Film-making set to
steal the show
As film schools start popping up across the country and Media Studies courses being offered at universities, the time is ripe for the youth in Karachi to take up a new career path: film-making
By Rafay Mahmood
Experts differ on whether the centre of the film industry can ever swing from Lahore to Karachi, but they all say with confidence that with pioneering events such as the Kara Film Festival, matters in Karachi are about to change.
"The centre of the film industry will never shift from Lahore to Karachi, but there is a chance Karachi can re-emerge as the hub if certain measures are taken by both filmmakers and the government," remarks Hassan Zaidi, director of the Kara Film Festival and a leading film-maker himself.
In Zaidi's opinion, such changes need to occur at a basic level for cinema culture to revive in Karachi. "There should be more multiplexes and more international films brought to Pakistan," he says, and adds that it is too early to compare the type of movies film-makers in Karachi will churn out compared to those in Lahore. "Right now, we should be focusing on the number of films coming out, rather than where they are coming from."
Even so, Zaidi has words of praise for the upcoming film-makers of Karachi. "The good thing about them is that they are exposed to more international films, which broadens their horizon," he says, but dismisses the role the rising number of institutes offering film-making courses have played so far.
"All these institutes are very new at the moment," he points out. "They have produced barely one batch of graduates, and in most cases, not even that, so we cannot conclude how quickly such institutes will bring about a change."
However, Zaidi believes that there will come a time where such institutes will bring about a change. Already, following in the footsteps of the Karachi Film Festival, pioneer of film festivals in Pakistan, institutes such as the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (SZABIST) and the National University of Science and Technology have started organising their own film festivals. But he is somewhat critical of the type of films currently being produced.
"Festivals like the ones at SZABIST promote non-commercial features, which are short films," he says. "Such short films are produced in great number in Karachi, but the truth is that nothing else is being produced. There are no features."
Maheen Zia, another leading filmmaker in Pakistan and a jury member of a number of film festivals, agrees. "There are a number of good documentaries and animations being produced in Karachi, but we lack narrative films, which are essential if cinemas are to prosper," she says.
But unlike Zaidi, Zia still feels that Karachi is the hub of film-making in the country, despite the fact that young film-makers are focusing purely on documentaries.
"Karachi has to be the hub because here, film-making and visual studies are being taught at a higher level," she explains. Defending those who are starting out in the field, Zia stresses that film-makers in Pakistan are relatively young and inexperienced, making it unfair to compare their work to short films screened in Iran or Iraq or any other country, for that matter."
One of the other reasons Zia is optimistic is because as compared to the rest of the world, the cost of film production in Pakistan is still very low. Moreover, she feels that festivals such as the ZAB Film Fest 2009 provide young film-makers with a platform to share their work.
"I am hopeful about the future of cinema in Karachi," she adds. "Institutes like SZABIST and the University of Karachi now have filmmaking and visual studies programmes, which is the first step towards establishing filmmaking as a career."
But till these students emerge as professional film-makers, the gap is being filled stand-up comedians as actors in remakes of Indian blockbusters like Devdas, Tere Naam, Munna Bhai MBBS and Ghajini to name a few. The popularity of these feature films among the local audience can be gauged from the fact that the VCDs sell like hot cakes as soon as they hit the market – the Rainbow Centre being one of them.
Initially, the films were financed by comedians who conceived the idea such as Sikander Sanam (a disciple of comedy king Omar Sharif), and shot with the help of production houses on a relatively low budget, but owing to the popularity of the films, trends have changed. Recently, the remakes of Indian films were sponsored by private TV channels and subsequently aired following which their DVDs were released in the market. Moreover, the films were sold at Rs150 – the same price as an original Pakistan film like 'Khuda Key Liye' – although Zaidi believes it is wrong to call such films 'remakes'.
"A remake is when you make the whole film again with the same basic story line," he says. "Films like Ghajini 2 and Tere Naam 2 are parodies. People like to watch them, but because they are never classified as films, they do not affect the film industry at all."
Zia feels the same way, but is certain that with the advent of Kara and other similar festivals, and with film-making now being made a part of academics, things are about to change. "If not in the next five years, within the next couple of decades, there will be a new type of cinema in Pakistan, and it will come from Karachi," she predicts.
'Future film-makers should have low expectations'
By Samina W. Perozani
Mansoor Khalid, a promising young film-maker, is the head of the Content and Communication Department at Evernew Studios in Karachi. A former student of the Department of Mass Communication at the University of Karachi, Khalid worked as a copy writer for Lowe and Rauf briefly and then went on to do his Master's in Media Studies from the University of East London. It was Khalid's stint at Aag Televisionupon his return in 2005 and his subsequent production of the show titled 'Aag Shorts' that put him in the limelight. Here, he talks to Kolachi about making movies, the challenges involved, and his experience thus far.
Kolachi: Tell us a little bit about 'Aag Shorts' and your work at Evernew.
Mansoor Khalid: Well, basically, 'Aag Shorts' was an experimental project and focused on bringing together amateur film-makers on one platform. In each episode of the show, one short film was shown, which was followed by a discussion or critique. Short films from all genres produced by film-makers in both Karachi and Lahore were put together. The show ran for two quarters and the good thing about it was that while it did have a niche viewership, it was not class-specific. The major reason the show was aired was to establish the fact that film-making is serious work and not fun, but unfortunately, the project had to be discontinued for commercial reasons.
My work at Evernew, on the other hand, involves commissioning projects, mainly soaps and serials. Now we are expanding into talk shows as well as game shows, but at the moment, the focus is on television dramas.
Kolachi: You've moved away from mainstream film-making at the studio. Why?
MK: We cannot produce films right now because the profit margins are low. Also, there aren't enough places where movies can be screened, so it's not wise to invest in movies right now. However, we are involved with distributing one Indian movie a month, which I feel has revived cinema culture to an extent. The real test is commercial cinema, and before we can go into production for that, it is important to motivate the masses to go to movie theatres.
Kolachi: Where do you see the Pakistani film industry five years from now?
MK: I feel positive [about the industry], because films will be made. You see, the desire is there, but the industry needs support. In the next five to 10 years, there will probably be more movie theatres and more international movies being screened here. Also, I see at least three or four good commercial films being made in the next five years.
Kolachi: Where do Karachi and the film-makers from the city fit into this entire equation?
MK: I feel that slowly, film-making is returning to Karachi. I mean there is the Punjabi film culture in Lahore, but that has come to a standstill. In Karachi, people are more interested in unconventional movies. Then, there are far more resources in this city - for example, we have many studios here, along with those who have technical expertise. The one thing that we do lack is artistes. Even those artistes who are working in Karachi come from Lahore. We need more local talent.
Kolachi: There are a lot of low-budget movies (for example, Ghajini 2) being made here. How do you feel about such productions?
MK: It just shows a deep desire among drama directors to make movies. It is actually good because at least people are making movies, and if nothing else, the masses are talking about these films, which will only revive cinema culture. People need to start talking about movies to bring back this trend. Since most of these movies are parodies and quite generalised, people are able to relate to them. If the masses can't relate to the movie, you cannot make a statement, and that makes the movie unsuccessful, so I think such productions are kind of successful because people want to watch them.
Kolachi: What should future film-makers keep in mind before they start working?
MK: They should have low expectations. All their work must be done keeping in mind that the industry is unstructured and that they will have to make inroads by themselves. They must understand that once they graduate, they cannot remain isolated from the ground realities. It is a tough industry and you have to be resilient to survive - the people are ruthless and the stakes are high. Any aspiring film-maker will have to put in at least three years of hard work and disappointment, because understanding the dynamics of this industry requires patience and will take time. Finally, they need to be able to relate to the people around them. It will be a process of unlearning and then starting from scratch.
Which movies are currently playing at the cinema?
By Sadia Hanif
Sadeem Munawwar, 19, student:
"I prefer watching movies at home so have no update on what's on, but I know Slumdog Millionaire has been on for a long time now."
Shiraz Farooq, 24, HR coordinator:
"Since I am quite fond of movies I keep a track of what's on in the theatre. Nowadays the Bollywood movie Ek, Slumdog Millionaire and Watchman, a Hollywood movie are being screened."
Momina Aslam, 28, Lecturer:
"Slumdog Millionaire is the only movie I know that is currently being screened."
Iqbal Betker, 31, Assistant Manager:
"Slumdog Millionaire, Watchman, Aa Dekhen Zara are a few I remember. "
Muhammad Zuhaib, 25, Project Manager:
"I know most of them like Watchman, Raaz II, Billu Barber, 13-B. There are few others I can't think of right now."
Fawad Ali, 27, Journalist:
"Ghajini, Watchman and Slumdog Millionaire are some of the movies that I know of."
Arif Ehsan, 38, businessman:
"I am not sure but I've heard Slumdog Millionaire is currently out at the theatres and I am planning to watch it."
Film schools find
their feet in Karachi
The standard of education of local film schools compared with international ones is a core issue that needs to be addressed
By Shiraz Mukarram
Film-making may still be considered an underrated field in Karachi, but with every passing year, the admission of students into film schools in escalating. The local mindset, however, still considers the subject "simple" and "informal".
"Compared with engineering and business majors, the approach towards this popular form of media is not serious," says Anum Haider, a student at Iqra University. "Film-making requires the same devoted efforts needed in any field you specialise in or work hard for, but Karachi has just two film schools and very restricted resources to begin with, even though it is the main city for theatre, film and broadcasting."
There are a number of schools in Karachi offering film-making as a regular subject – Lécole, National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA), Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVSAA), SZABIST and Biztek – but only Iqra University and SZABIST allow students to major in production and offer a four-year bachelor's degree in media sciences. In this case, majoring in production covers the step-by-step channelling of young minds from the development of an idea into a script, its execution, direction, and cinematography.
As far as the other colleges are concerned, IVSAA allows its students to study film-making as a minor, Lécole offers a diploma, and NAPA and Biztek offer courses related to media sciences and production. What sets SZABIST and Iqra apart is that in addition to offering an intense four-year programme and organising film festivals, they are equipped with better studios, auditoriums, cameras, lighting equipment, editing suites, and computer labs for graphic designing. As a result, majority of young film-makers in Karachi are also geared towards producing documentaries after seeking inspiration from those produced in India, the UK, and the US. "It creates awareness, can bring change, and is closer to reality," they say. "It is a medium to communicate with the masses."
Many students may come closer to achieving that goal, as later this year SZABIST will produce its first batch of graduates in the field, providing the city with a fresh set of film-makers.
"Our first batch of the Media Sciences (Production) class from SZABIST will graduate this August, and the students' thesis, a fundamental part of their work in the final year, will be screened at the university where professionals from the industry will be invited to assess their work," informs Daniyal Ali Khan, the Media Science Coordinator and faculty member at the university, and adds "SZABIST will be opening a new campus in 2010 that would provide state-of-art facilities, from full-size studios to fully equipped editing suites and proper classrooms."
Kolachi also learnt that SZABIST has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the New York Film Academy, Abu Dhabi, for a 10-day course on 16mm camera for its third-year production students. The university is also slated to establish a job placement centre for its film-making students and is looking to commence a bachelor's degree in theatre, along with introducing a Master's degree in production (comprising direction and cinematography), taking on board professionals from the industry onto the faculty.
Meanwhile, Iqra University is hopeful of organising events where short films of every genre can be screened and compete at an international level.
But apart from the new facilities SZABIST is arranging for its students and the events Iqra University is set to organise, the standard of education of local film schools compared with international ones is a core issue that needs to be addressed. "Lack of funding and interest at a national level makes it unfeasible for film-making institutes to grow," says a part-time faculty member at Iqra University. "They cannot afford to replace equipment or provide students with the facilities to produce, direct and shoot a film (as opposed to filming digitally). They also cannot provide full-time quality faculty or advertise thoroughly across the country or abroad."
Another teacher from NAPA agrees, but argues that despite the lack of funding and the present law-and-order situation, students are still doing commendable work. "Even with such limited resources and the unstable political situation prevalent in Pakistan that keeps many away from the working environment, students here manage to come up with brilliant short films that can compete at many international film festivals," says the teacher.
Box-ing her way to success
By Meena Ahmed
Passion, patience, self-control and firm commitment: Ambreen Bawany believes that all these elements are essential for anyone who wants to stand on top.
Bawany, a happily married career woman and mother of two, runs her business from home where she designs give-away boxes made for containing presents, although had she not initially designed and prepared similar boxes for a wedding in the family, it is likely she would not be where she is today.
But a series of weddings and personal references later, Bawany's boxes with presents for the guests shot to popularity within her family, until finally, she hit upon the commercial opportunity that put her on the path to making her mark in the field.
"I got started when my mother-in-law's friend saw my work at a wedding and requested for my services," recalls Bawany. "Initially, I got all my projects through word of mouth, but I entered the limelight when a friend asked me to arrange a major event where I would organise everything."
Today, Bawany runs a successful business designing the very boxes that propelled her to popularity, although she has now hired several labourers to assist her. Interested in art since childhood, Bawany loved to make hand-made cards and assist her mother, a dress designer. She never dreamed her boxes would be a runaway success, but now that she has her own business, she cannot imagine sitting idle at home.
"If you want to survive in this era, the financial burden should be equally borne by both spouses," she says. "Any woman can share the burden and look after her family at the same time." Bawany believes that the reason she has managed is her ability to balance her home and work life.
"Both professional and personal affairs and relations should always be kept apart if success is desired in one's career," she insists.
Ever eager to keep herself busy, the Bawany plans to initiate art and grooming classes from June this year. Spanning across three levels, the project will begin at her residence but may be conducted at various institutes later.
"I got the idea when I realised that today, the nuclear family system is more common in society," she says. "Young females now have to do every type of chore on their own, and so their awareness and grooming is very important."
However, not everyone is as keen to accept Bawany's box business, particularly those who are already in the field. "My family supported me, but the people already in the field did not," she says, sounding disappointed, and complains, "Seniors cannot digest it if a newcomer arrives and grows on the basis of fresh ideas. Healthy and fair competition is always welcomed, but they create hurdles so that no junior can take the lead."
Bawany finds the whole business "sickening". "Our seniors should accept the fact that the new generation is good enough to take on the charge," she insists.
Often, it is not only those in the field that Bawany has problems with. She points out that there have been several occasions where people have shown great enthusiasm for an order they have placed, but when the time comes to deliver their payment, their level of interest fades.
"I have had some financially strong clients, but when it's time to pay, they turn their back on me and point out as many flaws in my work as they can," she says, and is convinced they do this only because they do not want to pay.
As Bawany points out, it is not only she who is affected when clients fail to pay. "People here don't realise that by not making payments, they halt the flow of finance for the labour class," she explains. "We cannot pay them until we are paid, and it is the poorer class that faces the repercussions. We have a great labour force in Pakistan, but they are all commonly exploited."
This driven career woman is equally saddened by the state of women in Pakistani society, although she does add that in many cases, women themselves create their own problems.
"Women in Pakistan are not respected at all, but there are reasons for this," says Bawany. "Their first priority should be their family, especially their kids, and if that is not fulfilled then criticism is a must."
Despite this, Bawany remains an advocate for women who want to work. "Every woman of the house is as as Ms Jinnah or Ms Bhutto," she declares. "Women are working well all around the globe, and that is something we should be proud of."
All the problems plaguing Karachi – in one book
Understanding Karachi - Planning and Reform for the Future
Arif Hasan, with assistance from Muhammad Younas and S. Akbar Zaidi
Price: Rs 395
By Sabeen Jamil
Before 'Understanding Karachi' even begins, in his acknowledgements author Arif Hasan, leading architect, researcher and development activist, cautions the reader that his book in no way covers all the physical, social and economic processes taking place in the city.
But as a synopsis of all the practical work undertaken by Hasan in the city over 30 years, 'Understanding Karachi' adequately identifies the problems persisting in Karachi, along with all the reasons behind them.
Judging by social and economic indicators, Karachi is ranked the most developed city in Pakistan, making a considerable contribution towards economy of the country. With an estimated population of 16 million, the city has a literacy rate more than twice that of the entire country, but at present, faces serious civic and deep-rooted ethnic problems.
As the books explains, Karachi was a fortified settlement made by the merchants of Karack Bunder, mostly Hindu, in 1729 on a high ground north of Karachi bay. Hasan goes on to cite major structural developments in the area over different periods until partition.
The post-partition period was marked with major demographic, social and economic changes, although none of these were institutionalised in any form. Migration into the city is one of these major changes, bringing with it social and physical repercussions. Between 1947 and 1998, the population of Karachi, the main port city of Pakistan, jumped from 45,000 to 10 million, leading to a need for proper planning in the city.
Hasan has criticised various master plans and development plans introduced during different political periods in Karachi to meet the needs of the growing population, and with reason: none of the plans were a success, because they were not implemented and never kept in mind the needs of the public. Their failure to be implemented resulted in the problems in housing, land, infrastructure, traffic and transport that the city faces today.
"The manner in which [Pakistan's] fiscal system operates, and development is conceived, managed and implemented, does not reflect the changed demographic, social, cultural and economic realities," writes Hasan. "This in turn has resulted in the creation of parallel systems of governance in defiance of state laws and regulations; political and cultural alienation of increasingly large sections of the population; social anarchy and the resulting administrative and judicial helplessness."
Problems arising because of this have allowed land grabbers and political and ethnic parties to exploit the situation. Thus the city has professions identified on the basis of ethnicities, environmental degradation, noise and pollution, construction amenity plots, etc. The citizens of Karachi have attempted to tackle such problems on their own through organisations and projects such as SHEHRI – Citizens for a Better Environment, Urban Resource Centre, and the Orangi Pilot Project, but this has not been enough to deal with the 250,000 persons being added to the population every year. As Hasan puts it, "The city needs a metropolitan government if its problems are to be tackled effectively. The nature of metropolitan government, however, is debatable."
'Understanding Karachi' is an interestingly written book that does not involve subjective comments by the writer. Hasan has managed to prove his point by citing enough essential facts, dates, and including relevant illustrations, pictures and diagrams. The book provides one with a factual understanding of the city and its problems. What it needs, however, is to be updated, as major developments have taken place with regards to the local government in Karachi recently.