An interview with the makers of Made In Pakistan
I was lucky enough to catch Made In Pakistan, a Pakistani documentary, at the recently concluded Mumbai Film Festival. About four Pakistani youths from different walks of life who all hope for a better Pakistan and work at it in their own little ways, the documentary dispels certain notions that we may have about Pakistan in the process. Form-fitting jeans are just as much a need for the Pakistani youth as it is for teenagers in any other country of the world! The following is my interview with the makers of the feature who were present at the venue.
Theirs is the only Pakistani film among the some 200 films being screened at MAMIâ€™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 â€˜businessâ€™ area of the festival, one can sense theyâ€™d rather feel more comfortable out in the open, among the other film-lovers. Theyâ€™re still unassuming film-lovers themselves, you see. Theyâ€™re aware of the commerce of the business, but the commerce hasnâ€™t gripped them yet, hasnâ€™t corrupted them.Â â€œOh, we were donning multiple hatsâ€, says producer Adil Sher. â€œI served as Production Manager as well and Nasir was his own Assistant Directorâ€¦and sometimes also the Boom Operator! But we were passionate, so it all fell in place.â€
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.Â â€œWe didnâ€™t have the finances to make a featureâ€¦we had the finance to make a documentaryâ€, Nasir says.â€œThe inspiration for the documentary came after we read an article in Newsweek. Frankly speaking though, had we made a feature, we wouldnâ€™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.â€
Speaking on their objective behind making the documentary, Nasir elaborates,Â â€œWe were tired of Pakistan being represented by the Taliban. We wanted to show what Pakistan isâ€¦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 isâ€¦but amplified 200 times! But the voice of an average Pakistani is never heard. His concern is for a developed Pakistan.â€
The feature, unlike most documentaries, has a certain wit and humour in its proceedings. Was that a conscious decision?Â â€œYesâ€, says Nasir. He continues,Â â€œAs a filmmaker you have to foremost entertain your audience. You have to make something that theyâ€™ll watch; something engaging. Unfortunately entertainment is a much abused term. If itâ€™s entertaining, it canâ€™t be intelligent and vice-versa! Yaar, yeh kya baat hui!â€
â€œThe idea is to entertain the audienceâ€, Adil affirms.Â â€œEven if we make a feature, itâ€™ll be relevant to something that concerns Pakistan and interests the rest of the world. But it has to be entertaining as well.â€
â€œWe can either hammer a message by stating it polemically for 70 minutes, or make a subliminal impact by using humour and entertainmentâ€, Nasir wisely adds.
Nasir also lets in on a secret factor that worked in their favour.Â â€œMuch of the humour had to do with the city we choseâ€, he swears.Â â€œLahore has a very Punjabi culture. The people of Lahore are extremely laidback. They love their afternoon siestasâ€¦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!â€
Did they at all anticipate the film to do as well as it did in Pakistan?â€œWe were surprised that the film actually enjoyed a proper theatrical release in Pakistanâ€, Nasir confesses.Â â€œItâ€™s very difficult as such for a Pakistani film to get a releaseâ€¦and this was a documentary. But we are proudâ€¦not only did it get a release, but it did well in the cities. I think itâ€™s because somewhere it struck a chord with the people who had also become weary of the representation of Pakistan.â€
Adil comes in,Â â€œIt 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.â€
â€œYes, cinema is a tool. Itâ€™s a tool for communicationâ€, Nasir opines.
So do they believe that Pakistani cinema needs to take steps aimed specifically at expanding its reach? Adil responds,Â â€œOn 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 Governmentâ€¦they are very indifferent towards the business of cinema and filmmakers.â€
â€œThey are busy focusing on other issues, I guess!â€ Nasir sneers.
â€œIt is impossible to get the Pakistani Government fund a filmâ€, Adil continues.Â â€œOf course, the film industry itself is a very small and upcoming one.â€
â€œThere isnâ€™t a structure in the Pakistani film industry yetâ€, Nasir expounds.Â â€œWe need a systemâ€¦of producers, makers, techniciansâ€¦and a distribution structure. Once that happens, itâ€™ll be easier to make films and have regular releases.â€
â€œYes, once thereâ€™s a structureâ€¦thereâ€™ll be guidelines. Right now, I doubt if the censor board even is aware of its own guidelines!â€ Adil remarks
â€œNo, I think there are wrong notions about censorship in Pakistanâ€, Nasir counters. Â â€œFilms like Khuda Kay Liye or our own filmâ€¦theyâ€™re critical studies of the country, the government, etc. But the censors didnâ€™t trouble these films. Dostana got a releaseâ€¦which amazed us even!â€
â€œComing back to the film industryâ€, Adil saysÂ â€œwe need a film a month for the industry to really grow. The film industry was abandoned in the 70s. Now there is a revivalâ€¦but at a small level.â€
â€œYesâ€, Nasir approves.Â â€œThere was no film school until a few years back. Now there is one in Karachi and one at Lahore.â€
Adil fleshes it out,Â â€œI think what we need firstly is for some company like Big Cinemas or PVR to open cinemas in Pakistan. Theyâ€™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. Iâ€™m sure a suburb in Mumbai has more than those! Once we have screens, the model will change for the industry. Thereâ€™ll be more filmsâ€¦and less piracy.â€
Nasir agrees, â€œI think there are a lot of Pakistani filmmakers whoâ€™d benefit greatly if India and Pakistan bridge their barriers and work on co-productions. I think itâ€™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.â€
Getting animatedly excited, Nasir goes onÂ â€œIt 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.Â A film that works in India, works there. In fact, I believe even films that donâ€™t do that well here stand a chance of doing better in Pakistan! Wanted did great business in the interiors of Pakistan. Its numbers stunned usâ€¦we didnâ€™t even know so many people lived in the interiors!â€
Reflecting on his own thought, Nasir sighsÂ â€œThe Mumbai attacks really affected the process.â€ He dejectedly proceeds,Â â€œAfter Khuda Kay Liye, there was genuine interest and goodwill for Pakistani films and its industry. These attacks have affected us badly in that regard. Itâ€™s difficult now to meet producers hereâ€¦and naturally so. They wonder if itâ€™s worth working with someone who comes with a baggage of visa problems, work permits, security concerns, etc.â€
When asked if they have anything in mind for their next project, Nasir drolly remarksÂ â€œWe are developing a few scripts. Once weâ€™re done, back to looking for fundingâ€¦Rest assured itâ€™ll be a short and sweet film. Itâ€™s always better to leave your audience wanting more, than have them shifting in their seats.â€