Piece of Cake
Asim Abbasi may be a ‘nobody’ when it comes to films in Pakistan but he has been gathering experience internationally with his short films since 2012. His upcoming production, Cake which counts Sanam Saeed, Adnan Malik and Aamina Sheikh as principal cast, is slated to release later this year and for which he has donned the hat of writer and director. Abbasi is someone who believes that growth will only be achieved when the cinema industry takes up diverse topics. He seems like a good addition to the crop of filmmakers who want to change the dynamics of the industry. In this conversation with Instep, the director talks about his background and why Pakistani cinema needs diversity.
Instep: Tell us something about yourself. What makes you think your film can steer the industry in the right direction?
Asim Abbasi (AA): I am a London based filmmaker; before that I was an investment banker. I left the field after nine years to pursue my dream of making a feature film. I have studied the basics of filmmaking and theory from London Film Academy and compiled a portfolio of short films that I am very happy with. Cake is a story for which I roped in Sayed Bukhari, a well-known UK businessman as an investor and after checking the scene in Pakistan last year, I joined hands with Mo Azmi, a cinematographer, to start my first film as writer/director.
Instep: Why is the film called Cake? Do you think such an unusual title will work in Pakistan?
AA: I tried to find an Urdu word for Cake but even in our national language, a cake is a cake. I came up with the name when I was completing the script because one of the characters in the film wants to be a baker – hence the title. When someone read the script, they would ask me, ‘why Cake?’ but once they finish reading it, they agreed with my choice of title.
Instep: In Pakistan, punctuality is often overlooked for one reason or another. Did you encounter it while working on this film?
AA: You may not believe it but thanks to my team and my cast, I managed to do everything on time. If the call time was 9 am, they would be there on time.
Instep: What was it like to direct terrific actors like Aamina Sheikh and Sanam Saeed?
AA: I loved the experience. You should ask them considering it is my first time and they have done films before.
Instep: Why did you opt for Adnan Malik? He has no prior film experience.
AA: When I was writing the film, particularly Adnan’s character, I was thinking of him. When I met him for narration, he was reluctant to say yes as he had not done a film before, but I am glad he agreed to do Cake. The character suits him. It might have something to do with my being an actor’s director and with Adnan in actor mode, it went as expected.
Instep: The importance of rehearsals is not a strong concept here and is considered to be a waste of time. Any specific reason why you opted for it?
AA: We had at least 6 weeks of rehearsals before the film went on floors and during that time, actors learned about their characters, the arcs as well as the story of the film. I don’t follow the mannered acting method and believe in giving actors the freedom they require – be as real as possible. The rehearsals and improvisation helped us and I am sure the audience will love what the actors have done in this film.
Instep: Will Cake be shot like an English film or will it have the desi flavor?
AA: In terms of visuals, Cake will be like an angrezi film because I feel it’s important to have an international standard for the look of the film. It’s not a typical masala film because that’s not my style. It is a female driven film and will give audience the kind of variety they are looking for. Right now, we are all shooting in the dark, trying to figure out what we want to do. Some are doing a good job, some aren’t.
Instep: Your film has no item number in it. Why?
AA: I agree that masala works but it’s not the only thing that works. We haven’t done enough to know what works and using women as an object for a few whistles isn’t what I am comfortable with. If I ever do that, I will not be able to sleep at night.
I have grown up on films made in Europe and Russia. We studied that in film theory as well so going for an Eastern technique is a big no for me. I want people to feel slightly changed emotionally through my film. The mentality of the ’80s and the ’90s has to make way for serious films and Cake is all for changing the mindset.
Instep: Where has your film been shot and how many brands have you integrated in the film?
AA: The entire film has been shot in Karachi and in a beautiful place 45 minutes away from Hyderabad. Sindh is a big part of the plot – the music has been done by Saif Samejo, the lyrics of a couple of songs are in Sindhi and we have used indigenous folk singers for the songs that will appear in the background. As for the branding, since I am not in favour of it, I didn’t go for it despite this being a small film by a newcomer.
Instep: Why didn’t you opt for dubbing sessions?
AA: I believe that an actor can’t recreate the magic of the original shot while stuck in a recording booth. I went for local dubbing so that I can capture the same emotion by my actors and do justice to my audience.
Instep: Do you plan to release the film at festivals before its theatrical release in Pakistan?
AA: May be. We want the film to be locked – fully completed – by September 1 of this year so we can spend 2 months on marketing, festivals, etc. I am hoping that in October and November, I can take it to festivals but I am conflicted myself as I don’t know whether that will affect the film’s theatrical release in Pakistan, which is set for later this year.