Friday, 28 June 2013

Viewer’s Pick: Bollywood’s Dirty Picture or Lollywood’s Dirty Girl?

Producer Qaiser Sanaullah’s talks about his upcoming film Dirty Girls and a possible position in the censor board. DESIGN: UMAR WAQAS
Pakistan is all set to get its own remake of Bollywood’s The Dirty Picturewhich starred Naseeruddin Shah and Vidya Balan. The B-grade Lollywood film titledDirty Girl is going to be Metropole cinema director and producer Qaiser Sanaullah’s third film and second in collaboration with famed director Malik Yunus.
Sanaullah, who is also being tipped to become the first chairman of the Punjab film censor board, has been critical of the standards that have prevailed within the industry over the last decade. He has been trying to use his working class background as a way to ensure that local films continue to be produced. Recently, Sanaullah’s film Pangi Laleeya belonging to the Pashto film industry, Pollywood, was released. His latest project and upcoming film Dirty Girlwill premiere on Eid, in which director Arshad Khan has tried to tackle bold and racy topics.
“The film has been shot in several mansions outside of Lahore and is inspired by the Indian film The Dirty Picture,” explains Sanaullah. He also adds that the film is a small effort by him to give back to the industry in which he has worked his way up.
“The story is based on a true incident. However, I don’t feel it is right to mention the location,” he says. “It’s about how an educated girl is forced to become a call girl.” The movie features Nida Chaudhry, Shahid Khan, Babrik Shah, Irfan Khoosat, Rashid Mehmood along with several other known names.
“This is my third effort in making a film. This film can be seen at those cinema houses where Indian films are not being played or in smaller markets where there is lack of content,” says Sanaullah.
His work with Metropole has been refreshing in terms of single-cinemas in Lahore, especially during down time for cinema.
He admits that Indian films filled a void when the continuance of caste-based Gujjar and Biradari films continued.
“Film-goers are far more aware when it comes to watching films,” explains Sanaullah. “They know before they leave the house if they want to watch a particular film or not.”
He has been backed by some of the biggest names in the industry such as Syed Noor, Shehzad Rafique, and Zorraiz Lashari to become the censor board chairman in Punjab.
Sanaullah has been critical about the role of the censor board in the past. “Since Pakistan has created a censor board, it has been ruled by bureaucrats,” says Sanaullah.
“This is the first time a worker or person related to the film industry has been proposed as chairman. Bureaucrats, politicians, capitalists and landowners have held the censor board hostage — they never knew the real issues of the film industry.”
If made chairman, he says that he can tackle real issues and help the struggling industry in Lahore and Punjab. He also reiterates that it was most important that a person from the film industry was selected or promoted.
“I will make sure the grassroot issues, which are neglected by the government, reach the forefront,” says the producer. “The position has been used only for its perks.
I will be the first to propose that I should work only in an honorary capacity.”
Still, there will be a lot of hurdles for him, including the underground mafia and big money investors that influence the industry’s direction.
Sanaullah says that he understands the challenges but is even more assured of his backing from the local industry.
“There are still people from the industry who have political clout which they take advantage of; some people have big money, and others have bureaucratic support,” says Sanaullah.
“Change can only come if someone from the grass-roots is placed who understands the core issues.”

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Coming soon: Zinda Bhaag

The term “revival of Pakistani cinema” is as clichéd as it is relevant for the survival of Pakistani industry, especially when independent-minded, young-blood filmmakers are facing off against an over-abundance of international releases, limited screens and a lack of marketing support. Although, a true revival did look bleak a few years back, today, the term is literally “owned” by people who may become this industry’s “new wave”.
Case in point: the people behind Zinda Bhaag, an indie drama with an overlaid layer of comedy whose theatrical trailer and hand-painted poster was unveiled at a ceremony in Cinepax, Karachi last week. The film, as it happens, will be released by Footprint Entertainment, whose chief imports include Hollywood blockbusters by Universal and Paramount (Battleship, Iron Man, Star Trek), and whose last Pakistani release was the horror film Siyaah.
Zinda Bhaag is the directorial debut of filmmakers Meenu and Farjad, and headlines Naseeruddin Shah with fashion model Amna Ilyas, Khurram Patras, Salman Ahmad Khan, Zohaib and Manzar Sehbai. The film features music by Sahir Ali Bagga, with playback by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Arif Lohar, Abrar ul Haq and Amanat Ali (the music used actual instruments, rather than midis and synths we were told).
While the songs were predominantly — and intentionally — missing at the theatrical trailer launch (it would be separate event, we were told), the film, from its first look, had a strange vibrancy to itself.
Focusing on lower middle class locals who dream of going abroad, Zinda Bhaag is shot digitally on Red Epics (and maybe a shot or two on Red One). The resulting, crisp on-screen presentation glowed with the look of “feature film” and not a telefilm (the cinematography is by Satya Rai Nagpaul, a cinematographer from India). Humour and drama went side by side — a few clips of kaleidoscopic background and intentionally badly choreographed dance moves, helped with the idiosyncratic attitude of the filmmakers. And Shah’s presence didn’t overrun the trailer or the film’s cast (even though he was the narrator of the trailer).
However, there is a small hiccup in the overall design of the film: the film’s chief language is Punjabi. The filmmakers insist that the film speaks Punjabi “slang”, and a few characters do speak Urdu, but for people in the metropolis (like me), who aren’t prone to decipher the language at a breakneck speed, Zinda Bhaag could prove to be a challenge when released Pakistan-wide.
The trailer was shown twice during the event, and Meenu, Farjad and producer Mazhar Zaidi were hospitable to even the most disdainful of questions during the post screening Q&A. At one point, someone from the audience questioned the logic of casting Naseeruddin Shah in the film, to which the filmmakers genially reminded them of the actor’s role in Khuda Kay Liye — supposedly the first of the “revivalists” — and that our singers are consistently staring in Bollywood albums.
Meenu, Farjad and Mazhar also pointed out that Shah even helped conduct a small acting class for the film’s actors to help them get into the role. The audition process of the remaining cast was a grueling experience, Mazhar points out, where the cast was short listed from over 500 people.
Also presented at the event was the hand painted poster art of the film by S. Iqbal, who is “Lollywood’s last remaining traditional poster artist”.
Still young in the release campaign, the film is set to release sometime in August — which I believe would be post the heavy rush of Eid releases.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Siyaah has inspired film-makers, says Osman Khalid Butt

Osman Khalid Butt represents the new age of Pakistani cinema. The young actor-director seems to be aiming for an all-rounder plaque; he’s written screenplays and has acted in several projects. He has plans to sit in the director’s chair as well.
Butt penned down the screenplay for the film Siyaah — the dream of young aspiring film-makers which turned into a prominent release this year. Despite receiving mixed reviews, he feels Siyaah has opened several doors of opportunities.
“It has given a lot of people inspiration — people who thought making a film wasn’t possible but always had it at the back of their minds, now know that it’s possible,” explains Butt.
After years of desolation, these are interesting times for the film industry as a new breed of film-makers from diverse backgrounds are trying their luck at the art of film-making. Butt started his career in theatre under director Shah Sharabeel in 2005 and left his imprints in the industry. He then continued to pursue the love of this craft and got involved in parody and creative writing and this is how Siyaah was added to his resume.
Butt was approached by producer Imran Kazmi, who was struggling to bring the pieces together. Siyaah is a horror film which focuses on a couple who adopts a girl after losing their only child. Butt had played a supporting role in a horror film before, Omar Ali Khan’sZibakhana, but had little experience writing a screenplay in Urdu.
“The thing is, I know this may sound elitist, but I think in English — and that reflects in how I would think of a scene [in my mind],” he admits. “Having said that, it was pretty easy to translate at times though.”
Gliding through the challenges, Butt says that he learnt a lot from this experience as he had written the script two-and-a-half years ago. His love for the medium triggered the process and he aimed to create characters that would have lasting impressions on the audience. “We would debate if the horror genre was too niche for Pakistan. But we realised that we could think outside the box and move beyond the gandasa,” he continues.
Butt reveals that he has received several offers from both television and cinema to further showcase his acting talent. His ultimate desire, however, remains to be directing a film — something he is working on currently. He keeps himself busy compiling ideas for short stories which he hopes to start shooting soon. “I’ve always loved acting on stage but I have always imagined myself directing a larger than life or a very masala Bollywood film, due to my upbringing and the type of influences I had growing up,” he says.
Summing up the glory of Siyaah and the prospects of Pakistani cinema, Butt is quick to admit there has been a radical shift from the traditional norms of Lollywood. “If I were to condense it [the situation] in two words, then I would say it’s been quite a revolution,” he says, adding that although there has been talk that the audience has lost interest, one thing is for certain and that is that this industry is all about entertainment. “There is a genuine determination and for the first time [in history], people are looking at this [field] where a possible career can be made.”
“Although people are not expressing it openly, there is genuine excitement [in the air], and within the next three or four years, this could be the beginning of something great for Pakistani cinema,” he adds enthusiastically.
Butt is set to feature in a play called Om Zara and a Ramazan special which will be aired on television. He currently isn’t planning on writing any screenplays but admits it could definitely be a possibility in the future.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Manto Not Mein Manto, a film on the iconic writer

Khoosat says that the idea was to bring Manto as a person into the spotlight. PHOTO: PUBLICITY
Lights, camera and action are what Sarmad Sultan Khoosat has grown up around. He is the son of famed film actor and producer Irfan Khoosat and by default, this industry — be it television, film or theatre — is close to his heart. After his success in the television/drama industry, Khoosat is now ready to step into the shoes of a film director and lead actor in the biopic, tentatively titled, Manto Not Mein Manto. While several plays have been written and performed about Saadat Hasan Manto, this will be the first time a movie will be produced on the life of the iconic writer.
Khoosat says that the idea was to bring Manto as a person into the spotlight. PHOTO: PUBLICITY
“There really is no agenda. We want to present honest cinema which will be a treat to the audience,” says the young director. “This is not going to be your typical mainstream film. The scale will be a lot larger than a typical independent film as we have half the television industry participating.” Without giving more details about the star-studded cast, Khoosat reveals that this rather large-scale production will later be expanded into a TV drama.
Manto Not Mein Manto, written by playwright Shahid Nadeem of the Ajoka theatre, is a first of its kind attempt at revisiting the legacy of Manto; the film will capture Manto’s life after partition and the stories that followed. Nadeem has been closely tied with the concept as he had previously written a version for theatre. “For a long time, he [Nadeem] was busy with his career in television, but I think he is one of the most underrated screenwriters today,” says Khoosat. “He is authentic and puts a lot of research in his work.”
Accompanied by a fully-loaded soundtrack, the film itself will focus on Manto as an individual. The project has been bred with a sense of honesty to the writer and his legacy, says Khoosat. “I think, irrespective of scale, the content has a very epic and real side to it, which has great cinematic value,” he adds. “Manto’s life had been marked by fame and notoriety, but in recent times, he  has developed into his own legend.”
Khoosat says that the idea was to bring Manto as a person into the spotlight. PHOTO: PUBLICITY
Khoosat emphasises that the idea was to bring Manto, the person, to the big screen. “This is not going to be an overtly political film, but it will involve a commentary of some of the things occurring at the time,” he continues. “When I came across the project, I felt he needed to have a film. Manto’s relevance is very visible and it will surprise [people] just how relevant he is in this new age.”
When it came down to who would play the coveted role of Manto, Khoosat admits that a long screening process took place and several actors were considered for the task. “We were initially looking for someone who had a significant amount of comfort with Manto’s writings and the script itself,” says Khoosat, adding that they kept an eye open for someone who matched the various characteristics he possessed including his age. “But eventually, it was encouraged that I try the role,” he adds. Khoosat, who has a noteworthy background in theatre, took the challenge sanguinely.
Manto Not Mein Manto has already been shot and is currently in its editing phase. It is scheduled to release this fall.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Actress Laila arrested for dishonored cheque

Lollywood actress Laila was arrested this Thursday in Multan on complaint of a film producer, who reported her being guilty of issuing a dishonored cheque.

Sheikh Naeem, the producer of the project stated that Laila signed him a cheque worth Rs 220,000, which was bounced by the bank. Producer told that Laila had borrowed money from him. The police arrested Laila after conducting a raid at a local hotel in Multan and asked her to present before the local court.
When Laila was asked about this, she said that she had negotiated with the producer and said that she had settled, but he still got her arrested.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Main Hoon Shahid Afridi, a movie that will inspire

Humayun Saeed is well-aware of that as he is set to release his new film Main Hoon Shahid Afridi on Eidul Fitr this year. From the very beginning of his career, he was determined to make films. And with this new sports film, Saeed feels he would be delivering something to new to the audience.
“Film has always been a passion [for me] and this was the reason why I joined this industry,” he says. Over time, Saeed gradually became one of the most successful TV drama producers in Pakistan. He feels this success has granted him space to experiment and return to his first love, which is film. “It’s important that we make [good] films now. If we do this, then in two to three years, Pakistani films will be a success,” he adds positively.
Main Hoon Shahid Afridi is unlike any previous Pakistani film — it is commercial but is an underdog story which centres on the game of cricket. The star-studded cast includes Javed Sheikh, Nadeem Baig, Shafqat Cheema, Noman Habib (lead), Mahnoor Baloch and a host of others including Saeed himself. The film has been directed by Syed Ali Raza and is written by Vasay Chaudhry.
The story is about a young boy who dreams of becoming the famous cricketer Shahid Afridi. PHOTO: PUBLICITY
Saeed is aware that India and other countries have produced films on such subjects before —Iqbal, Chak De India and Lagaan. But he feels Main Hoon Shahid Afridi is purely Pakistani and is different from the kind of scripts Saeed has been known for. “People expect me to produce something which is themed around shaadi, romance and emotion but I was keen on doing something different,” he continues.
“In India, several sports films have been made. But in general, it’s quite risky to make these because they come across as dry,” he adds, saying he was dreading that. “But I feel if it’s done intelligently, then it could turn out to be an exciting project.” A lot of collective input and effort made this film come to life. “Everyone was tense yet interested in how we could make this film great. You will see that viewers will like this project too,” he says.
The film is about a young boy (played by Habib) who dreams of becoming the famous cricketer Shahid Afridi one day. The local club he plays for, however, goes bankrupt and that changes the whole ball game. In order to deal with the hard times, Habib must figure out a way (with a team of misfits) to win a major local tournament in Sialkot. They ultimately seek the help of an ex-cricketer named Akbar Deen (played by Saeed) who has a dark past.
“Unfortunately, new actors have the tendency to become commercially-inclined but the people we found for this film, are [genuinely] interested in doing good work,” says Saeed, about the cast. “And I think that is very important.”
Speaking about the film’s music, Saeed says it will be released on June 29. The soundtrack has four songs by Shani Arshad Ali and Kamran Ismail-Kami aka Shani and Kami while the lyrics have been written by Sabir Zafar and Nadeem Asad. “The music is brilliant. Even if all songs are not hits, I am 110% sure that at least two songs will be very successful,” he says enthusiastically.
Saeed strongly feels that this change in Pakistani cinema, in which new people will step up and make new films consistently, will ultimately result in the revival of the film industry. “I will be making two films — they are going to be different [from the usual duration] and will be about an hour and a half or two hours long each,” he says. “What digital [videos/films] have done, is that they has opened doors for films to be made. We will make mistakes, but I think it’s a good starting point.”

Saturday, 8 June 2013

It’s time for Lollywood to shape up

Bollywood’s completion of 100 years should encourage our film-makers. DESIGN : ESSA MALIK
Like many, we are a nation that takes pride in its history. But unlike other nations, we tend to live in our glorious past. Whether it’s being fascinated by the Ottoman Empire, in comparison to present day affairs, or the clichéd golden years of Pakistani cinema, we are only fond of our brilliant memories and lack the will to build new ones.
It’s probably time to learn from our neighbours; Iran for its cutting edge execution of neo-realist cinema and India, for its big-budget films, timely policies, adaptation of technological innovations, creating a successful environment for entertainment, producing the most number of films annually and of course, for Bollywood marking its 100 years in cinema. But instead, we continue to produce re-makes of Pakistani classics such as Aina and Armaan — screening them as tele-films and calling them “hit filmo ka super hit jor.” These do make us nostalgic but this only reiterates that we are stuck in the “golden era of Lollywood,” which barely ever existed; how does a child, who died in his infancy, have golden years?
Let’s be honest, there is nothing to be proud of. The re-make formula might help get sponsors in the short run but it’s not going to help our industry in the long run. If sponsors invest their money in one good quality feature film instead of numerous low-budget re-makes, things could turn around.
Right now it is the best time for the rebirth of Pakistani cinema — rebirth being the key word, not revival. The fact is that, the influx of Indian films brought audiences back to cinemas, and even films like Race 2 grossed Rs10 million in a month. This may sound like a conservative figure, but it is an achievement for us as we only have 90 to 100 working screens in the country. It’s time to target the expats and help the industry. There is hardly any profit margin with the number of screens present (all films don’t release on all screens either) and the industry can’t get back in shape without a profitable business. We have to make films that are at par with international standards so that regions like the Middle East, US and UK can become potential markets for us.
Is it difficult to make films with high production value? Not really. Finally in Pakistan, there are institutions dedicated to film and media. Some new film-makers have already made documentaries or movies which were screened at international film festivals, but failed to bring any profits to the box office. In recent years, institutes like National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) delivered talented actors in a short time and have made theatre a flourishing industry. If such institutes continue to grow, they can strengthen the foundation for a potential film industry.
Our movies should contain a mix of social issues and elements of Bollywood — a refined version of Khuda Kay Liye, Bol or even Chambaili. The rawness of our stories is our strength, but elements of Bollywood will help make a global footprint.
Bollywood’s completion of 100 years in cinema should encourage our humble beginnings and not our fantasies based purely on envy. We need to accept global trends and let fresh minds take over while crushing the idea to beat Bollywood — we are not at war with them. Our future depends heavily on our clear understanding of global markets. We can capitalise on the cultural and linguistic similarities of the Indian film industry, but without copying them. We have to get it right where they got it wrong, a different meal with a similar recipe. It will be a lengthy process to make our own independent identity in the global market, but at present, we should aim to be an extension of Bollywood — our distinct narratives will make us stand out any way.
With the first truly democratic transition and an attempt at formulating a national framework for film, we are at a critical juncture in the history of Pakistani cinema. It is well within our power to make cinema a lucrative business and a tool for social change. The experienced elders should lay a foundation that can be furnished by the coming generation of educated film-makers. Pakistani cinema awaits a new dawn.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

First Look: Tamanna’s trailer opens up a summer full of movies

Upcoming Lollywood production Tamanna has released its teaser trailer in cinemas across Pakistan, marking the beginning of a summer lined up with a variety of exciting movies from both Bollywood and Hollywood. Starring Omair Rana, Salman Shahid, Mehreen Raheel and Feryal Ali Gauhar, the film has finally been scheduled for a post-Eid release, following several delays.
“In other countries you have a whole network in which you can pitch your film, be it a studio-oriented model or an independent model. Unfortunately, we have none of that here, at all,” says producer Sarah Tareen, who is also the founding member of Pakistan New Cinema Movement.
“You really have to be your own sales agent or the middle man and pretty much do your own thing. As a result, we worked within our resources to maximise the quality of our production, the story and the appeal of the film,” she adds.
Regardless of the constraints, Tareen and her director Steve Moore, have been able to work through the delays and gain the support of people, such as music composer Sahir Ali Bagga and renowned singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan for the soundtrack. The interesting part about the film is that it is inspired by Anthony Schaffer’s 1970 stage play, Sleuth.
Although the film draws inspiration from an English play, it has been made keeping in mind the preferences of the local audience, with characters set in modern-day Lahore and a story based on the reluctance of a young man to accept feudal dominance. Tareen explains that the film’s story was chosen for the Pakistani cinema because of the cultural parallels that were distinctively visible in the play that, in turn, took the film into a cynical, thriller genre, making it Pakistan’s first noir film.
Adapting a classic story from the West provides an interesting base for the film. Moore says that the cultural nuances and the base of the story are well-connected to the local culture. He further explains that the project has been a very collaborative venture in which changes and improvements have been made collectively. “The changes that we have made to the original story of Sleuth are very culture- based; I could have never made these in America,” says Moore. He adds that many film-makers talked about the idea of such a movie and how it should have its own feel, which is often the key to such films being so wonderfully unique.
The director emphasises that the delays that occurred in the end, for various reasons, ended up helping the film for the better because it meant that there was more time available to refine it and make the story more suitable for Pakistani viewers. “We didn’t just write the script in two months and make the film; we had quite a lot of serious delays. But these delays meant that we had a long time to work on the script which turned out be a big advantage for us,” he admits.
“The story is good,” he continues, adding that the audiences will not have to worry about the fact that it is based on a classic play.  “I may make mistakes as a film-maker, that is just their [people’s] opinion, but they cannot say that the story itself is weak. It would be like sayingMacbeth or King Lear is weak,” he adds

Monday, 3 June 2013

Art = (Love)²: A film on love, life and loss

The multi-talented Mumtaz Hussain introduces his award-winning project to a limited audience at T2F. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN
When a couple is madly in love, and one of them dies, leaving a void space in one’s heart, it takes longer than anticipated to accept that the person is no more and it takes even longer to outgrow the feeling when it comes bizarrely unexpected. Art = (Love)², a film by artist Mumtaz Hussain, is a portrayal of a similar emotion.
The film, which was more a work of art, was screened at The Second Floor (T2F) over the weekend, and was followed by a conversation with the film-maker.
The award-winning movie is about a quintessential couple, Dean and Isabella, living in New York. The two make a unique pair with Dean being a painter and Isabella, a mathematician, occupied in a world of numbers and equations. However, as fate might have it, Isabella dies a rather mysterious death, leaving Dean in utter despair, who then begins his mad search for the reality of Isabella’s death. The 90-minute movie is a great mix of passion and emotion captured through flashbacks of Dean’s mind and his current state of creative madness, perfectly depicting how love can drive someone crazy. Matched with crisp dialogues and beautiful cinematography, the film clearly represents the brilliant effort of its cast and crew.
The screening was followed by an extensive conversation with the film’s writer and director, Mumtaz Hussain, who is a graduate of the National College of Arts, Lahore. Hussain has studied film-making and graphic design from New York but he originally comes from a small village near Jhang in Punjab called Rodu-Sultan.
Being a small-town boy who managed to live the American dream, Hussain has so far made seven films, including Butterfly Screams, a film on 9/11 and Soul Civilization, which was screened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
While speaking to the audience, Hussain, who is a great fan of Italian and Iranian cinema, said, “I am a painter and I make a living by selling my work.” He added, “I make my money through my paintings and spend it on my passion of film-making.”
He said that the story was inspired from the murder of his teacher and Pakistan’s pioneering painter and sculptor, Zahoorul Akhlaq and his elder daughter Jahanara. “I built my work of fiction on this existent fact,” he admitted.
Hussain was not the only celebrity present at the screening. Pakistan’s renowned cartoonist Rafique Ahmed aka Feica also accompanied the film-maker and is apparently an old friend of Hussain’s. “Our association dates back 30 years,” said Ahmed. When asked about why he left the country, Hussain said “Out of curiosity and for the sake of higher education.” His journey for self-discovery took him through Europe and finally to the United States, where he has now been living for over 20 years.