Mazhar Zaidi and Farjad Nabi are journalists-turned-filmmakers from Pakistan. When they came together to make “Zinda Bhaag” on a burning issue in Pakistan, they had to seek help from across the border, as the Lahore-based film industry is in tatters and there was no technical help they could fall back on.
“It was a challenge to go for a feature film in Pakistan. The whole film industry has collapsed. No technical facilities are available. Nor are actors available,” said Zaidi, the film’s producer.
He was speaking at the Pakistan Studies Programme in Jamia Millia Islamia in the capital.
Besides seeking technical assistance from India, Zaidi and director Nabi roped in Meenu Gaur, an alumnus of Jamia’s Mass Communication and Research Centre (MCRC) and a PhD in film studies from London, as co-director.
As acting talent was not handy, they invited Naseeruddin Shah to conduct workshops with non-actors.
The film, to be released in December, takes up the sensitive issue of illegal immigration, a burning topic in Pakistan.
As the team researched on the reasons for youngsters taking the risk of illegal migration and visited neighbourhoods in Lahore to meet such youngsters, they realised that there were areas where each family had a story to tell. The topic was too close to these youngsters and their families and thus it made sense to cast these youngsters in the film, aided by some training in acting.
They zeroed in on one such neighbourhood as the location for shooting.
Zaidi says that as shooting began, “we were stopped on the streets… People congratulated us for shooting in Lahore. One gentleman claimed it was after 20 years that a film was being made in Lahore.”
Describing the bold content of new Pakistani cinema, the trio said that themes like “Bol”, “Khuda Ke Liye” and “Ramchand Pakistani” were equally popular as any mainstream entertainment film and these bold subjects were, in fact, financially viable.
Also, the categorisation between multiplex audiences and single-screen audiences was not as stark as in India, they said. They, however, admitted that in the absence of organised financing for new cinema, it remained to be seen if this movement could sustain.
An interesting aspect of filmmaking they highlighted was a vibrant trend of very small budget movies in regional languages like Saraiki and Pashto, shot on small digital cameras and released in neighbourhoods.
Nabi emphasised that as state support for the film industry dried up over the decades, something else emerged: A thriving DVD and CD industry showing regional films to families at home.
Improvisation was the key, Gaur said, narrating an incident in which a small group of filmmakers descended on a courtroom, shot a few scenes without prior permission and departed.
“It is guerilla filmmaking at its best,” Gaur said.
Claiming that government apathy, excessive taxation and strange censorship laws had led to the downfall of the Pakistani film industry in the first place, the team claimed that new funding was coming primarily in the form of family investments and foreign investment.
Also, new TV channels are coming in to finance the new film ventures.
“A number of TV channels evinced interest in our movie too,” Gaur said.