Awais Gohar likes to tell stories by using the visual landscape. It comes from his youth, traveling from one place to another, as an army brat.
He calls himself an army brat because of his father’s career and various postings within the country, but to Awais, the highlight of being an army brat was discovering various landscapes that became his best friend. So, it’s not surprising that his music videos often use landscape as a strong element. A case in point is ‘Hum’, his latest music video for Faris Shafi (ft. Talal Qureshi), where all you see is greenery and a windowsill where Faris stands.
We will come back to his equation with certain artists, but our conversation begins with the beautifully shot Kamli, directed by Sarmad Khoosa; a complex and must-watch production.
Awais laughs when I ask how he managed to do such good work with Kamli being his first feature film, and so begins our conversation…
‘I was chasing down the days of fear/Chasing down a dream before it disappeared’ - ‘The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)’ by U2
Coming from a family that moved routinely within the country allowed him to fall in love with landscape so much that it plays a character in his work. But formal degree isn’t the only educational tool he used. One great tool was watching movies even if it meant being scolded at home. During the interview, he speaks about Stanley Kubrick and other masters of filmmaking and how he learned from watching them.
Having directed at least one short film and being the D.O.P for others, he has also worked with the likes of Kashmir (music group), Bayaan, Shamoon Ismail, Ali Sethi as well multiple music videos for Faris Shafi and Meesha Shafi.
With respect to music videos artists like Faris and Meesha, Awais has worked with them on a number of occasions as director - apart from being D.O.P. and editor - more so than others. It means Awais has played multiple roles within the field. But how do you, then compartmentalize the various roles in a music video.
“Visual storytelling is what appeals to me the most. I would travel to the north and many other places within the country and let the visuals tell the story. [I couldn’t be happier] When I found out that there is a degree for filmmaking, and that all the things I liked doing including photography, were a part of the degree.”
But taking us back further, Awais explains, “I listened to music, I’d watch films, use my father’s phone to take scores of pictures and edit photos. It made me realize how I could bring a story to life through the visual medium. Shooting, color grading and directing is different, but editing is a whole other ballgame and I learned that very early on, as well as understanding that editing is the job of a D.O.P.
“In my mind, shooting a scene means it requires a certain space, for example, in Faris’ new song ‘Hum’. Bringing it together with the shoot, in my mind, and how I would join it together as an editor.”
Speaking of music videos, Awais notes that Faris Shafi and Meesha Shafi, artists he has worked with on a number of occasions, have always understood his sensibility. “My equation with them and multiple music videos stem from the fact that they give you space and try to understand what I want to do as opposed to other artists. In Ali Sethi’s music video, ‘Chandni Raat’, for instance, various other roles are played by different individuals. So, I was director and D.O.P. When I’m working with a third person, I have one job. But with some artists I’m given other roles like editing or color grading and upon seeing results, I’m appreciated for it.”
He is speaking of Faris Shafi and Meesha Shafi.
Playing multiple roles, also makes Awais feel he is not repeating the same thing like room for editing or color grading.
“‘Chandni Raat’ for Ali Sethi was something I
co-directed with Sarmad Khoosat… It carries an element of hope, with two strangers helping each other out.”
In the music video for ‘Lafz’, Faris Shafi carries a huge heart; the rap complementing the visuals. However, it still comes like a surprise. Describing the idea, Awais says, “people often tell me how the tone of the music video and Faris’ verses are so different. But I had heard the song before and had been talking to Faris, and to me, the undertone was heartbroken. When I asked him, he told me it’s about a man with a broken heart who is carrying his broken heart around. I thought that these were the visuals the song needed rather than turning it into anything else. He sits at one point because it’s a huge heart.”
What has been established is that Awais’s work with Faris Shafi and Meesha Shafi is visually strong and does justice to their varied sense of music.
“It can often happen that you come up with a strong idea but when you try to execute it, is when you mull over it and wonder. For me, it’s simply about what comes intuitively. A short film idea I pitched for my thesis was rejected (NCA, Lahore) but for me it was like this is the film that needs to be made. I made it and it feels like that film has brought me to this level…”
For Awais, it isn’t just about ideas but also emotions. When you mull over something too much, its value can change. You might end up dropping it altogether. He thinks that intuitive ideas should be pursued.
Awais is clear that whether it is a music video, a short film, a feature film like Kamli or anything within the field, you need to connect to it. “Short films, music videos or feature films, if I don’t feel a connection, I don’t do it even at the behest of others who don’t grasp this connection that is very important to me. It is difficult to say no and you wonder how to do it without offending someone.”
‘I was aching to be somewhere near/Your voice was all I heard’ by U2
Apart from the slew of music videos and some shorts, Awais Gohar made his debut as Director of Photography for Sarmad Khoosat’s critically praised feature film Kamli, earlier this year.
The visuals of the film are so strong that if you watch it as a silent film, it will still leave you in awe cinematographically. There are in fact moments in the film where dialogues are not spoken, but the story is told through the visuals.
Kamli is a difficult film to shoot because of its complex nature and nuanced characters, to be basic.
“The idea was to tell the story, and not take shots that don’t fit in with the narrative. What is the shot telling you, and if it’s not telling you anything, it is irrelevant. In the back of my mind, I carried this idea that in a feature film, every shot needs to say something and if isn’t saying anything, it is unnecessary. Sarmad is clear about what he didn’t want to do. That brings a vision and an ability to trust and collaborate those who are part of the film, on and off camera.
As an example, Awais Gohar explains that Sania Saeed’s character has a disability so the cinematography and her character need to be in sync or it throws the balance off.
“What I loved was how Sarmad was willing to listen to others. I’d say this scene shouldn’t be stopped because it’ll cut the emotion out. And he’d say, yes and allow it. The director of the film and the director of photography of the film need to be in sync. It is crucial to the filmmaking process. When Sania apa was asked a question about acting, she pointed how it is not only the acting but the relationship with the camera that is important. We’d often discuss how to shoot each scene and discuss it like a unit that had one vision.”
As our conversation from ‘Hot Mango Chutney Sauce’ (where bikers were hit by mangoes because catcalling women is a favourite pastime of, well, men) to the art and science of Kamli’s visual beauty and multiple Faris Shafi music videos comes to an end, it’s important to remember that music videos today can and have become filmmakers of the present. Learning about Awais Gohar, it is obvious that time can’t come soon enough. But when it does, Awais Gohar plans to go all out.