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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Usman Mukhtar experiments with new-age film-making


LAHORE: 
Time and again, people are confronted with choices, but it seems Usman Mukhtar has made a firm decision. Despite being an actor, Mukhtar has followed the director’s path with two feature films already in the making. “I just want to focus on directing,” he remarks. But more than that, the talented director has been garnering quite a lot of attention for his short film, Waking Dead
Essentially a zombie-comedy, the film’s title song by Natasha Ejaz released this week. “I have known Natasha [for a long time] so I showed her the footage. I asked her if she wanted to try something different, maybe sing a rap song with some techno music in the background,” he says. Mukhtar envisioned the soundtrack to be fun and perky, and so the techno-track was born. The video, which shows two zombies freestyling to techno rap, appears similar to Tom Cruise’s dance sequence in Tropic Thunder.
Even though the song was completely different from what she has done before, Ejaz, too, is positive about Mukhtar’s creativity. “If you have heard my music before, it’s a huge leap. I am not really a rapper and have not played techno, but when I looked at the story, it was comedic and I can relate to that,” says Ejaz, adding that the song is about a girl who falls in love with a zombie. “We already have a lot of hard-hitting films being made but then there is this, which is fun and sort of detached from reality,” she adds. She has collaborated with composer Shaheer Shahid for the song and it took them three months to complete it.
Waking Dead has already been making waves for its peculiar genre. It has been submitted for international film festivals including the Dubai International Film Festival, Gulf Film Festival and Abu Dhabi Film Festival. But the idea for the movie came rather accidentally and with minimum planning.
Mukhtar was holidaying in Dubai last year when he found out that make-up artist Nouf al Jhadhami was in town. He then wondered whether he could tap into Jhadhami’s talent to make a zombie film. “Normally, in Pakistan we don’t find talented prosthetic make-up artists. So I thought I would work on something and edit it when I go home. Even then, we were doing this for free and there was no budget,” asserts Mukhtar. Like his little-known, independent film Black Coffee, which he had made essentially for himself but later released online, this film was also not intended to be big by any means.
However, as the work progressed the project began to grow. Within three-days, he had hours of footage and found a decent cast which starred UAE-based actors Nitin Mirani, Nadia Williams and Nidhi Jha. Working with limited shooting space, due to legal requirements, he utilised the basement garage of a PR agency and his sister’s apartment in Dubai. “When you are in Dubai, you need permission to shoot anywhere so it limited my options, but we worked through it,” says Mukhtar. He began work on the edit only two months ago. With a score by the talented Abbas Ali Khan, the dialogues are in both English and Urdu.
Meanwhile, Mukhtar has also signed on to direct Anwar Maqsood’s script, Mein Tou Dekhun Ga, which he says is very different from his popular plays on August 14. “The story is about child beggars on the street so it will be completely different. Right now we are in the initial phase so we don’t have an idea of the location, where it will be shot,” says Mukhtar. “There is also another project, which is in the pre-production phase. We are hoping that will be done for 2016, and will have a big budget,” he adds.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 15th, 2013.