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instep interview
"Awarapan is an Indian film and yet Khuda Kay Liye is
giving it a run for its money. It's a good omen."

– Hasan Zaidi on the changing dynamics of cinema in Pakistan
Having attended Cannes this year, Karafilm Festival director Hasan Zaidi understands both the art and the business of cinema. A filmmaker himself, Hasan speaks with Instep about Cannes, censorship laws, Indian films, the future of Karafilm and that of films in Pakistan...

By Maheen Sabeeh

Instep: What did you think of Khuda Kay Liye?
Hasan Zaidi: It is a very daring and nuanced film. The actors were good. I felt that it could've been tighter in length. One technical glitch that I saw was the folly sound. It basically means that when you dub a film, sound is put into it like the sound of someone walking and so forth. That was missing. But that is a small glitch. Khuda Kay Liye is overall a good film that is definitely engaging.

Instep: The success of Khuda Kay Liye has broken myths about the kinds of films that can work in Pakistan. It is unlike most Pakistani films and yet, it has done phenomenal business all over Pakistan.

HZ: Khuda Kay Liye has broken a number of myths. The myth that people from television can't make successful films is broken. Secondly, if a film is relevant, topical and well-made, it has as much chance of success as any great movie. It is a fallacy that formula film works. No one can predict which film will work and which won't. One hopes that with the success of Khuda Kay Liye, cinema exhibitors, distributors and investors will be brave enough to take chances with different kinds of films. Awarapan is an Indian film and yet Khuda Kay Liye is doing equally well. They are running side by side and KKL is giving Awarapan a run for its money. It is a good omen.
Instep: A new wave of filmmakers are coming into the scene. Is a change near?
HZ: One film, be it even Khuda Kay Liye, can't revive Pakistani cinema. But yes, when new filmmakers come in with different stories and it is on a consistent pace, one is optimistic that a change will come about. If one film is successful and so is the second and a third, then momentum will pick up.

There is also a huge pressure on cinemas now. There aren't enough cinemas operating in the country. You have Kaafila, The Last Legion, Marigold - all these films coming in and not enough cinemas to exhibit these films. Prince doesn't want to lose KKL because it's doing very well; Nishat wants to continue running Awarapan because it is also doing good. Now where do you put up these new films? With new cinemas and new filmmakers, a complete change will come. Until then one can only be optimistic!

Instep: Awarapan has released in local cinemas and Kaafila is set to open. What is your take on this?
HZ: I recently had a discussion with people in the government about this. You cannot imagine how bizarre these laws are. The original law was that any film with either any Indian content or Indian actors or Indian production was not allowed in Pakistan. They modified it recently to allow films which have international co-productions shot abroad to be screened.
Instep: Then what about films like Mughal-e-Azam?
HZ: That was a special exemption from the president. There is no institutionalization in anything. Everyone knows that Javed Fazil's film was completely shot in India. But the government responses by saying 'Oh but one can't tell'. That is the kind of logic that works here.

Indian films are being watched in Pakistan as it is. There are arguments that Indian films will destroy the Pakistani film industry. But our industry has already been destroyed.
What we need to do is capitalize on where we lack the most, which is good scripts, technical expertise, trained crew and labs.

If you allow Indian films to be released here, more people will watch it, but when money comes in the box office, someone's got money, they'll be like, 'these films are working, why shouldn't I make my film and run it?'
Instep: In simple terms, what needs to be done with the censorship laws?
HZ: The problem with censorship laws is that they are completely arbitrary. It depends on who is sitting in the room and what they find objectionable. In order for all these bizarre laws to change, someone needs to take an initiative. It either has be in the Parliament or an Executive Order because some of these aren't even laws. They are just rules that can be overturned.
Instep: Is Karafilm Festival technically legal?
HZ: Now it is. But it's tentative. We do have the permission to hold the festival but it's not there in the law. If someone else wants to do a similar festival, it'll be technically illegal. Again they will have to go and ask for special exemption. What we've been constantly telling them is that it's great that you've given us the support but we need to go beyond it and towards an institutional support.

Instep: Tell us about joint collaborations with India. The Bhatts have been coming here and Pakistani musicians are going there and so forth. But what more needs to happen?
HZ: Joint collaborations have been happening for the last 5-6 years. Every big Pakistani film is a joint collaboration with India. Main Ek Din Laut Ke Aaonga was entirely shot in India with an Indian actress; Shoaib Mansoor's Khuda Kay Liye was edited in India; Yeh Dil Aap Ka Hua had its post production done there and so on. Singers, crews, choreographers, all are Indians.
It should be institutionalized because it's already happening and we have to gain from it. I'm not in favor of going there and shooting. It should be done here so people can learn here. They'll come and spend money here. They'll use local people and people will earn jobs, spend money here. When it comes to technical expertise, Bollywood has become equal to Hollywood.

The other thing is to be able to use their actors. If I have a role, which isn't fit for an actor here, why shouldn't I be able to go across the border? It's because that role cannot be done by a foreigner. It can only be done by one of us, someone whose skin color is the same, talks in the same language.
Plus with joint collaboration, you have this huge market opening up. If you have a big release here, they release like 25-30 prints. In India, they release 200-300 prints and that's just Bollywood.

We also have this fantasy that video music directors will make great film directors. The number of video music directors who've actually made it big can be counted on one hand because it's a completely different genre all together. A music video shot is not for more than 2-3 seconds, where you hold the shot and tell the story. It becomes very difficult for people who're not used to it but never the less, I'm sure there are some people who may make a mark. Saqib Malik is a very good prospect. Will he ever get to make that film? I mean its getting delayed for what ever reasons but you can't expect the industry to become good, if you don't allow it to grow.
The other thing that they keep saying is that these films are against Pakistan, not mine, but generally that is a huge problem. Look at A Mighty Heart, the story is such that in no way it paints a great picture of Pakistan; someone came here and got killed. America has such films, but in the outside world people see it as one part of the country.

Instep: Last year, there were number of people who were supposed to come to Karafilm Festival - Saif Ali Khan, Jafar Panahi, Anupam Kher and Shiney Ahuja - why couldn't they come?
HZ: Their tickets had gone out but different people had different issues. Anupam Kher suddenly called and said 'my father is ill and I have to go to Simla'. Shiney Ahuja was shooting a film and he thought could get away for a few days but the shooting extended, so he couldn't make it.
Saif Ali Khan and his girlfriend were both supposed to come but at the last minute, I don't know, some shooting and date problems came up. There's only so much you can do planning wise. I mean, we're not paying them and you can't force them. They're doing it out of goodwill.

Jafar Panahi had a different issue. He was attending various festivals including Kara. He went to get a visa at the Pakistan embassy. The embassy made him spent the whole day there. We were told that he'll get the visa the same day because he had just that one day to get the visa and they told him to come back another day and he said 'I can't do it, I don't have another day'.
Instep: How do you guys run Karafilm Festival in terms of finance?
HZ: This was the first year that we've actually been able to establish an office. Earlier on, it was all being operated from my home and eventually my house was full of Kara stuff. It just became ridiculous and we desperately needed to move out. Whenever we had little bit of money leftover from office expenses, we used to think what if we don't have enough money next year, so we kept it aside. But then it became impossible to operate from home. We didn't have space for volunteers anymore. We've basically been operating from our pockets and this time we had a little bit of sponsorship.

Instep: What are the future plans for Karafilm Festival?
HZ: One is Kara Academy, which is basically going to provide training in various spheres of filmmaking because there is a huge need for it. It's long term but the plan is definitely there.

The second is Kara Distribution. The films that are shown at Karafilm Festival, only we have the rights for screening them. So we're looking into ways of how they can be shown. The idea is not to go for DVDs initially because that can get copied… but looking into more in terms of selling its rights to television channels.

We have huge number of contacts around the world via festivals and people come here as well, buyers and distributors. People are interested in using us a means to promote their films, and at the same time, to promote Pakistani cinema abroad with Kara distribution.

The third thing is the Kara Film Club which basically means having screening throughout the year. We haven't worked out a way just yet. It will be something you can become a member of and can watch screenings every week or couple of nights.

Instep: Other than film makers, the public and actors, have distributors or buyers attended Karafilm Festival?
HZ: A few but not a huge number. I mean we don't have what is called a 'market'. The biggest part of a festival is what's known as a market. They have thousands of marketers and distributors. In fact, Cannes is mostly industry; it's not geared towards people alone. Generally there's a small portion, where you have people coming in and watching the films but generally the rest of it is either the industry itself meaning a producer or a director or a sound technician or cinematographer. You have to show your documentation to show why you are part of the festival and there is the bigger portion where the distributors, exhibitors and the buyers are present from all over the world so obviously we're not at that stage yet.

Hopefully, eventually we'll like to establish a market as an important part of the festival but right now you can't even sell a film in Pakistan, let alone someplace else. But nevertheless, we have people who come just to look at the festival.

Instep: What are the major problems when it comes to filmmaking?
HZ: Film finance is a big issue everywhere in the world. In Pakistan, the issue is more because people don't see a return on it. In abroad, you have institutions or finance banks who'll fund films. They'll give loans. Here, there are not even willing to do that. People don't think it's worth it. So we've given proposals that we need to create some sort of funding for films or financial institutions to set aside a certain amount for films.

All the books are all doctored. But suppose they were forced to do this, to give funding, they'll make sure that the books are not doctored. They'll force us to be more transparent.

The other thing we need to focus on is how to develop better scripts because that's the major problem with Pakistani show business and the reason is nobody is willing to put money in the scripts. You have script writers who've written ten scripts at one time just to make money. The quality will definitely suffer. I mean, 50,000-100,000 rupees is being given to write a script. They don't realize that appropriate time is not spent on the script so that has to be changed. Also creating some sort of award competition for good scripts might incline a change.

Instep: What is your verdict on A Mighty Heart since you saw it at Cannes Film Festival this year?
HZ: There is a misconception about A Mighty Heart being shot in India and not Karachi. All the outside shows have been shot right here. Some parts are shot in India. Interiors could've been shot anywhere.
The biggest problem that I saw in the film is that it didn't give me any insight beyond what I already knew, having read the book. Knowing Michael Winterbottom's versatility and talent I kept wondering why he's making this film and I kept hoping it'll bring something more to it. It's a very straight forward film but I wanted more from it. I couldn't see any depth in the film.

Instep: Being a festival director yourself, how was it going to the Cannes Film Festival?
HZ: I tried to look at the way they organize things. There are certain things one can look at: the importance of good scripts, that's what the audiences really appreciate. There infrastructure is massive and in just their main venue, they have 16 or 17 cinemas.

On the other hand, access to general public is limited there.
It would be really nice if we could have some sort of permanent venue for Kara. That's something we've been looking into. Obviously, it's a long term plan. But it's a quite mind boggling experience. No matter what one's heard about it, the scale of it and the grandeur… it's huge!

I mean we were 3 or 4 Pakistanis there, Satish Anand was also there and we were talking about how to bring a Pakistani film to Cannes. Obviously, the first step has to be better films.

There is an interesting type of beginning that is happening where Shoaib Mansoor's film is out, Saqib Malik's film is coming, Mehreen Jabbar's film is coming and my film is also coming. A new kind of cinema is starting up and hopefully in the next 2-3 years, we'll start getting new types of Pakistani films which actually might be good enough to be showcased around the world.

I do hope that I get to go to Cannes next year as well. The first year at Cannes is like an orientation class, you get to figure out what's going since it's so huge.

Instep: You met with Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Michael Winterbottom. How was that?
HZ: I've met Michael many times before. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were fine. They were normal as they can be. I was able to meet them because there was a private dinner after the screening and that way I properly met them. 50 -60 people were at the dinner. But the problem with the stars is, because they are so famous, they are monitored and controlled by their handlers. Their handlers were always trying to isolate them from the people. But they were fine.

Instep: Can we expect A Mighty Heart at Karafilm Festival this year?
HZ: I was thinking about it because I was talking to people I thought it would be nice given that the film is about Karachi and Pakistan to have the screening here. So many Pakistanis are involved with it that it would be nice to have it just for their sake. But I'm not sure right now.
Instep: What about Brad and Angelina…

HZ: Both Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie said we'll love to come and as a commitment to you, we'll come. But I still think it's a very small chance because you have to deal with their handlers, they might want to come, but their handlers would say, 'don't go there'.

Instep: Are you working on a film?
HZ: Yes. The only thing I can talk about is that it is a thriller. The script is almost done. I have some people in mind but right now I can't say much. It is a film set in Karachi again and one liner would be 'love and crime in Karachi'. It will not be screened at Karafilm Festival because work will start after the festival. It is geared towards a commercial release.

The biggest problem that I saw in A Mighty Heart is that it didn't give me any insight beyond what I already knew, having read the book. Knowing Michael Winterbottom's versatility and talent I kept wondering why he's making this film and I kept hoping it'll bring something more to it. It's a very straight forward film but I wanted more from it. I couldn't see any depth in the film.

There is a huge pressure on cinemas now. There aren't enough cinemas operating in the country. You have Kaafila, The Last Legion, Marigold - all these films coming in and not enough cinemas to exhibit these films. Prince doesn't want to lose Khuda Kay Liye because it's doing very well; Nishat wants to continue running Awarapan because it is also doing good. Now where do you put up these new films?