijrat was my film debut. Technically, Hijrat is the best film so far, the framework is proper as it should be for any film, not like the others which have small screen shots.”
Mengal also wonders out loud why comparisons were drawn between Shah Rukh Khan’s Fan and Hijrat (both released around the same time). “Criticism for the sake of criticism brings one down, there should be objective criticism only. It’s a media war and channels having production houses of their own tried to put the channels down which supported my film.”
To emphasise this point, Mengal gives the example of Indian director Kabir Khan who made Bajarangi Bhaijan. “He was criticised by a media channel for being an outsider belonging to an ‘unfriendly’ country. An artist does not have boundaries. A good film is seen throughout the world so we should broaden our horizons and thoughts. I have not lost hope and I am still optimistic. In fact, I have become stronger in adversity and will try harder, but what hurts is negativity. My sponsors and producers are still with me. They know the second and third time round the product will be way better.”
Mengal says work on his next film will be done quietly. “It is difficult to overcome hurdles while making a film. India is far ahead than us, they have 16,000 cinema houses whereas we have about 60 throughout Pakistan. It is not easy to make a film here, and we need the help of the media to tackle issues in this fledgling industry.”
Hijrat was shot in Turkey and Quetta and the stories of the refugees were taken from real life. “All the five songs were fantastic, sung by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Ali Azmat, Umar Nadeem, Sara Raza and Indian singer Shalmani. The film was shot on 35mm camera which has now become rare as most films are digital,” says Mengal. “It is very expensive but the result is fantastic, and Hijrat is therefore the most expensive film during the rebirth of films in Pakistan. The post-production was done in Turkey and Thailand.”
The set showing a refugee camp was erected on a barren stretch in Quetta with nearly 3,000 people working in it. “The main cast included Rabia Butt, Ayub Khoso, Nadeem, Sana, Durdana Butt, Rubab Ali, Azra Aftab and Jamal Shah.”
Farouq Mengal says a film is a director’s medium whereas TV serials are the writer’s. “I feel that a director should write the script also because he controls the story. I didn’t have money earlier, which is why it took me so long to make a film. A serial is like an adopted child because it has many people involved in it, and though I enjoy doing it my preference will always be films.”
What meager profit is made in films is distributed among exhibitors, media partners, distributors and actors; the film-maker ends up with only 30 per cent, Mengal states. “In India they make 100 films and 10 become hits. We are in the initial stages of making films, so it is unfair to judge us harshly. One learns from mistakes and becomes better with time.”
He feels that the future of Pakistan’s film industry is bright and if the few directors stop fighting between themselves, it will help all of them tremendously. “I give our film industry three years to make a name for itself, before it is able to put up with outside competition. To achieve this, we have to unite and think on the same level.”
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 22nd, 2016