When it comes to performing arts, cinema as a medium is notoriously well known for having enormously high barriers to entry that prevent many talented aspirants from stepping in. And it is well deserved, too – capital for filmmaking is hard to come by and is needed in rather generous amounts to support the expensive mix of tech equipment and crew members. Unsurprisingly, new filmmakers find it hard to break into the industry, talented and capable as they might be.
Previously, star Fawad Khan launched a competition of sorts to recruit a new pool of scriptwriters. Now, director Abu Aleeha (Kataksha, Tevar) too has jumped into the fray and aims to mentor and support up and coming filmmakers by making professional filmmaking technical services at “very reasonable rates,” as he puts it. Titled ‘Film Capital,’ this new production initiative promises quite a bit. “As long as you have a story, the doors of my office as open for you,” he states in a social media post. “I will mentor you on how to produce a great film on a low budget. Whether you need technical services for pre-production, camera equipment for the shoot, or editors for post-production – it will all be available at very reasonable rates courtesy of me and partnering studios belonging to my friends.”
And that is not all – Aleeha promises much more. “My team is available to assist you from the start to the release of the film. ‘Crazy’ filmmakers like me and a few friends aim to create the foundations of a parallel film industry with this initiative, and we hope that when film exhibition resumes, one low-budget film releases alongside a big-budget film.” Participating studios include Metrolive Movies, Flashfilm Productions, Zammy’s Productions, Vintage Productions, Screen Lab and Cinemato Productions.
Sounds like quite a revolution? We, too, were quite intrigued and got in touch with the Once Upon A Time in Karachi director. For one, Pakistani cinema could do with far better scriptwriting and doctoring services, and we queried if he had anything to offer in that regard. “The story is, of course, the USP of parallel cinema, and we plan to work on interesting, realistic storylines that portray the true picture of the society without getting into the absurdities of mainstream cinema where often everything is black and white,” he says, adding “Script support services will be available and our aim is to prove that not only can quality parallel cinema be produced, but that the public too will accept it and enjoy watching it.”
Although 2019 marked a grim year for the local cinema, 2020 was expected to be a ray of optimism as a potential money-spinner. It was anticipated that the total film releases this year would surpass the 23 releases of 2019 and hit a threshold of 35. However, that wasn’t meant to be.
With filmmaking being taught at film schools throughout the country, there’s quite a pool of aspiring writers, directors and DOPs that he believes would be much interested in tapping into the services he aims to provide. If things go ahead as planned, it would be quite a victory for local cinema given the absence of a support infrastructure for newcomers. For now, Aleeha has five planned projects for the forthcoming encompassing eclectic genres. Their titles for now are Badmashiya, set to be an action flick around the Lyari gangster culture, Udham Patakh, a horror comedy, an action venture titled Game On Hay, and the action comedy Jugaad. A Punjabi rom-com titled Yabaan Katita is also planned.
Besides all of this, Aleeha has been prolifically going about making cinema in a year that was blighted by the Covid-19 pandemic. “I have completed three films in the year – one of them which is Once Upon A Time in Karachi, starring Mohsin Abbas Haider. That film is about a sensitive issue which we have tried to treat in a not-so-heavy handed manner. The second film is Lockdown, which stars Sonya Hussyn and Gohar Rasheed, which is very topical and relevant since it is set in the backdrop of the current Covid-19 crisis. The third film is about the motorway rape incident and the rather obnoxious debate, which involved the law enforcers that ensued regarding the victim.”
Given his predilection for offbeat cinema, we could not help but pose the question which is often directed towards serious filmmakers – does Pakistan actually have an audience for parallel films? “Over the last few years, I believe the audience has actually matured — some niche content on Netflix is actually doing quite well locally. Although when you go to the big studios or speak with distributors they seem to believe that serious films do not have much scope to work and that the audience is more interested in mainstream comedy centric films. And then we have debauched the definition of commercial cinema by including things such as tasteless comedy, nine or ten song and dance routines, item numbers etc.”
“My aim is to not produce art cinema that bores people to sleep – the pace needs to be fast and the narrative gripping, even though the treatment may be offbeat,” he sums up.
“The content needs to be the highlight as opposed to budgets, item numbers and stars. Plus, for Pakistan film industry to be able to stand on its own feet, we will have to produce 50 or 60 films a year, and in order to do that, we need to get new stars and new filmmakers into the industry. I am a passionate filmmaker and I hope I can contribute positively towards doing that!”