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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Pakistani film to premiere at New York City International Film Festival

Aamina Sheikh and Mohib MIrza in a still from Seedlings( Lamha)
The Pakistani feature film Lamha (English title: Seedlings) will be premiering at the New York City International Film Festival on Aug. 10 with a second screening on Pakistan Day, Aug. 14.
Along with the opportunity of being screened in the Big Apple, the film has bagged nominations for the following: Best Picture, Best Director (Mansoor Mujahid), Best Actress in a Lead Role (Aamina Sheikh), Best Actor in a Lead Role (Mohib Mirza), Best Actor in a supporting Role (Gohar Rasheed) and Best Original Screenplay (Summer Nicks).
Saman Malik sat down with the film’s Pakistani-Canadian producer Meher Jaffri who is ecstatic at the thought of premiering in one of foremost art and film hubs of the world.

SM: Tell me a bit about yourself. How did your interest in film develop, and which filmmakers are inspirations to you?
MJ: My interest in film probably comes from my long-term fascination for theatre and the creative arts in general. I’ve always been a bit of an observer and moving pictures as an audio- visual medium with its ability to rouse and resonate emotionally is so fantastic, that it’s always drawn me to it.  I’ve been hot for Mira Nair for quite sometime, probably since I watched Monsoon Wedding back in the day. I love how she infuses her brand of mischief in all her movies and portrays the South Asian narrative in a universal sort of language while maintaining the cultural nuances and characteristics beautifully.

I studied Business at McGill University in Montreal, as my father was adamant that a career in the creative arts was not practical in nature. Though my business degree has gone a long way to help me establishing Bodhicitta Works (with partners Summer Nicks and Craig Peter Jones), I am pretty adamant about going to film school to study film. I believe every craft needs certain training and discipline attributed to it in order to embrace it holistically.

SM: Could you tell our readers a bit about your film, Seedlings (Lamha)?
Producer Meher Jaffri
MJ: Seedlings (Lamha) is a human-interest drama about the complexities of human and familial relationships in the aftermath of a tragic accident.It revolves around three lives that are affected. It speaks about loss, anger, blame, forgiveness and redemption.

SMYour film is premiering at the NYCIFF, a festival which recognizes cultural diversity, and has been nominated in a number of categories. What does this mean for you as an Canadian-Pakistani film maker?
MJ: It is fantastic to be part of a festival that stresses on cultural diversity. I am so thankful to the NYIFF for giving an opportunity to international filmmakers to showcase their work. As a Canadian I am used to the importance placed on cultural diversity. Interestingly enough, our film has faced some opposition in Pakistan. There are sections of people who have said that it is a film that is different from the mainstream formula. Of course the industry there is still in its infancy and Canada’s film heritage is huge; so there is a sense of bright-eyed hope and excitement all round.

SM: As a young Canadian-Pakistani producer, what changes do you want to see in the cinema scene of both countries?
MJ: The Pakistani film industry needs training in technical skills in both film and television which is the primary medium of entertainment there. There is absolutely no support from the public sector in any way, no funding for films or support for film programs and initiatives. Privately too, people are hesitant to invest in films as it is not a familiar investment option. There are not nearly enough cinemas or distributors and it has so far been run as a sort of oligarchy. The one thing that I am confident of  is the passion and talent – though of course like anything it needs to be nurtured with better training programs.
I have not yet worked in the Canadian film industry to know its dynamics from a personal level – but soon!

SM: What has been the response to the film in Pakistan? And are you planning to release the film in Canada?
MJ: The fans have been fantastic!!! I’m so floored by the people in Pakistan for voicing their opinions and supporting the film in all ways possible: through Facebook, Twitter, comments on online news articles and You Tube, calls to any TV or radio shows we’ve been on, etc. We are definitely shopping for distribution in Canada as it is home to a large Pakistani and Indian community. Fingers crossed!
SM: What’s your next project and when can we see it?
MJ: We are working on our sci-fi feature film Kolachi and also on our next collaboration with Pakistani musical prodigy (and 2012 TED Fellow) Usman Riaz for whom we produced his first short musical film, Ruckus. This one is calledWaves and based on a beautiful piano piece – a very high concept and original piece. Other than that, we are exploring  projects with a few partners which I can’t divulge right now – but they are feature film related!

Pashto entertainment industry remains resilient despite setbacks

Despite ongoing threats by militants and the blowing up of CD shops in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, resilient Peshawarites will enjoy 200 Pashto tele-films, stage shows and music albums, along with five new films this Eid.
Around six production houses in Nishtarabad, the hub of CD production in Peshawar, have promised to entertain with thrill, comedy and romance at this special time of year.
The Pashto film industry has gained strength over the last few years. Compared to three releases last year, this Eid will bring five new films starring Arbaz Khan, Shahid Khan, Suno Lal and Mahnoor. Arbaz Khan is appearing in two Pashto movies — Qasam and Ghadaarwhile Shahid Khan is starring in three flicks — Bad AmalaToofanand Har Dam Khair.
While talking, Shahid Khan said: “All three of my films are based on social themes. Romance, music and action are blended and the storyline and music are the strengths of my flicks. I have introduced a new actor, Mahnoor and I hope she will come up to the expectations of cinemagoers.” Arbaz Khan, too, paints a bright picture of new Pollywood releases stating, “Let’s see what hard work and devotion bring to us but I am positive for success.”
A seasoned movie buff, Tariq Ajmal also opines, “I am anxiously waiting for the new runs as last time Pashto movies had disappointed me because most of them seemed to be copies of Indian flicks. Only pornography and violence cannot win over hearts of the public, fresh ideas and social issues should also be introduced along with Pashtun culture.”
While potential CD buyers from Quetta, Karachi, the Gulf States and Afghanistan have flocked to Peshawar to collect new material for the season, no buyers from the tribal regions showed up due to the threat of militancy in the region. Due to military operations, most people in Fata have either quit the entertainment business or turned their shops into computer or mobile phone stores, whereas this region earlier consumed 50 per cent of CD entertainment, according to the Producer’s Association President Farhad Khan.
However, while much is being produced right now, some feel that it may not last long, as problems in the region catch up with the entertainment industry. Khaliqo, a film producer from a pioneer production house Musafar Videos, told, “The CD business is on the decline because of piracy and law and order issues and this Eid is a ‘do or die’ situation for us.”
He further adds, “My house is releasing about 20 CDs including four stage shows, three sitcoms, two trailers and 11 music albums. One of the music albums, The Afghan Hits, is introducing 10 debut male and female Afghan singers along with new songs of the rising Pashto star Gulpanra who tops the Pashto music charts this year. But as the market has gone into a slump, expectations for business seem bleak.”
Khaliqo also maintains that unless a censorship board is in place to control piracy issues, CD production cannot flourish as producers face losses. Khaliqo states, “We have taken up these issues with the K-P culture department, but to no avail.” “Producers are on the verge of closing down CD businesses if this continues,” Khaliqo warns.
Apart from piracy issues, he further adds that threats from militants are always looming overhead. This very market has been attacked several times, including a bomb blast eight months ago which claimed precious lives and left many injured.
Khaliqo elaborates that people in the region are so fed up with the Kalashnikov culture and continued violence, that they want something that can be a release from all the tension and depression surrounding them. Therefore, producers and directors have focused on sitcoms and music albums for the public.
The efforts of the Pashto entertainment industry are laudable, especially in the face of uncertainty and threats. Government support to tackle piracy would further boost business and morale in the region that promises to remain resilient.
Courtesy:  The Express Tribune,