Saqib Malik: Hot Shot

Saqib MalikThe overt feeling of loss and longing as captured in the currently running video of Khammaj’s living testimony to Saqib Malik’s clarity of vision as a director. Not to forget his earlier masterpieces the sardoni Mr. Fraudiye and the seductive Behti Naar. With a fascination for Pedro Almodavar and Guru Dutt, Saqib has always something to startle his audiences with Bet Deewaney would be the Next!

Your recently released video Khamaaj is at the moment the talk of the town. How did something as unusual strike you in the first place?
After doing Behti Naar three years ago. I was waiting for a song that would inspire me. When I heard Khamaaj, it really touched me. In fact it gave me the feeling of another era, another time. For some reason the images that flashed through my mind were old black and white movies. I took up on that and built on it. Things made and broke and when Shaan got on board things became bigger, it’s about six months that I was thinking of the concept only.

The storyline spins around Shan, a director. By any chance is the inspiration from your own life?
Not at all. I am greatly inspired by the work of Guru Dutt, the Indian director from the fifties and sixties. His work was very emotional with dramatic lighting very advanced for his times. There was a film called Kaghaz ke Phool that flashed through my mind. The basic inspiration was from that era but we added our own elements to it.

There has been a lot of fever about the video of Deewaney lately and Urmila’s appearance in it. How did it all come around?
We were waiting for it to happen for four months. Finally we found out a night before that Urmila and Serendip productions were coming. Salman, my camera man and I sat over night and thought of a concept. I had no contact with Pralaag, my co director from India. We found out that they had to stay for three days so we had to start the shooting right away. It was a very spontaneous effort and there was lots of improvisation in it as it went along.

So does it put across the theme of friendship beyond the border?
Yes it does. Urmila is shown to be visiting Pakistan and Resham is showing her around while Shamyl Khan photographs them in the background. It is built on the theme of friendship with Lahore in the backdrop. It is very loose, more situation based, more fun, more tongue in cheek. Therefore it has a very different kind of feel that that of Khamaaj.

We can’t wait for it to be out. Is it going to take long?
It will be on air by the second week of March.

Do you think that the current efforts of promoting friendship via art are going to be effective in speeding up the peace process between the two countries?
It is a very long, painstaking, uphill thing. Nothing is going to happen overnight. What I believe is that when we are so much under the influence of Indian culture already, why not recognize that influence. Why not share our learning and that too on an official level.

What impact do you think has the recent visit of Indian stars had on this process?
See, what is important is the understanding between people. People in Pakistan are already aware of what is happening across the border thanks to satellite exposure. It’s Indians who have a lot more stereotypes against Pakistan. So for them one of their stars coming in here is an eye opener.

A lot of controversy surrounded the video of Behti Naar when it was on air on Indus Vision. What made IM take it off all of a sudden when it was so well received?
Obviously no one wants to take a chance over here when channels are so censored. Behti Naar too ran on Indus for quite some time. It was a controversial video no wonder. So they had to take it off when they revived calls from higher ups. However, it was loved by everyone even if they did not understand the whole of it. We should give it a little time. I think it will re emerge.

You and Asim Reza set out together. It was a great association where you came up with videos like Fraudiye and Laut Ayo. Were irreconcilable differences at the heart of your breakup?
When two creative people work together, they have their own way of doing things. Asim has his own style. I have my own. In order to avoid unnecessary conflicts one should part. I believe.

You are basically an ad filmmaker but we see you coming up with a music video every now and then. Does it mean that ad making is not sufficient to quench the creative thirst of an artist?
I do very few music videos. Music videos are done out of passion unlike commercials that you do for a living. Videos are done for artistic satisfaction. In commercials you are selling a product and you are given a certain theme. You have to abide by the marketing guidelines. You have to get it approved in music videos; you pretty much decide your own boundaries how you want to approach a thing. You don’t have anyone to answer to. In commercials you do because somebody is paying you and you have to deliver on their goals.

But don’t you think that the commercial aspect is interfering in there too since music videos too now are brand sponsored?
Well look, there is good and bad in everything. The good is that videos cost a lot of money and music companies here are not willing to invest. When marketing companies come in, they put in extra money so the quality of videos goes up. As long as it is done subtly I really don’t have any problem with that. The flip side is that when these companies want to stuff their products in and it is so vulgar and it is so clumsily done that it becomes negative.

Indian ads are more visually appealing, have great humor and are very innovative. Why is our advertising industry so hesitant about experimenting with new ideas?
Indians have a very strong history of art, literature and music that has gone on uninterrupted all these years. In fact it has been promoted at all levels. We had very good tradition of all these too but then for about 10 to 12 years during the Zia era all creative activities were really suppressed. And there was a big gap. Now in the past five or six years suddenly there has been a big boom. New talents, new minds are coming in. Young people are entering the field so it is slowly changing. Their ads are so funny and all because they are not afraid of taking risks, they are not afraid of laughing at themselves. We today are so self conscious and so afraid to laugh at ourselves because we are basically insecure. The moment you can poke a little bit of fun at yourself is when you can get a bit of humor. And that requires a great deal of confidence and intelligence.

Saqib MalikHaving great insight into the advertising medium, which area do you think we lack in?
We are lacking in the creative thinking part. Technically we are catching up. But then, good concepts come from good creativity, good thinking, and good humor. And we simply don’t think.

Is it that we don’t think at all or is the thinking not appreciated and utilized?
There are times when clients are resilient. But I tell you most of the time clients are pretty open to all kinds of ideas, masses are open to all kinds of ideas. It is just the people who are in this field who are so used to censoring themselves and are unable to take up the challenge of thinking original things. Originality takes as lot of effort. That effort on our part has stopped for a long time. We were told not to think. At the moment, we are struggling to get our minds back into motion.

Since the director is in charge of the creative project, what strengths do you think he should have?
A director must have a good sense of perception, observation and must have a vision. Every director has a certain world view and a certain way of doing things, which is reflected in his work. Other than that you need to have some basic technical expertise. You need to know how to tell a story and how to put it together in an effective manner.

So when did the director in you begin to provoke you to take up the challenge?
I was always interested in filmmaking. But then I was a bit scared to take up that directly. I studied advertising. I realized that I didn’t simple enjoy copywriting or concept writing. The most tangible part for me was the films.

Directors find conservative outlook on art in the way of their artistic freedom. Is working in a Pakistani setup too limiting for your creativity?
Listen, there are restrictions everywhere, anywhere you go in the world. I think, if you are an intelligent, sensible person you can make the most out of it. I don’t think there are such harsh restrictions here. You can just practically do anything. I mean you can’t go naked, you can’t kiss, but you can use your creativity in a lot of other ways.

At any point in life, did you feel suppressed as an artist?
I made Behti Naar which was controversial. Not that it was the most controversial thing, but there are other controversial things. You can do a lot of documentaries; your talk shows have become very open. As long as you don’t touch the army, you don’t touch religion in a way that would offend sensibilities and you don’t get too vulgar in terms of outright nudity of kissing, you can practically do anything. You can do a lot but you have to do them in a certain way that is subtle and discreet. And oh you can do it outright too, but then you have to bear the repercussions. You have to put your neck on the line for that.

How do you define Art?
Oh God! Too broad a thing. I have issues with concepts like art because I really don’t know what they mean, what they include and what the exclude.

Just tell me what is Art for you?
Art for me is any manner of expression.

Does it always have an intention?
All art has intention. When you express yourself you have an intention of getting across a certain meaning. You can paint a mountain and there would be a reason why you are painting that mountain. There would be an entire theory behind painting a mountain because you believe that nature is good or whatever. Off course any form of expression whether it’s writing or painting or anything has an intention.

Since every art serves some purpose, what exactly are you trying to achieve through your work?
Some of the work that I do is for fun. I am expressing myself in a way that is meaningful to me. In commercials you end up expressing yourself in a way that is meaningful to the brand. You try to bring in your own little elements in there too which distinguish you from other directors.

Which music video of yours is closest to your heart?
I love Behti Naar. It’s really close to my heart. Because I took a risk. It was provocative, it was subversive, and it had a jaunting theme.

How about advertisements?
Honesty when it comes to ads. I forget very quickly. Ads you do and you move on. I really don’t think I have produced any masterpieces in the world of advertising.

Saqib MalikDoes the eye of the camera and the human eye view things alike?
The director has an eye the cameraman has an eye and that eye is translated to the camera eye. You give your vision to the camera. It is the go between, between you and the subject.

Doesn’t camera make it look more appealing? Aren’t perception and reality contrasting?
Not really. I mean the camera is very subjective in what it looks at and so is the human eye. I can be looking at you and ignoring everything else. It is all about perception. The camera would be as perceptive as your eye and will catch what you want it to catch. In fact you will get to see and hear what you want to see and hear. What you don’t want too see, you ignore, what you don’t want to hear, you don’t hear.

You used to be a prolific writer for Herald from 1989 to 1994, I gathered.
I think longer than that. I wrote for Herald, Dawn and X-tra. That was when I was a copy and concept writer.

And then you had such a strong command over subjects like cinema, culture and media in general. What made you step out of something that was another proud feather in your cap?
See, writing is so time consuming. And then it is a very different kind of discipline which uses a very different side of your brain. Being involved in filmmaking now it would be too much to handle this and that together.

You have been on the board of judges for Kara Film Festival which is yet another emerging feature that can be supportive to our local cinema. How potential do you think it can be?
Great. It is wonderful to see it born in front of you and see it going places. It is amazing how it is creating a little cult of its own. When they first called in we didn’t take it that seriously ke pata nahe kia hona laga hai. This worked out. All of a sudden we were watching films from around the world. We were doing something about creating a local cinema theme. I was supposed to be the judge this time too but I was so occupied I couldn’t make it.

Didn’t drama direction ever appeal to you?

But then you are very much interested in making your own film, aren’t you?
Film is something I am looking at. It just requires a big effort. I just need to be very clear in my mind before I get into it. There are talks going on all the time with various people regarding films. I might even surprise everyone one day.

What exactly motivates you towards film?
It is just wonderful medium. Who doesn’t want to see the stuff on the big screen? It is a very persuasive, exciting and seductive medium.

Which you think TV is not?
Absolutely not because TV is in the mundane reality of life. You don’t pay for TV. It’s free. When you get somebody to pay for something, take out time away from the regular life and sit in a darkened room suspending their regular routine, letting to of their inhibitions when they sit there, it’s very exciting.

How worthwhile has the occurrence of Lux style awards been?
I think they have a lot of potential. I think we really need an award in Pakistan that has a lot of legitimacy and is respected. Lux is trying to reach out at so many things. it needs to narrow its scope. it needs to define what it wants to be. Lux has not been able to do that. Right now it is just reaching out in too many directions. So it is annoying a lot of people and it hasn’t really got its own vision. Also I am a strong believer the board of governors of Lux and their juries should reflect the dynamism of time. You cannot have just people who are established. creative but who are no longer dynamic in their fields to come and judge. I think it has got to be a very young, spirited group of people that constitute the entire Lux team.

People have issues with fairness aspects of Lux Style Awards. How justified is it as an approach?
People are always going to have issues with fairness aspects. Nobody likes to be a loser. If the board of governors and jury members are very attuned to what is happening and are a part of the field then people will have less qualms about it. To judge everything on one portfolio is very limiting. People who are not attuned only look at a portfolio and judge the best work for the whole year out of that. That is not the right thing. Having said that. I think it has got potential and should be supported.

Saqib MalikAll your work has a distinct mark that sets you apart from your peers. What actually forms your inspiration?
Everybody has always told me since I was a kid that I am the most curious kind of person. I ask too many questions. That’s where I get my inspiration. I ask questions, am really nosy. I love to get into things. When you just observe things, you get an idea.

Then you must be quite testing a company for testing a company for others around you. Do people have complaints against you?
All the time. They say I am the nosiest, the most irritating person in the world.

And does this irritating person have different shades to his personality? Is Saqib the person different from Saqib the director?
I think the person that you are directly influences the kind of director that you are. I think when I am working. I am a real tyrant. I am known for making people slave. I am actually not such a bad person in real life. In real life I am pretty discreet but when I am working. I get very selfish and pretty nasty, pretty cruel. You need to get work done, you know. You need to be demanding about it.

So are you the kind who yell at their subordinates?
No, no I am not rude to people. I don’t think so. But yes, I scream a lot. When you are working, you are screaming and shouting.

While lining up this interview, I cam to know that at times you are working all nights over. How can one attend to one’s family with such a hectic schedule on his back?
My parents are in Islamabad and my grandmother is in Karachi so I see her now and then. My family really are the people I work with as I spend all my time with them. Luckily I am not married so I don’t have to worry about anything.

So you consider not being married lucky, don’t you?
Well no, no. I said luckily because if I had been married and when I am going to get married, my wife practically has to be from this field or she would just have to suffer. Our work is so time consuming. It just takes up so much energy that it’s very difficult to balance home life with professional.

Does that mean that a creative person can never achieve a balance in his life?
I know a lot of creative people who have achieved great balance in their lives. I guess it differs from person to person. But I can’t say since I am not married. God knows what is going to happen when it comes.

But creative people are so self-contained. They have a tendency to be carried away with whatever they are engrossed in a particular moment. Where would family fit in there, then?
Speaking for myself, yes, I am the kind of person who needs a lot of freedom, a lot of space. it is very important. And if I don’t have it. I will to crazy. I am very selfish about it. When I need my space. I need it. I think whoever is close to me in life realizes that and they always give me my space. Every relationship is a balancing act. You just make it work according to your situation.

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