Mohammad Naqvi

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Mohammad Naqvi

Documentaries

Naqvi’s strong sense of multi-culturalism

Dawn

Mohammad Naqvi

Still reeling from the fact that his film Shame premiered as a work-in-progress at the recent 31st annual Toronto International Film Festival — one of the most renowned and competitive film festivals in the world — and received standing ovations at all the showings, 27-year-old Mohammad Naqvi has it made. And while the festival was no doubt a “very uplifting experience”, he was also “humbled to be in the presence of such amazing film-makers”. With the hangover almost over and Naqvi heading straight into editing, he took time out to talk to Zofeen T. Ebrahim for Images between giving “technical finishes” to the film, and working on “some additional story development”….

Q. Why documentaries?

A. I have worked in both narrative features and documentaries, and although you never know what your finished story is going to be in either case, with documentaries you have even less knowledge of what story you will end up with. Documentaries, for this reason, are simply more exciting.

Q. Is there anything in common between a film-maker and a journalist?

A. Both tell stories. However, journalism, by definition, has to be objective. Film-making is subjective. A successful film has to have a definitive point of view. Having a definitive point of view — or subjectivity — can sometimes get you in trouble if you are a journalist.

Q. Do you think a documentary has the ability to force change? How? Why so for a country like ours?

A. I think films, documentary or otherwise, can be catalysts of change. In any country, ours included, a good film can serve as a mirror to the nation — it can help us accept our reality. Owning this reality, including its flaws and its strengths, is how nations progress; this progress can manifest itself socially or ideologically.

Q. But do you agree that documentaries barely enjoy the same attention that commercial movies do?

A. The trend is changing here in this part of the world as well as in Pakistan. Audiences the world over are becoming more sophisticated and want to watch a broader range of films.

Q. Why not go into commercial films?

A. I am not sure what you mean by commercial films. If you mean why I’ve not made films that have been commercial, then I disagree. Most of the projects I have worked on, even if they are arty in nature, have been distributed the world over on a variety of platforms including theatrical, broadcast, cable, and DVD.

But if you mean why I have not gone into making mainstream cinema, I am still young and in no way would I shy away from taking on projects that are mainstream and still have artistic merit. I just have not had the opportunity yet.

‘I never approach a project to highlight a social wrong — quite the opposite. If anything, I like to approach stories in a positive way. Shame is essentially a story of triumph and achieving the impossible. Mukhtaran is also a hero of our country — a woman who shatters the unfortunate western stereotype of Muslim women being weak and powerless. She is, therefore, a huge right in our country’s social fabric,’ says Mohammad Naqvi


Q. How many movies have you made so far?

A. I produced and directed Terror’s Children in 2003. It was a television documentary specially profiling Afghan refugee children living in Karachi. The movie launched the Discovery-Times Channel, a joint venture between The New York Times and the Discovery Communications Group. I also won the Overseas Press Club of America-Carl Spielvogel Award and Saja (South Asian Journalism) award for that.

My first experience as a producer was on a narrative feature drama called BigRiver (2006). It is a post-9/11 road trip movie between three strangers: a Pakistani, a Japanese tourist and an American girl who, due to various circumstances, end up traveling together through the American Southwest. Big River premiered at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year and is currently being theatrically released the world over. This was a great opportunity because I got to work with an established team of co-producers from Japan, with legendary director Takeshi Kitano’s company, Office Kitano.

I also directed and wrote Hide in 2004. This short film was made for the Berlin Talent Campus, Berlin Film Festival 2004. It explores sexual dynamics in a conservative Muslim couple and the subsequent duality the couple has to live in to exist in their community.

Shame, in 2006, is my first feature length documentary that I have directed and produced. It is also my favorite. It is the most inspiring of all the stories I have worked on.

Q. Is some or the other social cause always your theme?

A. Let’s see what fate has in store for me.

Q. Do you think there is no dearth of social wrongs in our culture for you to take up? Any other issue you’re raring to tackle?

A. I never approach a project to highlight a social wrong — quite the opposite. If anything, I like to approach stories in a positive way. Shame is essentially a story of triumph and achieving the impossible. Mukhtaran is also a hero of our country — a woman who shatters the unfortunate western stereotype of Muslim women being weak and powerless. Mukhtaran is, therefore, a huge ‘right’ in our country’s social fabric.

Q. How do you view the feudal system in our country?

A. I can only comment on the feudal system in Meerwala — the system that allowed Mukhtaran’s tragedy to occur. I find it abhorrent and a cancer that prevents our country from progressing.

Q. Are you inspired by any documentarist? Any in South Asia?

A. I am only inspired by the subjects of my films, for only they inform my work.

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