Kashf – Unveiling Pakistan (An interview with Ayesha Khan, the director of Pakistan’s first english language film)

She is a filmmaker with a degree in theatre and religion from Mount Holyoke college in New York. She works out of offices in New York City, Santa Fe, and Lahore. Her goal is to create dialogue through the movies she produces, both within the Muslim world, internationally and especially the USA. Her first feature length film, Kashf is set to hit theatres nationwide on the 15th of December.

Q. You could have had a larger slice of the Pakistani market if Kashf had been made in Urdu. Why debut with an English film?

True, but then we would have lost out on the international market especially the US which has an aversion to subtitles. Also, when KASHF first went into pre-production in 2004, there was no cinema going public in Pakistan at all. The multiplexes had not opened and we were only counting on the Pakistani market as a limited number of screenings. The most important factor for English, however, is the storyline; Armaghan the main character in the film is returning to Pakistan after having been in the US for 25 years and for authenticity’s sake English would be his first language.

Q.The entire film was shot on location in Pakistan but your DOP and production crew were from Hollywood. How do you think this has reflected in the finished product?

It has had a tremendous effect on the film. Although Pakistan is producing some excellent music videos, lighting for narrative work i.e a full length feature film is very different. I needed to make sure that Armaghan’s mystical experiences were being defined by the lighting of his scenes to enhance the storyline. Also, I wanted the look of Lahore to be from an objective perspective and not from the locals which again keeps in line with the main characters return to Pakistan after 25 years. I think both these factors are reflected in the finished product as my crew did a tremendous job on the lighting and cinematography.

Q. I think that costumes and music are the two things that could be the difference a good film or an exceptional movie experience. It is very comforting to see Saadia Mirza in charge of the wardrobe and there could not have been a better person for the job. Are you as confident about the soundtrack?

I agree, Saadia Mirza did a tremendous job for us on the costumes. However, my collaboration with Ali Sher on the soundtrack will remain one of the most memorable and satisfying experiences of making KASHF. Even though Ali had never tackled a soundtrack for a film before he has done an incredible job. And this just not my opinion but from some of the foremost DJ’s in the UK who have picked up tracks from KASHF such as KHAYAL, WAQT and SONIYE as well as some of the musical compositions Ali made for KASHF. Songs from our soundtrack have and are playing on BBC ASIAN NETWORK, SUNRISE RADIO UK as well UNITY RADIO UK. We already have interest from two major labels in India for the soundtrack as well as a label in the UK. So I think I am not just confident about the soundtrack I am ecstatic and Ali Sher deserves all the credit he can get. People can hear samplers of the soundtrack on our Facebook site at KASHF – The Lifting of the Veil.

Q.Which International film festivals have you shown the film at and how was the response?

We showed a Promo of KASHF at the Berlin Film Festival and then again at Cannes 2008. We got a tremendous response and a lot of interest. We are now in a major film festival in the US who will be announcing the line up in late October. The film has also been requested by European film festivals so we are confident it will play the international festival circuit. Cannes had actually given us an extended deadline to finish the film but we were unable to make it.

Q. The film is in English and could have simultaneously been released in markets like Dubai, Britain and the US. In fact I feel that it should have been released in Britain before Pakistan. What do you think?

I agree. I just came back from London from doing press from the film and feel it is a huge market for us. I was interviewed on BBC Asian Network, Eastern Eye (UK based Newspaper), Unity Radio etc and other major publications will be doing write ups closer to the release in Pakistan. However, it is not up to us to release the film anywhere – it is up to a distributor which picks it up for said markets and we are dependent on their interest and the deal put forth. But with all the above press as well as the soundtrack playing on the radio we are confident we will have a UK release.

Q. You had asked Shahrukh Khan to play the lead in your movie but he had to decline citing security issues in Pakistan. You then went for a newcomer, Bilal Zaman to play the same character. Most of the other actors in the movie are also newcomers. What brought about this huge change in your strategy?

Actually the character Shahrukh Khan was to play in KASHF and the final version of the script had changed dramatically by the time we went into production. When we were in talks with Shahrukh, the concept was much bigger with a huge budget attached. However, the production stalled in 2004 and we did not go into pre-production again till 2006. When we finally went into production for the version that was shot, the storyline had changed and I felt very strongly about keeping the film intimate and introducing new actors from Pakistan. I also felt the time was ripe to be more experimental, introducing newcomers and seeing if we could pull it off and make a purely Pakistani film. Bilal Zaman has done an incredible job as the lead so has Ali Tariq in the role of his cousin.

Q. There are rumours that you still might be working with Shahrukh Khan on a future project. Is it true?

He knows I am working on a project solely written for him…

Q. Why do you think Kashf is a film that everyone should come and watch?

I would hope that my film makes its own small contribution in encouraging audiences not just to return to the cinema in Pakistan to watch Pakistani movies but invoke in them a sense of pride of authorship; KASHF is a Pakistani movie with an all Pakistani cast set in the most beautiful city in the world, Lahore. I feel strongly that Khuda ke Liye proved there is an audience in Pakistan for our own stories and not just the Bollywood fare which is currently in the theatres. And lastly, I have been told it is highly entertaining…People can see the trailer of KASHF at www.kashfthemovie.com or by joining the INDUS VALLEY PRODUCTIONS group on Facebook.

Q. What do you think of Skoop?

As fun as it is to catch up the social and fashion scene in Pakistan, I have to admit my favourite piece has been the editorial Yasser Chaudhry wrote after the Marriot Bombing entitled “What do we do now? – 911 Pakistan”. It presented very concisely our current circumstances with these suicide attacks and the causes related to them. I was really impressed at the analysis of the problem. Thank you Yasser for that and I find it imperative that all our publications be dealing with this issue in these circumstances confronting the country.

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