The last time I had a chat with director Kamal Khan, his dark, brooding action-thriller ‘Laal Kabootar’ (starring Ahmad Ali Akbar, recently seen in ‘Parizaad’) had been nominated by Pakistan’s Oscar selection committee as the nation’s entry into the 92nd Academy Awards. Almost three years have passed since, with a large portion being blurred by the haze of the pandemic. Kamal is back in the news, and it feels like the most natural thing to have happened. The deja-vu feels uncanny like we have traversed a wormhole of time.
This time he’s making waves directing some well-received videos for Coke Studio’s popular Season 14. He’s called the shots on Pakistan’s three biggest pop-sensations, Atif Aslam, Momina Mustehsan, and Ali Sethi, and the results have been there for the world to see and be dazzled by. I decide to get in touch with him to get his take on the somewhat abstract videos, his thought processes, and how he feels now that all the hard work has paid off. We start off with ‘Sajan Das Na.’ “Atif is the biggest music star in the country, and Momina is a massive star in her own right. So one’s immediate impulse is to go big, and go loud, try to capture the stars’ grandeur,” he explains. “I wanted to channel some of that while experimenting with a minimalist aesthetic to bring my own flavor to the larger-than-life visuals the two are worthy of. Breaking rules occasionally can give interesting results.”
He wanted to build on the song’s Top-40 sounding feel that too flirts with the experimental realm. “We gave the visuals a retro vibe, and the concept basically revolves around two lovers who are separated, with Momina being trapped indoors, while Atif is somewhere out in the open. This builds on the lyrics of the song, with their emotional undercurrent being quite similar to the ‘Sassi Punoo’ story,” he further explains, revealing that ‘Sajan Das Na’ was the first song he shot. “The team was new, and I wanted to do something new and interesting while staying true to Coke Studio. It was actually quite tough.” Atif and Momina’s portions were shot separately, with both the spells taking quite a bit of time. The effort is visible in the end result, where both the singers come out looking arguably the best they have in recent memory.
The conversation switches to Ali Sethi and Shae Gill’s ‘Pasoori.’ I immediately query if Sethi’s choice of wardrobe is inspired by African fashion. “It is indeed,” he confirms. “Ali Sethi basically aik bohat artist banda hai and he’s into African art, and there’s also much common between desi prints and African patterns and motifs, so it’s an interesting fusion.” The video has been much appreciated for its sheer abstractness, and according to Kamal, that is exactly how it was intended to be. “The first time I heard the song, Ali had just fleshed out the basic melody and music, which is very Reggaeton inspired. Reggae has its origins in Jamaica, so my immediate instinct was to make it about our culture, that is, the modern-day Pakistani culture.”
Kamal developed the video’s concept taking in much input from Ali Sethi. “We decided that the visuals cannot be too straightforward and that the look will be avant-garde. The idea was to show inclusivity, people coming together, themes which Ali feels much for. “(Classical dance doyen) Sheema Kirmani was the first name that popped up as we were zeroing on the concept, and she was specifically asked to come on board. It couldn’t have been anyone else.” Kamal wanted the visuals to have an organic, natural feel therefore he decided to do away with choreography. “My brief to all the artists who show up in the song’s many visual vignettes was to face the camera as if they have come in for a portrait shoot, and not a video.” Kamal believes that its best “not reveal much else about the song’s concept.” “It’s very much open to interpretation by the audience.”
With that, the tete-a-tete with Kamal Khan comes to an end. Here’s hoping we will be seeing more of this very talented director’s work in the near future. Hopefully, it wouldn’t take another pandemic to get there.