Magic wands, letters from Hogwarts, the Marauder’s Map, the Sorting Hat, benches, spells and potions, Dementors, brooms, house scarves. Sounds familiar? It would to any self respecting Potterhead.
All of this is what one would find at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and for a few days at Lahore’s glorious 156-year-old Government College University that has recreated the Harry Potter universe for a week-long festival that began on campus on November 29.
The university's dimly lit Salam Hall has been turned into an experiential space that transports one to Hogwarts and the magical world of Harry Potter and his friends. Maps and letters woven into a web hang across the hall, a wheelbarrow is placed in the middle as a reference to the one outside Hagrid’s hut, a Christmas tree, stalls depicting the potions and spells class at Hogwarts and snacks named after food from the series are all there.
There are also photobooths to take pictures in robes, scarves and hats; a merchandise shop selling bookmarks, wands, maps and cards; a face painting booth and posters strewn across the hall representing the four Hogwarts houses.
All of this can be experienced before the event ends on December 5.
But before entering the festival, one must watch Pakistan’s first fan-made Harry Potter film, titled The Last Follower and the Resurrection of Voldemort. The film, being shown at Bokhari Auditorium as part of the festival, is a passion project of a group of GCU alumni and has been re-launched after some minor alterations — it was earlier released last year but the screening had to be halted because of the Covid outbreak.
The nearly two-hour film shot with just one camera is set hundreds of years after the Great War ended with the death of Lord Voldemort at the hands (or wand) of Harry Potter, with a lurking threat of deatheaters descending on Hogwarts to resurrect the Dark Lord. What stands out in the movie is how the gothic architecture and buildings at the GCU campus have been imaginatively utilised to resemble the large hallways and windows, the rooftop and huge arched doorways of the magical and castle-like Hogwarts.
Barring the slightly inaudible audio quality, which is wisely supplemented by subtitles, the visuals are stunning, especially when the campus is shown standing tall overlooked by snow-capped mountains in the backdrop. The main cast, all of which are GCU alumni who have also produced it under their Khayaali Productions company, look the part clad in black robes, house scarves wrapped around their necks and wands in their hands. There’s love, friendship, drama and a whole lot of magical spells in The Last Follower and the Resurrection of Voldemort.
A former student, Waleed Akram is the director, cinematographer and editor of the film. The main cast includes Umer Darr (also the writer), Jazib Akram, Mariam Hassan Naqvi, Talha Chahour, Dua Marium and Sheikh Mubashir. The remarkable visual effects have been created by Zeeshan Hameed.
Some of the team members spoke to Images after a screening about their experience shooting the film, what kept them going despite the many challenges and the support they received for the administration. All of them were unanimous that the most challenging part was getting to shoot only on weekends, the finances they arranged from their pocket money, shooting in the middle of summer and the overall lack of resources.
“Being artists, we always likened our campus to Hogwarts and that’s where the idea was generated by our writers and directors. Generally, it was a great experience making the film even though it took a lot of time to shoot and for post production because classes were going on all week and we couldn’t shoot until weekends,” said Akram, one of the main leads.
He said after they began in 2018, the entire shoot and post-production took two and a half years while they were all still students, and by the time the film was released, they had graduated. The film was screened for four days in March last year but had to be stopped because of the Covid restrictions.
“The challenges were more financial, as we all funded/produced it ourselves from our own pocket money. Some scenes involved more than 300 people, so we had to arrange for their food, and then the camera and lights. We shot it in peak summer in June so wearing those costumes in that weather was also a challenge. But what matters is the fruit of the hard work we got,” said the aspiring actor who already has a couple of television projects under his belt.
Naqvi said all the team members were Harry Potter fans and their campus always reminded them of Hogwarts, but echoed Akram about the difficulties shooting with few resources and nobody on the team having a filmmaking background.
“There were 15 people who were acting, writing and producing the film simultaneously. By shooting in the summer, we also got face burns and had a tough time. But after just the trailer was released, we started getting other offers, so it was all worth it.”
She also addressed the comments on social media that Lahore’s smog this year helped create a hazy effect in some of the shots in the film. “That’s not smog because we shot mostly in the summer and just a handful of scenes [were shot] in the winter two years ago. We achieved this effect from colour grading.”
Talking about how the idea was generated and the thought behind making the film, director, co-writer and editor Akram told Images that they had initially planned to make a short film on the theme. “Before we even had the idea we looked at the building as Hogwarts and thought of doing something with it. Also, the fantasy genre hasn’t been introduced in Pakistan so we thought it could create ripples because as content creators, we’re always looking to up the game. When the market is saturated you have to come up with ideas that attract people because when you get attention you get work.”
One day, he and his fellow writer, Umer Darr, were checking out a merchandising and costume store when it struck them to shoot something like this. That’s when they got down to brainstorming about the acting, accent, location, visual effects. “When dealing with limited resources it’s difficult but also fun because you get to learn so many things and get more creative. It was a great experience and only pushed us more. I do understand there are a few mistakes here and there but I think we delivered some good moments that can take the audience back to the original film.”
About the production, Akram said it took a whole year to get the visual effects rights and the suspension of the screening in 2020 gave them an opportunity to improve their passion project. “It was the first time we were producing a film, so we got feedback and tweaked it a bit. We reshot 30 minutes of the film and the first half is different from what we screened last year. Now, it’s in a much better shape. Fortunately, all us friends — senior and junior — came together and worked day and night. The entire team worked on every aspect.”
GCU Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Asghar Zaidi, who also lent his support by appearing in one of the promos for the film, lauded the students for their talent to be able to produce such projects. “These children, especially Waleed, deserve a lot of credit for making the film with such low resources. One camera and two years of hard work, the project showcases the talent of GCU, so if they are provided with a good environment and encouragement they can do wonders,” he told Images.
Prof Zaidi said he was right behind the students, supporting them and facilitating them in the reshoot. “Above all, they have worked really hard to pull off the festival. I’m really proud that the student societies are bringing to the fore such amazing talent and in my capacity I’ll keep supporting more such projects,” he added.
Cover photo credit: AFP