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One hour with Jami

Updated Aug 13, 2015 04:34pm

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Hussain Afzal, White Star
Hussain Afzal, White Star

The lobby at the Karachi offices of Sharp Image Animations looks calm. A large poster of an upcoming film, Moor, is proudly displayed on a wall next to the reception. As I make my way towards an editing studio, my interest is piqued by the sound of a film being edited, which, I later learn, is the theatrical trailer of another upcoming film, O21, slated to be Pakistan’s first spy thriller. I quietly hope I am called inside and can catch a glimpse of the trailer. But I am seated outside the editing room, and soon Jamshed Mahmood, widely known as Jami, enters.

He is extremely welcoming and refers to everyone as ‘sir’ and ‘boss’. A rather soft-spoken man, with a tendency to drift into his own thoughts, he frequently pauses to ensure that I am following what he is saying. “We are working on the post- production for O21. The co-producer of the film, Azan Sami Khan, has just stepped outside,” he explains. Besides being the co-director of the film, Jami is currently also working on two of his own feature films, Moor and Downward Dog. Before he started working on these films, much of his career was spent making music videos and television commercials.

He recalls how a casual conversation with his children led him to start working on feature films. “My children were watching Star Wars on TV one day. During the commercial break, they came running to tell me that an ad I had made was on TV. I watched the ad with them, and was content with the colour correction and sound quality. After the ad repeated thrice, my kids said to me, ‘Listen, your ads are ruining our film!’ My son said, ‘You make ads, not films, haan?’ That was enough. I knew it was time for me to turn towards feature films.”

Jami does not regret making television commercials and music videos since the money earned from these projects allowed his company, Azad Films, to afford much of the equipment required to realise his film projects. He sarcastically refers to the process of earning money from commercials to afford making feature-length films as “legal prostitution”. It is certainly an interesting proposition. In a nearly dormant film industry, with few financiers interested in investing in film projects, perhaps his is a viable formula to make films.

Photo by Hussain Afzal, White Star
Photo by Hussain Afzal, White Star

While much has been said about the downfall of cinema in Pakistan, Jami manages to find a personal silver lining, stating that the absence of a distinct cinematic style has allowed him to experiment and work on a project like Downward Dog — a black and white film noir. This was before the release and success of the 2013 hit film Waar, he interjects. Post-Waar, everyone wants helicopters, choppers and soldiers. Comparing this to the trend of having item songs in a Bollywood flick, he says, “It is a little like Bollywood. Now everyone has to badnaam Munni, [a raunchy song in the 2010 movie Dabangg].”

Jami claims the film industry in Pakistan has awoken overnight because of the kind of money Waar has been able to make. He insists, however, that a successful movie should not mean that only movies made in the same style become similarly lucrative. There cannot be just one way of making films. Even as Stanley Kubrick made A Clockwork Orange, he, too, broke away from the mainstream cinematic style, says Jami. “You need to have the strength to say, ‘Even if this is not a style that exists here, it needs to.’”

I enquire why film-makers have had to go outside Pakistan for post-production processes. Jami thinks that there is a lack of belief in the capabilities of people working locally, and proudly speaks of his team editing O21. Yet, he says, there is a lack of infrastructure, such as unsatisfactory audio mixing setup, for which even his team had to go outside Pakistan. He, however, is hopeful about the future of cinema in the country and points to someone on his team. She is a young undergraduate who has just finished making two films. “We’ve worked with 40 such students, all under the age of 21. It is a complete revolution. Even I can’t say what will happen next.”

He refers to the people of Balochistan as ‘revolutionary’ and says, “I have never seen people more generous than the Baloch.”

The few film schools or film programmes at art schools in Pakistan leave something to be desired, he points out. The youngsters have learnt on the job. “We need to understand that film schools are as important as medical colleges.”

Film schools, and films, have indeed transformed societies in history. Film is a tool that is used and abused for propaganda, as well as for social change. He uses the example of Waar to emphasise the power of the medium. “In one film, we managed to defeat India,” he says. Taking forward the idea of film for social change, Jami has partnered with an organisation, the Institute for Development Studies and Practices (IDSP), which has been setting up and running schools in Balochistan. He has conducted film-making workshops with three batches of students at IDSP schools. These students have made films about issues such as water purification and uploaded them on YouTube. At least one of these films led to the installation of a water purification plant in the region. “The kind of hunger and passion these students have [for film-making] is unmatched,” he observes.

Jami clearly has a close relation with Balochistan, where his upcoming film Moor is set. The film follows the story of a family pulled apart because of corruption and circumstances out of their control. When asked about the experience of shooting in Balochistan, he narrates accounts of people crying, living in the province with the most gas reserves and still having to use coal for their daily use.

To Jami, it is clear that we are headed towards another East Pakistan situation in Balochistan. He refers to the people of Balochistan as ‘revolutionary’ and says, “I have never seen people more generous than the Baloch.” Moor is Jami’s dedication to the people of the province, without whom, he says, the project would never have come together.

As we wrap up our conversation, and the photographer gets ready to take some pictures of Jami, he asks, “Can we take one with my team, those who are in right now?”

After the photos are taken, we enter the editing room. It is almost pitch dark, with the flickering of the monitors the only source of light. Much to my surprise, I am shown the rough cut of the trailer for O21. After the thrilling trailer comes to an end, Jami walks me outside the door, and heads straight back into his editing studio.


This was originally published in Herald's April 2014 issue. To read more from Herald in print subscribe.