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Spotlight: Sohail Javed

Ready, Set, Action!
Truly one of the best video directors in Pakistan, Sohail Javed has come a long, long way. His videos have left a mark in the Pakistani pop music industry, and have been an inspiration for the new generation of video directors.

How many years have you been in this field?
It's been eleven years. I started out in 1993 as a director, borrowed money from somewhere and made a programme.

Were you assisting someone?
Nope. I've never assisted anyone. I am not the sort who would assist someone. I know people who were assistants eleven years ago and are still assistants, or are trying to figure out what they want to do or have changed their profession. They've been let down and mistreated.

Under which banner are you working?
My company is called Saya films. It's an independent film company. We ‘ll be starting a film this January.

Film as in film?
Yes. It's basically a 100-minute English film. The script is 70% in English, 20% in Urdu and 10% in Punjabi. It's called Baavan (52). Shahzad Nawaz is producing it, and I'm directing it. We're making it on 35 mm.

Do you think a 100-minute English film made by desi will be able to create a stir in Pakistan?
We're making exactly what we want to make. Everyone keeps talking about yeh chale ga, yeh nahi chale ga but no one is coming forward and making films. Even I've been running after people for the past 6-7 yearss. Then I met Shahzad Nawaz and he was doing this project already with some other director. That director backed out because of some technical problems so he got me in.

Is it a commercial movie?
It's about relationship, and how people don't think when their egos are on the line. It's about one person losing and throwing everything away and the other person winning in a very strange manner. It's very weird. We're really excited about it. The script is almost ready, the cast has been finalized, the production and set details are being handled, Inshallah if everything goes right, we'll start shooting in December, wrap it up in December because it's an 18 day schedule, in January we'll be doing the post production in Bangkok and then we ‘ll have three shows in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. After that we'll sit back and what for the feedback.

Will there be any music or songs in it?
We're getting the music done by Ziyyad Gulzar, Mekaal Hasan and Ehtesham. We won't shoot them but they'll only be there in the background to support the movie. The whole movie happens in a room and it finishes off there in one night.

When other hotshot movie directors sulk about lack of facilities here, how difficult was it for you to make a movie here in Pakistan?
Its not difficult working with the facilities we have here, its difficult working with the people. The financers think they are producers. Sometimes the producers or their wives are telling you what to do.

Even the wives? What have this got to do with all this?
The wives are basically housewives, the husband sometimes thinks ‘Maybe she's paying too much attention to me, why not give some money to her, and let her produce a play'. Whereas she's not doing anything, she's hired a chota who's does the casting, gets a half-backed script written which is probably a copy of some sitcom in the west. We have to deal with these kinds of people. Then we have pop stars. We have their attitudes. We have their mood swings. We have their crazy schedules and we have their sleeping hours. The point is, if you're not making good music, then why do you sleep so much? Then they're looking for a 50 lakh value out of a video for which they've not put in more than 5 lakh. Everyone wants that, ‘dekhein 5 laga raha hoon, pachas ka lagna chahye'. So in the last 11 years, I've dealt with producers who act as financiers and give us hell and at times threaten us.

Threats as in death threats?
Seriously. I've been called to the police station for refusing someone's work.

On what basis?
They have doubt and they think, and have reason to believe that I am a terrorist. [laughs]

Did you have a bomb fitted in your camera or nuclear warheads?
I refused somebody's work and the guy got horrified and had me called to the police station. I've been through pop artists planning to work with me, getting a concept written, wasting three months of my life and then going to some other director with the same concept. And then telling me ‘this is my concept, how dare you tell me that this is your concept'. And then months later they apologize. I've dealt with so many things. Every other weekend when I sit down with my friends and family I tell them that I'll leave this country. But then I wake up in the morning and say I won't. I've dealt with jamadars to anyone you name it, and I learn something new everyday from them. I can't even begin to tell you what I've seen, and what my wife and I have gone through. I just love this industry. It's my home, and the more people hate me, the more I enjoy being here.

You are the one who started the trend of doing low-budgeted quality videos. How do you feel about it?
Videos had started to become so expensive; I, intentionally made an effort to bring down the budget. I got a negative feedback on this; people started asking me why I was telling people that videos can be made in 5 lakh.

And how many videos have you made so far?
I've made forty-six videos just in the past two years.

Forty-six videos in two years!! That's a lot!!!
So I want to slow down on videos and do more commercials. But I enjoy doing videos, I enjoy not making money, I enjoy being poor all the time. Someone in Lahore was asking me the other day that you did a Waris Baig video? And I said ‘why? Isn't he an artist? He's an artist of this country and you're the people who buy his tapes. You're the ones who have been listening to him for so many years'. He has his own fan following. Waris Baig mein kiya burai hai? He made a good song, so I made the video for it.

Did you expect to lose the LSA?
I went for the LSA knowing the fact that I wouldn't win. It was more like a paid vacation. I went, lost it, shopped till I dropped and returned home.

But Supreme Ishq's win was sure. It is a piece de resistance.
I had supreme Ishq, with a budget of 70 lakh and in front of that was Hadiqa's Jogi, which had a budget of 5-6 lakh and there were two videos by Jami. Shoaib Mansoor was paid 25 lakhs for the video, we didn't even get 50,000. The funny thing is, even if we combined the budgets of all 3 videos [i.e. mine and Jami's]; they weren't even close to the budget of Anarkali's video.

And what about the IM Awards?
I had 3 nominations for IM Awards, Tera Bina, Pappu Yaar and Jogi. One month before the event, a guy calls me and asks, ‘Sir, which of yours videos do you want us to nominate?' I asked him where he was calling from and he said Indus. So I told him that you're supposed to watch the videos and then nominate them. He said we've been told to do it this way. Then I told them what videos to nominate. I sent in six nominations, out of which three were selected. Mahi by Hadiqa Kiyani, which Asim Reza had directed was made in 2004 and the awards were for the year 2003.

About the IM Awards, all I have to say is that if you have to demoralize any artist of this country, invite them to an award ceremony. People like Rahim Shah and Ahmed Jahanzab should have been nominated; these are the guys who sell. Just because you have a problem with the artist you don't nominate him? This means that they were the channels' awards, not the industry's awards. You're telling me that Ahmed Jahanzeb didn't have the best ballad? Fine, ‘Tere Bina was a great song, but you're telling me that Ahmed Jahanzeb did not have the best singer's nomination?

Who's the best musician you've worked with till now, in the sense that it was a very good experience on the whole?
My two all time favourites are Ali Haider and Rahim Shah. They're the best people to work with. One meeting all sorted out, all on paper.

And the worst?
There are a couple of people. I can tell you about the worst experiences, which didn't work out. We did something for Huma Khwaja, that didn't work out. I wanted to do something and woh kaafi bura hogaya. There was something with Najam that we tried to do and it didn't work out. These are probably the worst cases. I'm doing a video for Shahida Mini these days. You know what I like about her? She sent me an album of her tracks and I said I didn't like it. She waits ten days, and then sends me another CD with a new song on it, which is really nice. She's not releasing the other album, she said, ‘You didn't like it, you think the style doesn't suit me, I'm going to make a new album'. Her song is a nice semi classical number. A lot of people raise their eyebrows when they hear the name Shahida Mini, but you have to see the way we're planning to shoot it. We have to make the video in such a way that it create acceptance for her.

You've have been working as a manager for the Mekaal Hasan Band as well, right.
Well, yes and no. Mekaal does consult me for everything, he's not a friend he's a family member. They're four people working full time for Mekaal and that's me, his dad Masood Hasan sahib, Cecil Chaudhry who handles the Lahore circuit, shows, bookings, etc and Khalid Sadaf who released his album. We all take a personal interest in Mekaal, I want his kind of music getting recognized in this country.

But it is believed that he's a very difficult person to work with.
He's a great musician; he's done extensive studies in jazz and that's why a lot of people don't want to work with him. The people who work with him don't even think of working with anyone else. To date, Salman Ahmed prefers to record at Mekaal Hasan's.

In the past eleven years, what event do you think has brought about a fundamental change in the industry?
I don't know what triggered it, but thank god, directors finally have some respect. There's a lot of talent coming in as well but unfortunately a lot of garbage too. If that garbage has some contacts then their videos run on TV on heavy rotation. That is what's wrong.

But don't you think the whole scenario is sort of opening up and getting international. Like people going across the border for greener pasture and vise versa.
I'm very arrogant like that, if you want to work with us then come here. I don't want to go and nor do I want to work there. Yes, I've worked with an Indian artist; I did the video for Bolo Bolo with Strings and Hari Haran. But I was working in a professional capacity, where he flew in from India, we flew in from Pakistan at a natural venue – and we're shooting. Yeh jo socializing or partying aur davatein aur interval se pehle aur baad aik shot, I wont be a part of this. Apart from the late 70s or the early 80s, film industry ne Pakistan ko sirf aik cheez di hai internationally aur wohh hai beizzati. Recognition nahi di. No Pakistani feature film for Pakistan has been shown at any international festival. Whereas Indian movies are released like international movies. The Indian pop industry has slowly vanished, what they have out now is soft porn. The Pakistani music industry is the only one that is getting us recognition. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Sahib was singing since 1968 and I have seen the footage, which his wife sent me because I made a documentary on Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for NTM. I can show you footage of Japanese and Chinese people dancing in 1968 shot on a VHS camera in a very small place, where he's singing and people are dancing. No pop shit, no Peter Gabriel happening. Yeh hamari puraani aadat hai, jab koi artist chala jaata hai tab humein khayal aata hai. Even the Indian artists are only cooperating because their government has asked them to.

If you can't act in a Pakistani movie, how can you act in an Indian movie?
My grandfather used to say, jo ithay kuch nahi kar sakya, oh dunya wich kuch nahi kar sakda. (If you can't do it here, you can't do it anywhere). And you're working with D grade directors like the Bhatts. The Bhatts were over by the start of the 90s. The whole Bhatt clan cannot direct to survive. They are talent less. And these stars are screaming loudly when they're working with such directors? If you signed a movie by Ram Gopal Varma, Sanjay Leela Bansali or Priyadarshan then it's something worth mentioning.

What do you think about the supari-branded videos on air these days?
They are a brand; they have a lot of money and there is a proper way to deal with a brand. I did a Rahim Shah video for some supari 2 years ago; which cost Rs. 1.8 million. At the end of the day when we cleared the bills I earned 12000 rupees from that video. The outfits for the extras were worth Rs. 50,000, Resham's coming in and staying in a hotel, the sets being made were for 3-4 lakh. When they came to me they wanted twenty product shots, I narrowed them down to eight. And I did it. Because they realized I would not budge. The directors working with them these days are just milking them. They think, ‘fine, the brand has money so let's make the video and run off with the cash'. Hence they make all these horrible videos. I think the responsibility of such videos lies both on the director and the brand.

Any last words?
There are some people I'd like to mention who have been there for me through thick and thin. My wife is my pillar of strength. The late Sajad Panjwani – I worked for him at VCI Records for 5 years and learnt the tricks of the trades. My mom. She is not with us anymore but she is very much with me, initially she did not agree with my becoming a director but I'm sure now she is looking down at me and is happy with what I'm doing. Then Ziyad Gulzar and Mekaal Hasan are two people I hate but can't live without. They are probably the only two friends I'm left with.

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