October Issue 2003
Interview: Sabiha Sumar
“My film does not make any value judgements”
– Sabiha Sumar
Q: Is Khamosh Pani based on a true story?
A: : The situations depicted are based on research findings and on what I learnt from people I met in India and Pakistan. But the characters are all fictitious.
Q:Post-September 11, Khamosh Pani could face the criticism that it feeds into certain western stereotypes of Islamists and indulges in some more country-bashing. How would you respond to the charge?
A: Do you think my film indulges in country-bashing? It would be very sad for me if the film were looked at that way. I have shown a small slice of life and the dangers that face us if we give in to extremism. We have depicted a part of life that touched me as a woman. I have shown many people in the film who are also Pakistanis and represent liberal spirits in the society. With so many positive characters in the film, how can one take it as country-bashing?
Khamosh Pani is a human interest story about society. I have made no value judgments in the film. All I’ve tried to do is show what extremism can do if we let it fester, through the life of one woman and her son. My idea was not to criticise any group of people, and I have shown that you can be believers and good Muslims without being extremists.
Q: Did you face any problems filming in Pakistan, and working with a multinational cast and crew?
A:It was not an easy task at all. Our team comprised Pakistanis, Indians, Sri Lankans, Britishers, French and Germans, along with an Indian and Pakistani cast. It took us four years to get everything together. We had three starts — the first in 2000, which didn’t take off because of a limited budget and crew. As Pakistan lacks the technical infrastructure for making a film of international standard, we were dependent on foreign expertise. We couldn’t afford this expense initially, since the only funding we had was through our company. Then, when we finally managed to get the project rolling with help from French and German co-producers and flew in film experts from Germany and France to run workshops and train people who had little or no knowledge of acting and film-making. Then 9/11 happened and we had to shelve everything. The team had to leave Pakistan. The third time we got lucky: we completed the film last year after a nine-week shoot.
The film was shot in Wah village on the Grand Trunk Road. The villagers were aware of the story and felt we were portraying reality. They were very happy to be a part of it. We didn’t have any trouble finding extras, as we trained and cast many people from the village.
Q: Do you plan to hold training workshops for all your future films?
A: We hope to bring in experts for every film, until we have a group of technical professionals in Pakistan. Our efforts are geared toward building up an infrastructure for film-making in Pakistan. It is not anyone’s fault — it’s just that the country has not provided any technical support or backup. How can your television meet international standards if it doesn’t have a film and television school offering proper professional training? We have sub-standard technical work because our technicians have learnt only from watching their fathers.
Q: With so many investors involved in the project, did you at any point feel you had to compromise on your artistic vision?
A: No, fortunately. When we started out, we had the story, script and cast in place and had already put in our money to bring it to that level. Plus, we had roped in a broadcaster from a German television company, and as the commissioning editor there was familiar with my work and the fact that I would not make any compromises, she took the project on as it was. When we attracted the other investors they were not allowed to make any changes to the basic script or story. Had they come before the development phase had already been completed, it might have been different. Our co-producers were really excellent because not only did they raise funds, but also worked towards making the film better.
Q: Were you conscious of treading on certain toes when making the film?
A: No. The story was very powerful and I just got carried away with it. If I had been constantly editing my thoughts, it wouldn’t have had the power it has. I just decided that this was a story I wanted to tell and that I would tell it as best as I can, as honestly as possible and to the best of my technical abilities.
Q: Have you entered the film at any other festival besides the 56th Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland?
A: The film’s premiere was held in Locarno and the show for the media in Karachi was our second screening. I had made it very clear to my agents that Pakistan was my priority. It is going all over the world now, and between October and December, will be shown in Canada, S. Korea, England, Greece and Germany.
Q: Are you planning to release Khamosh Pani commercially in Pakistan?
A: I would love it, if it were shown and distributed in Pakistan. This is why we had a special showing for the media and film distributors — to generate interest in the film and get feedback from them. We will also be showing it at the Kara film festival in Karachi in December. If a distributor wishes to take it up for the smaller cinema houses, we would be open to the idea as our priority is to exhibit the film in Pakistan. We have a world sales agent in France and distributors in Switzerland, Germany and Canada, so if anyone is interested, they are welcome to contact them.
Q: What next?
A: I’ve just finished a documentary that has been shown on German television, called ‘For a place under the Heavens.’ It takes stock of the Pakistani woman’s situation from a very personal standpoint. It looks at the changes in their lives — the recent trend towards religion and their concern for finding their rights within religion.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Karachi. She also works at Hum television.