Tahir Moosa and Amyn Farooqi | Photo by the writer
Tahir Moosa and Amyn Farooqi | Photo by the writer

Who would imagine that a quiet, unassuming house at the turn of the bend in Clifton would singlehandedly hold the fate of Pakistan’s film business inside it?

Shaped into a cutting edge, one-stop, post-production outlet by co-founders Tahir Moosa and Amyn Farooqi, SharpImage, despite its pin-drop silence, is a busy place indeed.

Inside the rooms connected to small winding corridors, people assemble edits, piece together visual effects and, in Tahir’s own case, colour-grade films.

Tahir runs SharpImage’s film division, and is an established colourist of more than 30 films and way too many commercials to count. Suffice to say his resume — which includes Chakkar, Dum Mastam, Quaid-i-Azam Zindabad, London Nahin Jaunga (LNJ), Punjab Nahin Jaungi, Jawani Phir Nahin Ani (JPNA), Rehbra, Superstar, Parey Hut Love, Khel Khel Mein, Baaji, Laal Kabootar, Load Wedding, Na Maloom Afraad and NMA 2, Actor in Law, Sherdil, Moor, O21, Heer Maan Jaa, Lahore Say Aagay, Wrong No., Manto — is exhausting to read.

When it comes to pushing the technical boundaries of the post-production pipeline in Pakistan, very few can claim to be pros at the game… except for the boys at SharpImage’s film division

Together, Tahir and Amyn are known to have hands-on involvement on projects (Amyn, primarily a VFX guy, knows a little of everything, he tells me later).

When not overseeing work, Tahir and Amyn are often found sitting at a roundtable in their own pocket of seclusion — a room with glass doors that opens to natural daylight and the greenery of their backyard garden.

This room is a boy’s hideaway. Amidst the books and posters, stands a poseable mannequin, a premium statue of the Transformer Bumblebee, a pint-sized Iron Man, a Tie-Fighter, an X-Wing, and an Imperial Star Destroyer from Star Wars.

Seeing this, one realises that, for all the serious work they do, they’re still little boys playing with toys (technical, big boy toys, that is) while dreaming big things. That is why, perhaps, they’re pushing the technical boundaries of the post-production pipeline in Pakistan.

“It is our kink,” Amyn accepts, as I am told about one of their cutting-edge toys: the Smart Video Assist.

The solution provides real-time previews, playback and metadata logging (details about the shot, and whether it is an okay take or not), to an iPad that the director carries on set, Tahir explains.

“Without delving into intricate details, let’s just say that the convenience it gives the director is liberating. Usually, he or she would be huddled in one corner of the set at a monitor, connected by long, thick cables that people would trip over,” Tahir says.

Seeing the video assist in action on the set of LNJ, I can attest to its effectiveness.

Then there is their colour-grading suite: a dark room with an actual cinema projector (the Barco DP2K10S), showing live previews on the room-sized cinema screen on the opposite wall.

“Technically, what you see here while colour-grading, is what you get in the cinemas,” Tahir affirms.

Although this is standard practice for films in any country, most colour-grading suites I have been to in Pakistan rely on monitors and LED TVs to do the job. Suffice to say, in this process, the result varies considerably when the film runs in cinemas.

Tahir got into the technical side of post-production after he got his diploma in computer sciences, he tells me. His big brother made event videos and, in the days of analog, he made animated titles on the computer.

“When you’re a student and you get encouragement, and jobs with money, then there’s nothing like it,” he says.

Tahir ended up working for the graphics team during the Sharjah Cup. His PC didn’t have enough memory (RAM), so a friend connected him to Amyn, who had a better system.

Amyn says that he was a hardcore gamer, and a film buff. Whether it was the Amiga, or the Commodore 64, he would have that console.

The ambition to learn and do visual effects professionally was instinctive. In 1994, Amyn and Tahir officially signed a professional partnership to form SharpImage.

“When your passion becomes your profession, then there’s nothing like it. We have been at it for more than 28 years now,” Tahir says.

Reluctant to do movies after doing well with commercials, Tahir and Amyn were cajoled by filmmaker Jami when he began Moor — a film where they also have producer credits on — because he knew they could do it.

It was a challenge because, at the time, they didn’t even have calibrated monitors that would properly display the colours a movie has (cinema has a wider colour spectrum than television).

Apart from the grading, SharpImage also did a lot of visual effects for Moor — but that’s not the only film they provided visual effects services for.

When you enter the premises, an LED TV plays a showreel of the company’s extensive, but invisible visual effects work from NMA 2, Load Wedding, amongst others.

The duo, however, feel that Pakistani movie producers, agencies who produce commercials and awards organisations, have a lack of appreciation for the technical side of the business.

With exception to ARY Film Awards in 2016, where Moor won Best Visual Effects and JPNA Best Film Editing, no other awards show in Pakistan has technical categories.

Even this year, commercials Tahir graded won a total of six awards in silver and gold categories in an awards ceremony, but neither their company, nor he, got any recognition.

“We don’t even get an invite,” he says.

Our conversation eventually leads to an issue filmmakers have with Tahir and Amyn: they ransom projects, if dues aren’t settled.

“Nobody wants that reputation, but nobody wants to be on the losing side either,” Tahir tells Icon.

The world of commercial production is quite disciplined, I am told. Everyone abides by schedules and payments are committed. However, filmmakers don’t adhere to any of these practices.

“Producers and directors, oftentimes, don’t even come in on their scheduled post-production shifts. They don’t even text that they’re not coming over.” The unserious slack continues when the time comes for them to pay the dues, he says.

“The priority is to shoot and, by the time the shooting ends, money drains out. Post work is never a priority, and then we get a request to defer the payments until the film makes money from the box-office.”

Often, unsurprisingly, the films flop.

“We still have bad debts. People don’t even pick up our phone calls,” Tahir says.

“On the other hand, the same filmmakers go to other countries for post work, where they have to clear debts. To top it off, they come back happy, calling international outlets professional,” he says.

It shouldn’t be like this, because the cost of filmmaking in Pakistan is very low, Amyn tells me.

As per this writer’s information, the post-production cost hardly goes over five to six million rupees. The cost includes onset logging and previews, the sound, the edit, the colour-grade, mastering and deliverables to cinema and television. For a 50 million rupee film, that’s hardly ten percent of the budget (internationally, it is upwards of 25 percent).

“Pakistani films lack the ecosystem of producing and selling movies. Once that is worked out, it would make a difference in every aspect,” Amyn says about the state of the film business.

In the meantime, given their proclivity to play with the latest of high-end toys, both Tahir and Amyn will continue to push the envelope when it comes to technology. Whether filmmakers learn to appreciate what Pakistan offers, is another debate entirely.

Published in Dawn, ICON, November 20th, 2022



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