Small budget, big row

Annam Lodhi on the upcoming release of 8969 – a Pakistani production of great ambition but mired in controversy

The restrictions on Indian content in Pakistan, despite having been roundly criticised, have indeed forced Pakistani media to fill up the entertainment vacuum thus created.

We have this month, in December, the release of a new Pakistani film, 8969, taking advantage of this situation.  8969 is a suspenseful thriller based on true events. The movie apparently aims to discourage the youth of Pakistan from misusing the internet, especially social media websites.

The director and main lead of the movie, Azeem Sajjad, claims that his work would bring awareness, about the value of interpersonal relations and humanity. He asks his viewers to enter the cinema with no high hopes at all. “It is a simple thriller with some romance. Please do not expect songs on Nanga Parbat, someone jumping off a plane without parachute, designer’s wardrobe, Hollywood or Bollywood stars,”

The cast consists of Azeem Sajjad, Saba Qamar, Sadaf Hamid, Hussain Tiwana, Anam Malik, Haseeb Khan, Sama Shah, Sunny Khan, Princess Zuni and Ali Jibran Khan. So we have here some that are new and some names that have gained a lot of fame recently.

The movie was originally shot in 2012 as a telefilm, but later it was decided to turn it into a feature film. Azeem says that this is simply a promotion. “Let’s say it was a telefilm. I would take it as a compliment. Now it got upgraded to a feature film. 8969 is a complete package.”

It seems that if the movie had released earlier the dynamics might have been different. Consider the fact that one of the leads and main characters of the movie, Saba Qamar, has refused to acknowledge it. We tried to reach her but it would seem she did not want to comment on the issue.

“She was one of my greatest friends, and if you notice she has worked in many of my projects,” he begins after a hearty laugh on the controversial question.

“Though we aren’t on talking terms anymore, I have a lot of respect for her,” he adds, “She did not act in 8969 ‘on gunpoint’. She played her role with all of her heart – the BTS and team of 8969 are evidence enough.”

He thinks once the movie releases and Saba sees how brilliantly she acted, she would regret her current stance. Azeem says:

“I was definitely hurt when I watched her insult me in a morning show, because I did not expect such behaviour from a star of her calibre.”

“If she chooses not to promote her own film with us, it’s her loss. I do not make big claims about the movie. But I feel that people will leave the cinema hall satisfied after watching the movie,” he claims.

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The rivalry has been the two has grown over a short span of time.

He tells me his version of the row over an item number performed by Saba Qamar. She claimed that she was ‘forced’ to do the item song in the movie: the reason behind much of the dispute. Azeem believes the following:

“Firstly, it isn’t an item number. She and Sadaf Hamid are the heroines of the film. Saba plays a major character, that of a dancer in an abuser club. She personally chose her dress for the song and Nigah choreographed it. In the BTS shots, she is jubilant while dancing and how on earth can someone force Saba Qamar?”

“Her reasons to detach herself from my project are not professional – that I am sure off,” he believes.

Azeem gives the impression of being one of those who doesn’t follow trends. There isn’t any pomp, show, or PR of the movie, to my knowledge. Azeem says that he believes that if his movie is worth it, people will watch it even without spending huge sums of money on marketing strategies. “The movie is a humble attempt to encourage those who wish to make films in an economical budget.”

Azeem has been in the industry for the past three decades, but he hasn’t gained commercial success. “At the risk of sounding overly blunt, it’s quite unfortunate that like all other fields in our country, the media too is infected with the virus of corruption,” he adds.

He claims that the media, too, has a “mafia” which is insecure, biased and succumbs to superiority complexes when it comes to professionalism. “I face problems because I do not belong to a particular lobby. I don’t socialise, party or bribe. I have survived so far because the screen does not lie. For shortcuts to success, one has to sacrifice their dignity, grace and conscience.”

He says that because of the excessive lobbying, no one from the outside is allowed to work in their territory or challenge them, “There are only a handful of humble personalities in the media,” he opines. “The key to success isn’t merited nowadays. If you belong to a filthy-rich family or are ready to sell yourself completely, you make it swiftly to the mainstream!”

He continues to challenge people to debate his assertions: “I am ready to prove my point in an open discussion.”

The movie releases on 02 December 2016. It is, at the end of the day, a small-budget movie but will also set a trend for producers and directors who cannot be part of the big club of filmmaking, “8969 will inspire everyone to attempt filmmaking regardless of their budget limitations,” Azeem hopes.


Originally Published In The Friday Times

 

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