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Building Bonds & Bridging Barriers- an interview with the makers of Made In Pakistan

by Abhishek Bandekar

Theirs is the only Pakistani film among the some 200 films being screened at MAMI’s 11th Mumbai Film Festival. Theirs is the first ever documentary to have had a mainstream theatrical release in Pakistan. And their feature just picked up the Audience Award at the recently concluded South Asian Film Festival in New York, USA. And yet, walking into the Business Lounge, the entry-restricted ‘business’ area of the festival, one can sense they’d rather feel more comfortable out in the open, among the other film-lovers. They’re still unassuming film-lovers themselves, you see. They’re aware of the commerce of the business, but the commerce hasn’t gripped them yet, hasn’t corrupted them. “Oh, we were donning multiple hats”, says producer Adil Sher. “I served as Production Manager as well and Nasir was his own Assistant Director…and sometimes also the Boom Operator! But we were passionate, so it all fell in place.”

But a documentary on the sociopolitical situation in Pakistan seems less like the creation of passionate filmmakers and more like that of activist non-fiction creators. “We didn’t have the finances to make a feature…we had the finance to make a documentary”, Nasir says. “The inspiration for the documentary came after we read an article in Newsweek. Frankly speaking though, had we made a feature, we wouldn’t have been able to show or express what this documentary has done. This presents a true picture of Pakistan, without any plot or script contrivance.”

Speaking on their objective behind making the documentary, Nasir elaborates, “We were tired of Pakistan being represented by the Taliban. We wanted to show what Pakistan is…what it is for its youth, from their point of view. Unfortunately the image that you see 200 times a day across the international news channels is merely 1-5 percent of what Pakistan is…but amplified 200 times! But the voice of an average Pakistani is never heard. His concern is for a developed Pakistan.”

The feature, unlike most documentaries, has a certain wit and humour in its proceedings. Was that a conscious decision? “Yes”, says Nasir. He continues, “As a filmmaker you have to foremost entertain your audience. You have to make something that they’ll watch; something engaging. Unfortunately entertainment is a much abused term. If it’s entertaining, it can’t be intelligent and vice-versa! That's not fair!”

“The idea is to entertain the audience”, Adil affirms. “Even if we make a feature, it’ll be relevant to something that concerns Pakistan and interests the rest of the world. But it has to be entertaining as well.”

“We can either hammer a message by stating it polemically for 70 minutes, or make a subliminal impact by using humour and entertainment”, Nasir wisely adds.

Nasir also lets in on a secret factor that worked in their favour. “Much of the humour had to do with the city we chose”, he swears. “Lahore has a very Punjabi culture. The people of Lahore are extremely laidback. They love their afternoon siestas…their late breakfasts. And they are inherently humorous people. Where else would you find a lawyer protesting the sacking of the Chief Justice by wearing only his underwear in a protest march!”

Did they at all anticipate the film to do as well as it did in Pakistan? “We were surprised that the film actually enjoyed a proper theatrical release in Pakistan”, Nasir confesses. “It’s very difficult as such for a Pakistani film to get a release…and this was a documentary. But we are proud…not only did it get a release, but it did well in the cities. I think it’s because somewhere it struck a chord with the people who had also become weary of the representation of Pakistan.”

Adil comes in, “It is our responsibility to present Pakistan the right way which is not what you get to see or read. The media is unfortunately used for conditioning people. Films can counter that.”

“Yes, cinema is a tool. It’s a tool for communication”, Nasir opines.

So do they believe that Pakistani cinema needs to take steps aimed specifically at expanding its reach? Adil responds, “On an independent scale, me and filmmakers like Shoaib Mansoor (Khuda Kay Liye) are doing our bit to take Pakistani cinema forward and expand the industry. But there is no support from the Government…they are very indifferent towards the business of cinema and filmmakers.”

“They are busy focusing on other issues, I guess!” Nasir sneers.

“It is impossible to get the Pakistani Government fund a film”, Adil continues. “Of course, the film industry itself is a very small and upcoming one.”

“There isn’t a structure in the Pakistani film industry yet”, Nasir expounds. “We need a system…of producers, makers, technicians…and a distribution structure. Once that happens, it’ll be easier to make films and have regular releases.”

“Yes, once there’s a structure…there’ll be guidelines. Right now, I doubt if the censor board even is aware of its own guidelines!” Adil remarks

“No, I think there are wrong notions about censorship in Pakistan”, Nasir counters. “Films like Khuda Kay Liye or our own film…they’re critical studies of the country, the government, etc. But the censors didn’t trouble these films. Dostana, a Bollywood comedy about homosexuality, got a release…which amazed us even!”

“Coming back to the film industry”, Adil says “we need a film a month for the industry to really grow. The film industry was abandoned in the 70s. Now there is a revival…but at a small level.”

“Yes”, Nasir approves. “There was no film school until a few years back. Now there is one in Karachi and one at Lahore.”

Adil fleshes it out, “I think what we need firstly is for some company like Big Cinemas or PVR to open cinemas in Pakistan. They’ve done it in the US. Right now there is an immense scarcity in terms of cinema halls. The whole country has something like 17-18 decent screens. I’m sure a suburb in Mumbai has more than those! Once we have screens, the model will change for the industry. There’ll be more films…and less piracy.”

Nasir agrees, “I think there are a lot of Pakistani filmmakers who’d benefit greatly if India and Pakistan bridge their barriers and work on co-productions. I think it’d be very feasible, financially, for an Indian production house to make a film in Pakistan. Everything would be cheaper, your cost of labour, cost of talent, etc. Films like Ramchand Pakistani have shown that.”

Getting animatedly excited, Nasir goes on “It is very natural for these two counties to merge. The language is the same, the tastes are the same. We grew up watching the films of Manmohan Desai, Subhash Ghai, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Gurudutt. A film that works in India, works there. In fact, I believe even films that don’t do that well here stand a chance of doing better in Pakistan! Wanted, a typical Bollywood masala film, did great business in the interiors of Pakistan. Its numbers stunned us…we didn’t even know so many people lived in the interiors!”

Reflecting on his own thought, Nasir sighs “The Mumbai attacks really affected the process.” He dejectedly proceeds, “After Khuda Kay Liye, there was genuine interest and goodwill for Pakistani films and its industry. These attacks have affected us badly in that regard. It’s difficult now to meet producers here…and naturally so. They wonder if it’s worth working with someone who comes with a baggage of visa problems, work permits, security concerns, etc.”

When asked if they have anything in mind for their next project, Nasir drolly remarks “We are developing a few scripts. Once we’re done, back to looking for funding…Rest assured it’ll be a short and sweet film. It’s always better to leave your audience wanting more, than have them shifting in their seats.”

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originally posted: 11/07/09 17:07:48
last updated: 11/07/09 17:29:32
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