It all started one day on a cozy winter evening when I discovered that I would be part of a roller coaster ride for the next four months.
Working for Zinda Bhaag as a second assistant director has been an amazing experience. Getting to work with so many inspiring people who have been a part of magnanimous ventures before was a great education. Working with the amateurs too, who had the passion and energy and found fun in everything they do, has been simply wonderful.
So, where do I start, it seems as if that was a lifetime, maybe because of the time being given or maybe because of the connections being made – those human connections which will long be cherished.
Zinda Bhaag is a feature film by the Indo-Pak debutant directors Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi, based on the subject of illegal immigration. Millions of immigrants worldwide cross boundaries each year for better prospects – a dangerous journey to flee to supposed lands of opportunities. Bringing such a topic into limelight using the medium of cinema, catering to the local audience is such an intelligent idea and one that excited me; I didn’t hesitate for a single minute to be on board!
The film raises expectations given the star value of Naseeruddin Shah. It was a pleasure meeting him and watching him work on set. The man is an institution in himself; indeed, he is arguably one of the finest actors in the world today. His use of hesitant speech and casual gesture to signify psychological complexity sets him apart.
The film did change me somehow now when I think of it, living in Samnabad for few weeks, I got an opportunity to explore that part of Lahore. Samnabad instantly accepted me, wandering in its streets made me feel part of the cacophony of the bustling streets during the day time, as well as the winter night’s solitude. Some friends used to call it Bombay, I still wonder why. I recall a friend expressing his desire to write about Samnabad entitled “the secular Samnabad”.
I have always felt that Pakistan is a country of contradictions and more so whenever I get back from the realms of a distant land. I remember seeing a woman casually riding a bike in Samnabad, and it totally enamored me. I’ve always been warned to dress cautiously in the inner city, how redundant it seems now.
With films like Zinda Bhaag there springs the discussion about alternative versus mainstream media which greatly centers on the audience it’s going to garner. I personally think it’s about making an intelligent film as people have their fingers on the pulse. The first requirement of an intelligent film is an engaging story and a good story is normally one you can somehow relate to.
Getting our act together with regards to selecting engaging stories for screenplays, there appear complications of technique, logistics and budget; we can’t get away with that at any cost. Directing films is not one’s regular 9 to 5 schlep. One can learn the basics of film-making, but unless you possess that extra fervor, the kind that makes you wake up in the middle of the night and scribble down that incredible fantasy sequence or that camera angle which is sure to make the scene, you’re better off appreciating films from the comfort of your favorite armchair. But that’s not to discourage anyone. Rather, it is my sincere wish that new, young and talented Pakistani directors-in-waiting take up the challenge.
Here I would like to take the opportunity to thank Meenu Gar and Farjad Nabi on taking up this challenge albeit the odds related to the state of Pakistani cinema today; no matter where we arrive it was a worthwhile journey.
After these four months it’s safe for me to say that film-making is not an inexpensive undertaking, nor is it easy. It requires passion, time, money and a lot of hard work. If you’re willing to deal with loads of pressure and accept the challenge, the field is wide open for local independent film-makers. Here’s to hoping a new breed of visionary film-makers take up this challenge and usher in the age of the Pakistani digital feature film.