Filmmakers, actors and a film critic come together to discuss Pakistani cinema like never before
For the first time in Pakistan, representatives from the film industry decided to gather together for a roundtable to discuss topics such as filmmaking, cinematic criticism, stereotypical characters and film versus drama. The hour-long roundtable conference was led by film critic Kamran Jawaid and the guests included filmmakers behind and actors featured in five films releasing this Eid: Dum Mastam, Parde Mein Rehnay Do, Chakkar and Ghabrana Nahi Hai.
The discussion was a SeeShows, Anthem presentation in association with The Arena Cinema called Cine-Eid. It featured Jawaid as the producer and host and actor Ahsan Khan, director Yasir Nawaz, producer and actor Adnan Siddiqui, actor Amar Khan, actor Zahid Ahmed, producer Hassan Zia, actor Ali Rehman Khan and director Wajahat Rauf as guests.
Jawaid said he'd been working on having the roundtable discussion materialise since 2019 and the pandemic delayed it further. But to his surprise, the process of organising it was very smooth. "Roundtables don't happen in Pakistan for a couple of reasons — first of all, it's near impossible getting people on that same table, especially when these people or these actors and producers have films coming out in competition with each other so that's a problem.
"All it took was one phone call for everyone to say yes for doing this. That shows the state of the industry right now, everybody's on board, everybody is eager to do something different. And they're eager to support causes that would support the Pakistani industry in the long term," he said, expressing gratitude.
The film critic said he wanted to prove a point by gathering the industry and uniting them on a single platform to talk about movies and the industry in general. "One major fault is that we keep asking the stars and the filmmakers the same questions over and over again. And [it goes] like 'Why did you do this? How did you do this? Why did you do it in this film?' This becomes monotonous, nobody's talking about the bigger picture. So that was the intention, to bring everyone together, talk about the industry and its progress."
Jawaid observed that the films coming out this Eid contain good variety — from a film with a social message to a musical to a thriller — it's an exciting bunch. Despite the interesting premise and thriving promotions, filmmakers Rauf and Nawaz expressed concern over attracting Pakistani audiences towards cinemas, especially post-Covid, which is why there has been more focus on promotions. "Making films is the easy part, promoting is exhausting," said Rauf.
Ali shared his view on the film versus drama debate, saying they're both very different mediums. "You have a lot more time with films, to be able to get into your role and think about what you want to do with what you're given, with the script that's presented to you and I think that is one of the biggest assets as an actor — [to] have time while preparing for a role. Unfortunately, in dramas we don't have that kind of time. We usually start the drama within a week or two and then we have 25 to 30 episodes to read and the process of getting into that role is a parcel of doing the drama and while you're in it, you really start getting into it."
Ahsan had a very different take on the matter. He compared his experience with Ali and said, "I feel I take two or three months to prepare for my dramas as well. For me, this is a job as an actor, no matter what the medium — film, TV or theatre — I prepare for it the same amount whether the project is huge or small. [Additionally,] I think it's the audience that decides what work of yours is better, greater or lesser. I feel like as an actor you have to prepare for your work."
The spotlight then found Ahmed who was asked about his cop character in Ghabrana Nahi Hai in regards to the policeman stereotype that actors are expected to fill the shoes of. He responded, "As an actor it's not my job to perceive it [as] a stereotypical role or a caricature of a cop. My job is to play it to the best of my abilities, to the best of a certain style [and] I tilt towards naturalism. In fact, if there is such a role that's perceived in a certain way, it is all the more my job to play it in a way that doesn't invite people to compare the character to the stereotype that have seen in films. [It is] completely the opposite — to be him as a very real guy, who has a solid backstory and is going through a certain set of emotions to come out either transformed or not, you're going to have to find out."
Amar, the lead actor for Dum Mastam, is also the writer of the movie's script — a first for her. The Qayamat actor revealed that she's already working on her next script for a film that will start production around the end of the year.
Siddiqui is also dealing with a first — helming his first film as a producer. He was surrounded by relatively experienced filmmakers on their third or fourth movie.
The discussion shifted to film critics and reviews of movies. “Have you done a course, have you studied this that you know better than directors? Have you seen 1,500 or 1,000 films, what is it? Before the film is released you start criticising it,” said Siddiqui of film critics.
Rauf said much of the criticism is "unqualified", as the critics seem to ignore the concept of a cinematic licence. They'll keep that in mind for a tiger in a hotel room in The Hangover and cars flying from buildings in the Fast and the Furious but will pounce when someone wears a white blazer to an office in our films, he lamented.
But Zia didn't believe that critic's reviews shape public opinion. The filmmakers, on the other hand, feel disheartened when they read or hear those reviews, he said. The Meray Paas Tum Ho actor contradicted this argument, saying he believes that critics' reviews have a great impact on public perception when they're at the cinema buying tickets. "It makes a difference. The public reads their statements, believes them and there is an impact."
Nawaz believed criticism and film reviews in Pakistan are still better than those in India, which he said were an expletive away from becoming all out cursing, but he still thinks reviews shouldn't be too harsh. He said he was once told by a critic that they wouldn't temper their review because people spend Rs800 to Rs1,000 on a ticket and should know, he said, "[Critics] care a lot about people spending that Rs1,000 but don't care about the people spending six crore [on making the film]."
Eventually, we'll leave off making the films if we keep getting such bad reviews, he warned. Eventually, he settled on the point that critics should wait about eight to 10 days before posting their reviews in order to let people make up their minds themselves.
The discussion also encompassed Eid releases and why all our producers aim for an Eid release. Rauf said they had pitched the idea of a public festival in December to attract cinema-goers but they need incentives for that.
Nawaz said he would love to not have Eid releases for his films, but he, and other directors, can't do that until they build brands for themselves. That brand, he said, would ensure that people come see the films regardless of the time they are released. But directors and even actors don't have those brands just yet, he said, comparing the situation to when TV dramas first began airing on private channels. The good directors were filtered out and they had the support of the channels, he said. Now, those directors and actors are brands in themselves.