People & Society

Jami: Director's take

Updated 06 Jun, 2019 03:42am

It seems that Jamshed Mahmood, lovingly called Jami by his friends, peers and followers, was born for cinema. Seduced by the light, or some may say the ‘dark side’ after watching Star Wars in 1977 — he studied film from Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, USA and in 1998 returned to his hometown, Karachi, to form his production company Azad Film Company. Over the years, he has been prolifically directing television commercials, becoming a part of the second generation of ‘Young Turks’ who reinvigorated the visual language of television commercials and music videos in the early nineties.

Paradoxically, and perhaps quite ingeniously, Jami has straddled the very shaky line between being an advertiser and an activist, using the experience and financial gains from the former to inform and support the latter. First in the form of gritty, expressionist (and award-winning) music videos and now, over the last few years, through producing and directing soulful and socially aware cinema. He was associate producer for Zinda Bhaag and he directed O21 in 2014. Now, of course, he has directed Moor, Pakistan’s submission for the 2015 Oscars.

For many years, I have observed his work closely and curiously, and have been deeply moved by the earthy, provocative imagery, the culturally informed symbolism and the apparently non-linear narrative. So often I have been emotionally stirred, yet confounded, by his work. After watching Moor twice, I decided to zoom out and look at his work in a continuum. The tapestry of his vision becomes much clearer when we see each specific work as a fluid constituent of a solid whole.

With Jami, the private has become public. All his work is imbued with his personal value system. He is an ideologue and a dreamer, a craftsman and a believer in process. He is swayed by a deep sense of social justice. You can taste the soil in his work. Be Pakistani, buy Pakistani and create Pakistani is the mantra you get when you interact with him. This deep, abiding love for his motherland is apparent in the narratives and textures of his work, in his online and on-ground activism, in the classrooms of the film schools in Karachi and Balochistan that he teaches in, and in the team of film-makers that he has mentored.

Overshadowed for a while by other commercial directors who favour gloss over grit, polish over authenticity, Jami finally seems to have gained his rightful place in the pantheon of Pakistani film-making. With his third film almost ready for release, Moor on its way to the Busan International Film Festival and the Oscars, and a number of other films in the pipeline, he is taking no hostages. Pakistani cinema is ready to impress itself upon the world stage and it seems Jami, both the individual and the movement, is primed to lead the charge.

Here are excerpts from a conversation with him:

Adnan Malik. Do you think a film coming out of Pakistan carries a certain unspoken burden of responsibility, given the kind of negative attention we get in the global arena?

Jami. I think internal pressure is more [than the external one]. Global pressure is there as [international audiences] are expecting a certain type of cinema from us. They want us to do films on women-bashing, bomb blasts and terrorism. If you give in to that pressure, you start thinking about making those types of films. Film-makers should not worry about such things. They should just tell the stories that they want to tell.

When we started making Moor in 2011, the business executives soon started asking about the feasibility of the project, about how much money the film is projected to make, what kind of budget it requires, how many item songs there are in it. I did not know the answer to these questions but I believed that I must say things that I wanted to say. I knew that the time was right to start working on the film as opposed to waiting until the film industry was fully formed. I expected that 2015 will be the time when it would be possible for a film like Waar to be made in Pakistan. I was not expecting it in 2013. That was the biggest game changer. We knew this revival will happen but no one could anticipate that it will happen this quickly.

One important pressure that we must mention is from the cinema halls. The biggest multiplex in Karachi gave Moor an 11 am show on weekends. That reflects the cinema owners’ belief that this is an art-house film so it needs to be taken out of the way. But whether it is an art film or not, give it a fair chance with the right kind of timings. What the cinemas are doing is giving you a signal, a clear one, that “do not mess with us; your film needs to make money for us”. This is their way of subtly holding you down and saying “next time, have a good look at the content; there must be some halla gulla, horseplay”. I kept telling them that no one is going to watch a film at 11 am on a weekend. They also slotted Moor for a 3 pm show on weekdays. This is a time when most people are at work. How are they supposed to watch it at 3 pm?

The crew of Moor watches the replay of a scene | Courtesy Azad Film Company
The crew of Moor watches the replay of a scene | Courtesy Azad Film Company

Malik. Moor has not done very well financially despite receiving immense critical praise. Do you now want to make a film that can make money?

Jami. I can see my life and my career going somewhere like, say, Terry Gilliam’s [has gone]. I just hope I do not have to suffer as much as he did but nobody talks about the money he made. They always talk about his content. Same was the case with my first film, O21. If you go on the IMDb webpage, you will see that it got 8.1 rating and thousands of reviews [yet it did not make much money].

Malik. But O21 was not completely your film.

Jami. A lot of people think that but I take immense ownership of that film. Honestly, we retained only three to four scenes from what [Australian director, writer and actor] Summer Nicks had shot for O21. We reshot and changed the rest. It took 11 months to reshoot and rewrite everything. I take credit for that film because it was so heavily criticised and people don’t take ownership of projects of that kind.

Coming back to Moor, right now no one is asking me about the box office earnings. They are talking about the story, the sub plots and the narrative. If this becomes my career style then this is what the audience will expect from me, like Vishal Bhardwaj’s films. In some ways, I consider myself like him. He has some great work that became a hit and there are other films that did not do so well. I feel he sold himself by putting in a song like Beedi Jalaile in Omkara. It is always quite apparent when the pressure to make money is playing on a film-maker’s mind. But, eventually, the artist within him snaps and he creates Haider, where he does not give two hoots about using commercial gimmicks. It will be very interesting if people say Moor did not make money but it was a good film, so let us see what the director does next.

Malik. We live in the digital era where you can make films quite cheaply and they can be very successful. The film’s commercial success actually depends on the content and the way a story is told. The first film that really did this was The Blair Witch Project; a low budget film which ended up making a lot of money. So, the potential is there

Jami. Good work will do well anywhere. In the 1980s, we saw no film like Robert Rossen’s The Hustler or Alan J Pakula’s All the President’s Men or Sholay by Ramesh Sippy. What happened after the 1970s was that the bankers and the business executives entered film-making. They said the story could go to the dumps; it is all about the marketing and the packaging. This is exactly what is happening now.

Malik. Yes, now upto 70 per cent of a film’s budget can go into marketing.

Jami. And that is very scary. I call this the Monster Inc formula where they used fear to create energy but did not use the laughing technique, which could give them triple that energy. A film like PK proves that a good story is where the game is. It has no bandi (girl) in it and yet it earned 500 crore rupees.

Photo by Arif Mahmood, White Star
Photo by Arif Mahmood, White Star

Malik. What, then, do you think is the role of a film-maker in a society?

Jami. They need to take responsibility. I mean Stanley Kubrick did this with A Clockwork Orange. When, after the film’s release, London experienced immense rise in crime, he pulled it off the cinemas. It is wrong to say that film-makers do not have moral responsibilities. You can reject your work even if the audience likes it. The audience, too, needs to speak. Someone said at a premiere the other day that we should all come out to support Pakistani cinema. I disagree. Come out to support good work. Come out to see a good film. Don’t make it seem like we need charity.

Malik. You seem to come from that school of film-making which believes storytelling is important because cinema has a role in shaping people’s values. That it is hugely influential, it can mythologise people and it can turn them into national heroes. Cinema has also had a kind of corrupting effect but it can have a very positive effect, too. Do you believe cinema has the power to influence minds?

Jami. Hitler and Stalin knew this, too. To completely control a society, cinema is the biggest thing you can have. A good film embeds an idea in people’s minds. This is how branding also works since it embeds the idea of a product in the minds of the audience. There is another thing called forced brand placement in a film. That has completely taken over and everyone seems to be alright with it. How can you be okay with brand placement in a film? I just do not understand. Why aren’t people protesting against it already? It is dangerous that the audiences are not raising a voice against it.

Malik. After the National Film Development Corporation (Nafdec) became defunct, we had no real guidelines or policy regarding cinema content. Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) generally does moral policing. That really leaves the corporate sector as the main funding source of films in Pakistan. That is why the brand is king and so far has dominated the few films that have come out. What is the ideal balance here?

Jami. An ideal situation will emerge once these films with brand placements fail badly at the box office. Only then they will learn. But it needs to happen a few times at a stretch.

Malik. In most recent cases, brand placement has not been integrated into the story; it is very abrupt. People feel pinched by it. Brands, too, might be realising that this does not necessarily work. Will you consider it if a big brand approaches you for placement in your next film?

Jami directs the cast of Moor on location | Courtesy Azad Film Company
Jami directs the cast of Moor on location | Courtesy Azad Film Company

Jami. We had such a situation in O21. A mobile phone seller was interested in brand placement. For me, having that discussion was almost like having an argument. I said the film could not have the protagonist holding a particular mobile phone that denotes a certain social class. That will take the character out of the film. It will change my story. I said: “Just don’t change the content of the film or its premise. Apart from that you can do as you please.”

Malik. But obviously those who have put in their money in the film also need to make money and the brands are willing to provide that money.

Jami. Product placement can be tolerated if it is done in a sophisticated manner. If brands are entering a film and they are not sophisticated in how they choose to be presented, then the industry will never be able to get out of [its bad impacts].

Malik. How have they done it in India? We must learn from them. The legal screening of Indian films is what initially kick-started this revival of Pakistani cinema. Their import has led to more cinemas opening in Pakistan and this has increased the market for local films, also. It is, therefore, important to look at Indian cinema and learn what we can.

We knew revival will happen but no one could anticipate that it will happen this quickly.

Jami. Agreed. But we don’t watch 90 per cent of Indian cinema because it doesn’t even reach us. I am certain they do the same. One needs to maintain a balance. You have to sustain financially but with discipline. If [moneymaking] is done without discipline then this industry is going to suffer a most unfortunate fate. Ten years ago naach gana (song and dance)led to the downfall of this industry. Now just by having good lighting design, you cannot repackage the same stuff. Same is the case with brand placement. Eventually all this will backfire.

Malik. You have vociferously spoken out against ‘item numbers ‘. Why is it such an important issue for you?

Jami. If I want to sell something, I can do that in television commercials. On a 50-foot screen, you are shooting this half-naked woman who is okay with four hundred men around her. She is happy and she is singing, “I am a tandoori chicken; eat me”. A demand is created for this kind of dance and song. It is as simple as that.

Malik. So you are saying it basically objectifies women and is selling sex...

Jami. Every time you put in an item number, you are touching those sexually frustrated people. They think that the girl who is wearing jeans cannot be a good girl. They are not sophisticated enough to not think that.

Malik. Are you saying item numbers encourage crime? They create a wrong impression of women in our society?

Jami. I cannot exactly say they encourage crime but I am sure they create sexual frustration. Sexual frustration is like cigarettes. The manufacturers know that some people need cigarettes. They, therefore, put tar in them which gets the smokers hooked. Item numbers do serve some purpose. For me, that purpose is connected to some kind of a crime. I cannot prove it, but just imagine a girl leaving work to head home at 12 in the night, she crosses a cinema where a show has just ended and the boys are completely out of control. In that kind of a situation, an item song may lead to crime. It will also determine how male filmgoers view an urban working woman in our society.

Photo by Arif Mahmood, White Star
Photo by Arif Mahmood, White Star

Malik. Bollywood has its own identity; Iranian films, too, have got their own identity. What are your hopes for Pakistani cinema? How should it be seen in the world? What are the stories we should be telling about ourselves?

Jami. What are our strengths? [Television serials such as] Tanhaiyan and Ankahi were completely original. Now we are doing a copy paste of Indian cinema. In India, they make a film in 100 crore rupees. You recycle the same material and try to present it in a three crore rupee budget. It will not work.

Malik. Then what should we do?

Jami. Well, you have to have your own storytelling style whatever that may be. I do not know if that style is Shah or Moor or Manto but the cycle needs to continue. Storytelling needs to happen. Films like Manto need to keep getting made. That is the key. This process should not be choked.

Malik. At such an early stage of the re-emergence of cinema in Pakistan, we get to see three mature films. That is a very positive sign. These are very sophisticated films...

Jami. One needs to look at how these films are being handled. Shah was not handled properly. It barely had any publicity from its media partners. The film-maker was editing the film himself. Help him out, at least see what he is doing. If he had to put every poster himself then that is madness. My point is that our identity is films like Shah, Moor and Manto. These should be treated as assets.

I think we are developing our voice. If a film like Manto is making money then that solves the problem. But if a film-maker doesn’t get a fair opportunity to make money then I have a problem with that.

Someone said at a premiere the other day that we should all come out to support Pakistani cinema. I disagree. Come out to support good work. Come out to see a good film. Don’t make it seem like we need charity.

Malik. Let us get to the personal. There is such an apparent dichotomy in Jami: he is an advertising man and he is also an activist film-maker. You have a strong opinion about things. Your films are a form of activism. How does this work for you?

Jami. Advertising is important because doing commercials helps me get money. When I was in New York doing the mixing for Jinnah’s Urdu version, I could not board a bus once because I did not have the money to buy a ticket to reach back home from Times Square. I had three dollars on me, I stood there warming myself from the heat emitted by the subway. It was then that I realised that I needed to have money if I wanted to remain a film-maker. And if I wanted to stay a film-maker, then I would have to do television commercials to stay in practice.

Malik. To keep honing the craft..

Jami. Constantly. I became known for jumping in to commercials with a very non-business idea. I was shooting ads in a very music video-like manner.

Malik. There was a whole group of directors doing that in the early 2000s, right? Saqib Malik, Asim Raza, Ahsan and Amina, Asad and Waqas..

Jami. Yes, it was a complete movement. It is important to understand in your mind that there is branded life and then there is unbranded life. A complete cut-off between the two versions of yourself is very important. In film, you cannot mix the two.

The cast and crew of Moor | Courtesy Azad Film Company
The cast and crew of Moor | Courtesy Azad Film Company

Malik. So you keep your film-making activism separate from your commercial work?

Jami. Yes, you have to be brutally honest. I don’t do fizzy drink ads. I just can’t. I read the research and it is very deadly. Same is the case with fairness creams. I just cannot advertise these products. Even within that grey zone, ad makers have their own philosophies.

Malik. I have been a big fan of your music videos from the very start but I never really wrapped my head around them narratively. There is a lot of symbolism but there isn’t a clear-cut arc. What are your inspirations in making work like that? How do you translate what you do in music video into a feature film?

Jami. Someone once asked Steven Spielberg how he comes up with amazing ideas like E.T. He responded saying that he has a child inside him which he keeps alive. Whenever there are meetings, it is that child who provides him with ideas, honest ideas. But here, people come on to you so strongly and are so critical that it does not feel like you are working in a free space. When I made the video for Ali Azmat’s song Deewana, people were like what the hell is this. Deewana technically is Citizen Kane. His empire becomes so huge that he wants somebody to come and kill him. People didn’t understand it but I know my boundaries; I can recognise the point when something will become too much for the audience to take in. I have done 50 edits of Moor just to see how much I can push the boundaries. Now people may say they did not understand which flashback was for which character. For the international release, however, the film has been edited differently and has become completely linear. It was brutally shocking to see.

Malik. How can you be okay with that?

Jami. The [editors] think this is what sells. I was resolute about keeping my own version for the Pakistan and India release. I also made sure that the version sent for the Oscars is mine.

Jami directs on the set of Moor | Courtesy Azad Film Company
Jami directs on the set of Moor | Courtesy Azad Film Company

Malik. When I saw Moor, my first comment was this is contemporary Pakistani cinema’s first contribution to world cinema. It is unique and I have not seen anything quite like it from Pakistan before. I had to see it twice to understand it. And now you are telling me you re-edited it for its international screening. This is shocking to me.

Jami. A few distributors said they would not accept a non-linear film. Here we are talking about the pressure that we started this conversation with.

Malik. Do you think Moor is your most complete work? Is this the clearest voice of Jami so far?

Jami. For the first time, I am enjoying the audiences’ reactions to the film. When people walk out after having watched Moor, their reactions are very fulfilling and you feel like the circle is completed; that all those theories floating in your mind are connecting. Maybe it is because the story is simple.

Malik. When I talk to people about Moor, their first comment is that the cinematography, symbolism and the emotions are its strength; but they also say they did not understand the story and that editing is just confusing, if not just plain bad. Naturally, I don’t agree with that. When I first saw Moor, I was moved by it deeply but I did not know why. When I saw it the second time, the narrative appeared much sharper and the editing made more sense. When I tell this to people, they say: “But a good film should tell you the story in the very first watching.”

Jami. I had to watch Inception 10 times. There is no formula that a good film should only be seen once and should tell the story in the very first watching.

Malik. More than any other film from Pakistan, maybe even from the subcontinent, Moor is structured in a way that it asks the audience to get involved and invest themselves intellectually. It doesn’t provide easy answers. People aren’t used to watching movies like that.

Jami. I cannot say whether the movie has been able to connect with the masses but we shouldn’t think of the audience as idiots. These audiences have seen Bol. That was a tough film; it wasn’t all song and dance or anything like that. You have to get the audience into the habit of being invested. If you make everyone used to reading small articles, then who will ever pick up a book? If you don’t understand a book, you can’t just say that it was useless. You should try again because maybe it is your understanding that is lacking.

Malik. Do you see yourself in the Terrence Malick or the James Cameron school of film-making, investing many years to make a single film?

Jami. Moor took so long to make because we wanted to shoot the sound on location. We wanted to give Pakistan a proper cinematic experience. The cinematography looks amazing because it was a very slow shoot. I shot the film in three phases. The shooting started in late 2011 and ended in 2013. Then, there was one last phase of shooting which finished just last year.

If you speed up the shoot just thinking about feasibility or budget or schedule, then you can’t make a proper film. I am not saying that other kinds of films are bad. I am just talking about the kind of film which you can send abroad, screen internationally and say “this is us”. Export quality has to be the absolute best.

Malik. Making a commercial film will never be your priority?

Jami. The other day, I was thinking about this script that I have and which is a very Na Maloom Afraad type comedy. It is a funny script about a few children who accidentally kill a political leader and as a result they are seen as the biggest gangsters around. I was thinking about how I could shoot the film and I thought if I give the audience exactly what they are demanding, well, I cannot do that. That is not me. This is not about being lowbrow or highbrow. I cannot connect to anything that looks like Bollywood. They just have so many fillers in their films.

Photo by Arif Mahmood, White Star
Photo by Arif Mahmood, White Star

**Malik. Mainstream, big-budget Bollywood films don’t really focus that much on narrative. The writing is usually very superficial and empty.**

Jami. Yes. If I do that, maybe people will say, “You have also become a Bollywood director”. It has become such a big fear in my head. I am deeply connected to Pakistan.

Malik. All your films and all the ideas that you have spoken about suggest that you are an ideologue. Do you want to make issue-based films?

Jami. I think it automatically happens. In the end, my film revolves around issues. I do not know why. The film I am doing right now, Hasht Roch, is also like that, it is about eight days of a police operation in Lyari. I am working with students from the Karachi University and Szabist on this film.

Just think about it for a second, how did cinema here suddenly emerge with so much force? Nowhere in the world has revolution been this quick. What is going on here? Everyone is shooting a film, while a few years ago you couldn’t even shoot an ad.

Malik. Why do you think that is?

Jami. I think it is a stage where we have just gotten tired of the Taliban and their religious [diktat]. Now people are at a stage where they say, “Please let me have a little fun. I am going to the cinema”.

Earlier, the mullahs were so powerful that people feared they would be persecuted for blasphemy or obscenity. The game changed with the Hazaras laying out their dead for the world to see. I think the army has shown the Taliban a stick after the Army Public School incident. Because those killed there were army children so the army said, “Now we are not going to back down, come what may”. That has trickled down to us here in Karachi. It is a safer city now, which means 4 am film shows in cinemas in Saddar are full. It means people feel they can step out whenever they want to now.

Malik. I heard your mother, Quratul Ain Bakhtiari, speak at the TEDx. She told some really fascinating stories about your family breaking apart and coming together, and then obviously there is her own connection to Balochistan. How did all that lead to Moor?

Jami. If you notice, I am like Wahid in Moor. He lost his mother at the exact same age that mine left home. I was the youngest of my siblings and it was very tough. I had no clue about what to do because my dad would go to work and my mother wasn’t around. I was home alone. That is what made me a film-maker. I would bunk school, entering the gates at 8 am and getting out 15 minutes later.

Malik. To do what?

Jami. To roam around in Saddar.

Malik. To go see the latest film hoardings or to go watch films?

Jami. There were no posters at the time and I didn’t even know films. This was 1982 or 1983.

Malik. Were you just wandering and observing?

Jami. It was a horrible period. It was really bad. And it was nobody’s fault, not my father’s either. My mother was just too radical for him…

Malik. Can you tell us a little more?

Jami. My mother’s upbringing was very liberal and she was extremely beautiful in her prime. She was then married off into this Lucknowi family which was always critical of her. That started a war in the family. My father was not on my mother’s side. He just did not understand her. Their mindsets did not match. It was like telling an actress to just spend her youth sitting at home — not to talk too fast, let alone dance or act. That was the kind of situation my mother found herself in.

A photograph of Jami with his wife adorns a wall of their home | Arif Mahmood, White Star
A photograph of Jami with his wife adorns a wall of their home | Arif Mahmood, White Star

She was very vocal about politics and became even more aggressively vocal after Bangladesh separated from Pakistan. It became very personal for her. She would say the army is made up of liars — they claim at night that everything is under control and in the morning Dhaka falls. It got stuck in her head.

This was in Nazimabad 1977 onwards. We saw a very non-burger life. And it was beautiful at that time. I could enter anyone’s house in our neighbourhood, sit down and have food. Everyone used to look after us. They knew we didn’t have a mother.

Malik. Your mother went for further studies, right?

Jami. She [initially] went to work with Akhtar Hameed Khan, the founder of Orangi Pilot Project, which was the biggest of its kind in the world. I did not even know what it was. I found out when I went to Orangi [much later] and saw that what she actually did was help treat sewage and work on female hygiene issues.

Malik. And then she did similar work in Balochistan?

Jami. Balochistan came later. Her work in Balochistan started twenty years ago.

Malik. Is that where the desire to make Moor in Balochistan came from?

Jami. Well, we wanted to show the height of corruption. There are two things that come out in the film. First is the Axact-style corruption — a boy who is selling futures. Secondly, there is his father who is stuck in the past.

I, however, could not touch the real issues in Balochistan. I do not even know what is happening with the BLA [Balochistan Liberation Army] or the bomb blasts. I just heard my mother relate an incident that she witnessed, of a man who went to the bank with a bag full of money. And that set me thinking on what kind of backstory that person might have had. I added details to the story and shared it with Nadeem [Mandviwalla]. He said it was too artsy and added, “Jami, you have to make this relatable. Add something like a train station, a hostel, anything”. I thought that way it could work. When I started researching about trains, I found so much corruption.

Malik. Did you encounter this corruption first-hand?

Jami. Yes, I just took a train from Karachi and the story just wrote itself on the way because an 11-hour to 12-hour journey ended up taking me 53 hours. They said they had run out of diesel. How can that even happen? You know exactly how long the journey is going to be and you know how much diesel is required. But they put in only as much fuel needed to take the train from one station to the next. Then, it is the next station’s problem. Can you believe this?

Malik. The train system was really the heart of this country when we inherited it. It helped this country function and served as the main form of mobility for the working classes.

Jami. Yes. And our own government has ruined it, intentionally, shutting down trains so that we can now run NLC (National Logistics Cell) trucks. This wasn’t just one station master’s story. There were hundreds of guys like Wahid who were crying over their future. These were people who had master’s degrees in English and their children were walking around naked. Things were so bad that they did not have food; they did not have clothes.

Malik. But they still had a strong belief system.

Jami. They were all like Wahid and their wives were stopping them from becoming corrupt. That is when I understood that a man cannot become corrupt on his own. The whole society forces him to go along with whatever the others are doing. It takes a woman to ask why are you selling this train, when others only ask why you still haven’t.

Malik. So you are saying that women are the real strength behind men?

Jami. She is the architect, she creates, she gives birth while us (men) just destroy. Whatever we do always ends in a fight. A woman does not do that. That got stuck in my mind to such a level that every male character in Moor is surrounded by a woman to stop him from doing wrong things.

Malik. And, hence, the moral compass of the film comes from the women?

Jami. The voice of brutal morality.

Photo by Arif Mahmood, White Star
Photo by Arif Mahmood, White Star

Malik. Let us get a little bit into the visual language and symbolism. They really created the emotional arc of the film. Where did the inspiration come from? Who would be five film-makers who have really influenced you?

Jami. Akira Kurosawa, definitely. Christopher Nolan. Alfred Hitchcock. Kubrick. And, finally, there is Satyajit Ray. Other than these, minor influences are innumerable.

Malik. How did you work with the actors to keep them at the same intensity level that the film demanded?

Jami. We spent a lot of time on the script and then did the same on the actors. We had a lot of rehearsals and workshops with them.

Malik. Going back to symbolism, I love the scene in Moor with the road that breaks the train track.

Jami. There is no symbolism in that instance. It is just the absolute reality. We have made a documentary about the disappearing rails in Balochistan.

Malik. Now we have come back full circle to the idea of film-maker as an activist. How much attention, the wrong kind of attention, are you getting because you are taking on people who have earned a lot from corruption? Have the authorities contacted you? Have the railway people been upset?

Jami. I also thought that something or the other would happen to me but I think nobody cares. That is the sad part.

Malik. But you still chose to give the film a happy ending.

Jami. The ending I have written is something I believe in. I want to give hope to the audience. I want to tell them that we are still alive and kicking. Otherwise, a normal person will just get mortally depressed.

In the original ending, the characters were to go back to their roots but the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] stopped us from going back [to the location]. They said, “You will get killed this time”. I am a Shia, I did not want to get stuck in any sort of situation where everyone gets into trouble because of me. But life imitates art and, actually, we found out that a lot of corrupt officials were arrested around the time the film’s shooting ended. It is actually a happy ending!

This was originally published in Herald's October 2015 issue. To read more subscribe to Herald in print.