April Issue 2018
An Industry Awakens
By Deneb Sumbul
With the aim to be one of the largest film festivals in the country, the Pakistan International Film Festival (PIFF), a project of the Karachi Film Society — its parent body — was held in a four-day whirlwind programme (March 29 – April 1) comprising an impressive line-up of seminars, premieres, exhibitions, workshops, star-studded gala dinners and a glamorous closing ceremony at Karachi’s Frere Hall. In the process, with an aim to give an open platform to local independent filmmakers, they were invited to submit their stories, some of them compelling, thereby discovering new talent in the country. The festival also welcomed international filmmakers to share their best and award-winning films.
More than 1,500 submissions from 93 countries were received by PIFF for consideration, out of which 210 from 30 countries were shortlisted for screening at the festival. The PIFF jury selected an immense diversity of films that showcased the formidable talents of local and international filmmakers. During the festival, a series of screenings of documentary shorts, feature films, documentaries and virtual reality (VR) films were shown across Karachi at select cinema halls and institutions including the Nueplex Cinema , Goethe Institut, Iqra University Defence, Iqra University North Nazimabad, Alliance FranÃ§aise and The Second Floor (T2F).
Simultaneously, three-day seminars were conducted at the Ziauddin University Clifton Campus, comprising discussions that touched on a wide range of subjects related to the cinema industry. What made the discussions particularly interesting was the fact that the largest international delegation was from our neighbouring ‘enemy’ country, and the one with the world’s largest film industry, India.
A 23-delegate strong Indian contingent arrived with visible and vocal enthusiasm about being part of something new and important emerging in Pakistan. ‘Collaborations across borders: Possibilities and Future Directors’ was among the first sessions held on day one of the festival and featured renowned Indian actor/director Nandita Das, screenwriter Anjum Rajabali, musician Harsh Narayan, Pakistani director Asim Raza and actor Sajal Ali. The discussion was moderated by Asif Noorani.
The PIFF encompassed pre-Festival activities such as the three-day Digital Storytelling Workshop, in which young participants were asked to develop their ideas for short films, and finalise their storytelling processes before heading out to shoot their stories. The workshops included talks and training by professional directors, producers and writers on various aspects of filmmaking, such as Rasheed Noorani; Salman Sirindhi, Nadeem Baig and Sarmad Khoosat, film editor Rizwan AQ, and post-production training by Ali Ijaz and Salman Sirhindi. The workshop concluded with a certificate distribution by the chief guest, academy award-winning director/producer Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, a member of the board of directors of the PIFF.
The workshop was followed by another pre-Festival activity: Mobile Screenings organised by PIFF at six venues across Karachi, starting with the Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture; the Abdullah Haroon Community Centre in Khadda Lyari, the Szabist Auditorium at 90 campus; the Memon Goth Community Hall in Malir; the main campus of Iqra University, and the Murshid Auditorium in Muachh Goth Hub.
The founder/President of PIFF, Sultana Siddiqui, also hosted another pre-PIFF event titled ‘The Celebration of Women in Film’ to coincide with Women’s Day. The event was a seminar, the first of its kind to celebrate the contributions and challenges of Pakistani women in film, particularly female directors. In the course of the insightful panel discussions, some renowned women fimmakers shared the obstacles they faced in the entertainment industry and how they overcame them (see ‘Celluloid Queens’).
Unarguably the moving spirit behind the PIFF, Sultana Siddiqui also hosted a star-studded gala dinner on the second day of the festival at the Beach Luxury. The highlight of that evening, apart from the eastern and western fusion music by the Sachal Jazz Ensemble, was the arrival of Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. In his speech, he avowed his full support and encouragement for the PIFF, which he said would be considerably enhanced if his party is elected into office during the next elections.
The film festival was kicked off by the screening of debutant director Asim Abbasi’s highly lauded film, Cake, which had already won him accolades in the UK. For the premiere of Cake there were more viewers than seats for the screening. Out of the 18 feature films presented during the Festival, the majority were from India, followed by Pakistan, Nepal and Germany. A total of eight movie premieres were held for the films Cake, The Valley, Lala Begum, Moomal Rano, The Song of Scorpions, Kuch Bheege Alfaaz, The Wishing Tree and Zaraab — the latter being the first Balochi language film to premiere in Pakistan.
The grand finale of the Festival was topped off with an Award Ceremony, hosted at the Frere Hall with a guest list that boasted the who’s who of Pakistan’s entertainment industry. Mehreen Jabbar’s film Lala Begum won the award for the Best Feature film while Perween Rahman — The Rebel Optimist, by documentary filmmaker, Mahera Omar, won in the Best Documentary Feature category.
The Best Actor and Best Actress awards were given to Fahad Mustafa and Mehwish Hayat respectively for the film Actor-in-Law, while the movie Punjab Nahi Jaungi was given the award for Best Film. The Best Director award went to Nadeem Baig, and the Best Script trophy to Khalil ur Rehman Qamar. Ali Rahman Khan and Hania Amir were awarded the Best Debut Male and Best Debut Female respectively for the film Janaan, while the film’s editor, Mitesh Soni, was awarded the Best Edit.
Sahir Ali Bagga received the award for the Best Music for the film Arth 2 and honours for Best Cinematography went to Rana Kamran for Na Maloom Afraad 2. And last, but not least, multi-talented and popular actor/singer across Pakistan and India, Ali Zafar, was given an award for ‘Artist for Peace.’ Interestingly, an international jury comprising 19 judges including from Pakistan, awarded Veil Done from India as the Best Documentary Short while Aghaei Nazim from Iran earned the Best Short film title.
Speaking at the closing event, the Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, Marriyum Aurangzeb, thanked the delegation for coming to Pakistan and revealed plans to initiate the ‘Pakistan Film Awards’ — hopefully in May. The evening closed for the delighted audience to the memorable vocals of Sufi queen of music, Abida Parveen and a fashion showcase, followed by dinner.
Behind the Scenes
By Mahnoor Farooqui
PIFF held a series of panel discussions from March 29 — March 31, at the Ziauddin College of Media Sciences, to promote Pakistan’s cinematic industry by creating an interactive space for an exchange of dialogue and ideas. The panelists included acclaimed directors, producers, writers, musicians, actors and entrepreneurs from both India and Pakistan. Two sessions a day were held consecutively in the Ziauddin auditorium, on a range of topics on the entertainment industry. The auditorium was packed through the three days, with attendees from the press and entertainment industry, media veterans – such as president of Hum Network, Sultana Siddiqui, and former senator Javed Jabbar – media students from programmes across Karachi, and aspiring filmmakers and actors who came to sit in the sessions.
The first panel on ‘Film Diplomacy and Cross-Border Collaboration’ included director Asim Raza, screenwriter Anjum Rajabali, actor Nandita Das, sarangi player Harsh Narayan, actor Sajal Ali, and filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj. Moderated by writer Asif Noorani, the panel discussed past collaborations, the current political climate and tenuous relations between the two countries. A vital part in the talk was the importance of maintaining the exchange of culture and art, in spite of any burgeoning current issues.
The second panel of the day, ‘Innovation on Screen: Digital Dimensions,’ had panelists Taimoor Salahuddin also known as ‘Mooro,’ the musician, Abrar Ali Khan, the founder and CEO of Rockville Technologies and Farees Shah, the general manager of Iflix and Ali Ahsan. With Tazeen Hussain as moderator, the talk was centred around the expansion of digital media, and the possibilites that presented itself with its growth.
The third panel discussion, held on the second day of the festival, March 30, was titled ‘Genre Busters: The Exploration of Genre in the South Asian Film Industry,’ and included Nandita Das, producer Sana Tauseef, director Adnan Sarwar, director S.S. Rajmouli, producer Shobu Yarlagadda and actor Vinay Pathak. The panel discussed the commercially relevant genres of action, drama, romance and comedies in subcontinental cinema, and compared it to the one-dimensional genre of western movies. Yarlagadda spoke of the mainstream quality of India’s highest grossing movie, Baahubhali, which led to its success and a worldwide box office gross of over $100 million. The film had the advantage of not falling into any specific genre, and being enjoyable for all age groups.
The panel discussion led to a general agreement that the art of storytelling is integral to any good film, and a specific genre – and whether it will be commercially relevant – is not what makes a movie successful. “Should we not tell stories that less people will watch?” said Nandita. “What if a story does not need a happy ending, what if a story does not need a song and dance? In literature we have novellas, short stories and poetry, but we limit the film industry, which is driven by the media.”
She then proceeded to state – what seemed to be an incredibly popular notion from the audience’s thunderous applause – how Hollywood and Bollywood have both ruined the film industry. “Every type of work should be accessible,” she continued. “The mainstream will always remain, but the space for independent filmmaking and artistry must be established.”
The panel discussed as to how giving a film a specific genre can limit it, and producer Sana Tauseef spoke of the limited resources available in the Pakistani industry, and how that too, can limit certain works, as there are not enough capabilities or technology to include a variation of genres, such as fantasy or science-fiction, incorporated with animation. Filmmaker Adnan Sarwar spoke of his production company, and how it is trying to create a distinct identity for itself by producing well-made films of varying genres in a small budget. “When I watch the movie we’ve made, I can see its shortcomings,” said Sarwar. “The editing is not tight, I can see its sound is not perfect, and my own performance falling short because we are dealing with so much at a time, but people will look past it – and this is important for film students – people will forgive a lot if the story is told honestly.”
The panel ended the talk on the importance of the content in both country’s film industries having its own identity, and that there should be space for all kinds of films. Though Pakistan’s market for family movies is greater, the different speakers stressed on the importance of also creating alternate content in their films, even if it did not bring in as much revenue as a commercially successful genre might.
The fourth panel discussion, held after a brief interval, was titled ‘From Script to Screen and Beyond,’ and included director Zeenat Lakhani, Kamran Jawed, Amin Farooqui, director Saket Chaudhary and Tahir Moosa. The panel spoke on the necessary process of collaboration in bringing a script to life, and how it improves production and cinematic development at every stage. They also delved into the need to ask for help, as Saket Chaudhary spoke of how there is a sense of responsibility towards one another in the Indian film industry, as growth in the industry is only possible if people are given the support and help they require.
Zeenat Lakhani, discussing the process of the movie Hindi Medium, spoke of how cultural influences in content can cross boundaries and make the script relatable, such as Karachi Grammar School being the influence behind the ‘Delhi Grammar School.’ Moderator Aasma Nabil concluded the talk by stating the importance of respect and compromise in the film industry to help bring projects to life.
The fifth panel on the third day of the festival, March 31, was titled ‘Films for Change: Socially Motivated Content in the South Asian Film Industry.’ The panel featured producer Momina Duraid, filmmaker Jami Mehmood, actor Hareem Farooq, director Nishtha Jain, Vishal Bhardwaj and director Subhash Kapoor. The panel discussed the inclusion of social issues in subcontinental cinema, and the importance of masala in movies to attract audiences to watch the movies. Momina Duraid spoke of the need for Pakistan, particularly, to establish its industry through commercial films before pursuing social issue-based projects. Vishal Bhardwaj spoke on the necessary element of fantasy in making movies that incorporate social issues, “If there is no fantasy, do not be a filmmaker. You have to motivate 300 people in cast and crew in making a film. Fantasy is necessary in creating a story and capturing an audience.”
The final panel, ‘The Future of Music and Lyrics: How Important is Music in the Subcontinental Cinema,’ featured singer Rekha Bhardwaj, Asif Noorani, Sultan Arshad, Vishal Bhardwaj, musician Ali Zafar, writer Dr Omer Adil and moderator Arshad Mehmood. The discussion was centred around the evolution of subcontinental music, and the emotive importance of it in movies. “A single lyric can explain more than 20 dialogues can,” said Vishal Bhardwaj. The audience was treated to brief performances: Rekha sang a few lines of her hit song ‘Hamri Attariya,’ Ali Zafar sang his song ‘Jhoom’ and Vishal sang ‘Dil Tou Bacha Hai Ji’. The panel sessions were holistic in their content and interactive in nature, with the floor opening to questions and answers from the audience at the end of each talk.
The writer is a documentary filmmaker and activist. She is working with the Newsline as editorial assistant.