The last time I talked to Aleem is pretty much one year ago. We talked about how he got into becoming a photographer/cinematographer, about his first short film "Below the Sun" and about his future projects. One of these future projects just got finished a few weeks ago. It is his new short film "Sapola". Not only did Aleem create an amazing movie but also got selected by various film festivals for his amazing work. What "Sapola" is about, how he managed to make his dream come true and what struggles he had to deal with you can read below.
Well the story isn't complicated, it's a bit of a character study in the mind of a disturbed, short-tempered individual living in a rural village of Sindh. I cannot say much without spoiling the film itself so before anyone reads this interview I would suggest to watch the film first then come back over here haha!
As much as I want to spread awareness on the sensitive issue of honor killing, I won't say that's the reason I made this film. People prior to me have already made films, ran campaigns, spread awareness on this issue, so I'm not the first one to do so and most people by now are aware that unfortunately, this happens a lot in Pakistan, it is all over the news. Karo-Kari is prevalent in the villages of Sindh.
My main motive was not just to spread awareness, I wanted to do it in a way that could get to a somewhat wider audience. Horror as a genre is mostly disregarded by intelligent audiences for being too wacky and lacking that intellectual merit compared to other genres. Horror is extremely difficult to make which is why it's hard to find horror films that are generally good films.
Most people don't watch a mystery / horror film for a message or socially conscious theme, that was exactly what I wanted to do. Before we started shooting the film, I already had in my mind that I wanted to make a horror film, but I did not want to make just a straight up over the top ghost story you know? I feel like when you have a medium that's so strong as film, it can be used for much greater things but of course, I'm not saying every film has to have a message. It's just I have always liked horror films that were still grounded in reality and socially relevant themes.
I wanted to make a film that was mysterious and yet touched an issue which I felt was much needed to address. I had this strong desire to make an extremely subtle and subversive film, that some people might even want to watch twice just to get the little details that are scattered throughout the dialogue and imagery. Another motive behind making this film was a story that was scary on a human level but not on a "ghost" level.
I was brainstorming for the title. The script was never titled, the name came long after the film was done and I was around submitting to festivals. My uncle actually suggested me the name, told me the meaning and I liked it, given the imagery that is in the film and the themes it fit really well. So thank you Faheem Chachu!
It's never easy to make a movie on a low, almost micro-budget which we had. Trust me it was like the universe was in our favor that we got to have the amazing locations and brilliant actors. At one point I almost had a minor breakdown when we couldn't find this one location of the house where the conversation took place, but we found a location that was better than anything I had in mind.
We only had money to travel to the locations, for transport, props and food. Almost everyone involved in the film worked for free because none of us had any money, we even scouted all to locations ourselves along with the actors. On the set, we were only 4-5 people. I was the director of the film and the cinematographer, we couldn't afford a director of photography or even a sound guy. I had to shoot, edit, sound design everything myself. It was hectic as hell. I spent nights doubting myself if this will ever work. It's one thing if you're just directing your film and rest of the departments handle other things. I had to learn the in and outs of sound design from scratch and considering it was a mystery horror film? Oh man, horror sound design is not easy at all. Even the drone-like overhead shots of the bike were recorded with me and Awais on top of a Suzuki with the camera handheld. That's how cheap we were hahaha!
One of my idols that I look up to, once said it's almost a miracle every time a film gets made. I guess I live by those words. I didn't ever think it would turn out this well. I mean of course I don't think it's perfect in any way and the more I watch my own film I can see so many flaws that could have been better, but then I have to tell myself to take it easy. It's just the beginning. It's a little step and hey, if so many festivals selected your film it might not be that bad huh? I do think that it could have been a lot stronger in terms of writing, but then again I'm just learning. What I am truly happy about however in the final result, is that I got to know two absolutely amazing actors through my friend Awais. One is Irfan Noor K and the other Bahar Ali Baloch. Honestly, I can easily say that I fell in love with acting when I was shooting with the both of them.
I have nothing but respect for the kind of effort they both put in. We were shooting in summer it was extremely hot and the places we shot in there was no fan / no air conditioning and these two guys were so dedicated that it never felt difficult. Even right now when I talk to Irfan and he tells me he could have done a lot better job in terms of acting, I tell him that I absolutely love each and every single scene in the film only because of his acting and not because of my own work. It wouldn't have been creepy without the look that Bahar had. I don't think I could have gotten a better result if it wasn't for these two actors. Props to Awais Baloch as well for discovering them. The last thing I'm truly happy with is the haunting original score for the trailer composed by Sunny Khan Durrani. It was my first time working with him on a film and luckily we connected right away. He did an absolutely wonderful job!
Last time we talked, I remember I told you was that I was gonna make another short-film which I was brainstorming. At that time, I had ideas of a detective mystery film with horror elements but because of obvious budget constraints I couldn't make that, so I chose to compromise and make a micro-budget character study with the same genre elements of mystery and horror instead of trashing it away altogether. I guess what I'm trying to get at is that in that process I matured, I have become more practical than I was ever before. So much has changed, I never thought my film would get selected to five international festivals, win best short-film at one of them, get nominated in two different categories and even play at local film festivals in my own country especially the fact it bagged two awards; Best Direction and Best Screenplay at FiLUMS Film Festival 2018 in Pakistan. Till last year I had only dreamed of having my short-film selected to film festivals but It's almost as if I have achieved a little milestone. This year was the first time for me in so many ways, I had never sent my film to any film festivals before so I had zero knowledge of how things worked. I learned a lot through this whole process more than I expected to. It was really scary in the beginning and gave me lots of anxiety, self-doubt, and insecurity but now knowing that I did it, it couldn't have been better. So I guess practicality and a little bit of maturity, both personally and professionally is something that could have changed.
Absolutely I do. I'm in the research process right now. I do have a rough draft and the genre is science fiction that's all I can reveal at the moment. I don't know when I will get to shoot it, maybe next year or even the year after but it's gonna be a major step up from this one so I want to give it a lot of time. I don't want to just make things quickly for the sake of making them, I want to make the kind of films that I myself want to see being made in Pakistan by other people but till they do that. I have to do that job myself and knowing that it's never gonna come quick or easy.