LAHORE: Film director and producer Sarmad Khoosat says he made a conscious effort not to follow any formula in film-making despite working in ComSits at the start of his career, then he moved to Hamsafar before his films Manto and Zaindagi Tamasha.

“A formula is negation of artistic expression and template works in mainstream cinema but in the global cinema films are made outside the template. Even the subcontinental formula of filmmaking by telling stories with songs is being contested now,” he said during a session on ‘Pakistani films on world stage, at the Faiz Festival on Sunday.

Sarmad rejected the impression that mainstream genre films make more box office collection, saying it was necessary that a mainstream film would make more money. “Independent films are produced on less budget,” he argued, saying he was not against formula films as he loved songs but was against repetition without making any artistic contribution. However, he insisted that he did not have any formula of his own as was evident in his films, Zindagi Tamasha and Kamli, adding that the latter had songs and all the ingredients of mainstream films.

Kanwal Khoosat, the producer of Zindagi Tamasha and Kamli, said the films she had been involved with were all indie films and money invested in them was self-generated. Because, there was so much effort and own money was involved in these films that nobody would risk to target a segregated audience, she said.

Hints at his next feature film, titled Shikra

A new taste was being developed worldwide for a universal language of cinema and domestic audiences also enjoyed such films even if not on cinema but on digital platforms. “We follow a universal language of cinema while making the film to enable them to be appreciated universally. Sometimes, we reductively confine cinema if we say that cinegoers only want to watch songs in films.”

To a question, Kanwal replied that the business and following of the cinema had been decentralized and there was no divide of local and international cinema anymore.

Alina Khan said her life before and after Joyland in which she played the protagonist had been changed a lot as she was facing a lot of difficulties to earn her livelihood as there were fewer opportunities of earning for the transpersons. “I used to do dance events to make ends meet but it was hard as events were not allowed after 10pm and trans community had to go to villages of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for earning.” After the film, she said she travelled internationally and got acceptance in her family who earlier did not accept her style of life.

Alina said it was her dream to travel around the world as she had never thought of it, especially her being at the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival.

Sarmad said Sana Jafri was responsible for finding Alina Khan as she found her during her work with the transgender community that led to Saim’s short film, Darling, featuring Alina.

To the question of portraying a certain image of the country, Sarmad challenged the image accepted in the country in the mainstream cinema, having violence and graphic sexuality. “Since 1980s or 1990s, none of our films could be below the rating of 18 due to violence. Though I have nothing against it but I think it does not come from honesty. Story is never without conflicts that are your own,” Sarmad said there was nothing wrong in presenting our reality if not just for sensation, saying that why we would consider mob violence, excess with transpersons and women’s mental health not our reality.

He said he did not target a global audience and if he had targeted that he would not have made Zindagi Tamasha in Punjabi language. “I believe in my primary audience as cinema’ language can never be completely universal as there must be nuances that would be understood only by those whose issue is being depicted.”

Sarmad hinted at his next film without disclosing much. However, he said, was working on his next feature film, titled Shikra, a love story.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2024

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