Introducing Umar Riaz

August 07, 2022

Parallel Stream, a curation of a variety of shorts by Umar Riaz, is worthy of a standing ovation for it takes a decade of work and presents it in chronological fashion.

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A still from a short called ‘Kal Raat’


s Parallel Stream begins with a variety of faces that you may or may not be familiar with – bona fide artists like Ali Sethi and Zeb Bangash as well as strangers you wish to learn more about – and a narrative in English running in the background, it is palpable that this is no ordinary work.

Running at almost 90 minutes, Parallel Stream is a curation of diverse shorts that a man called Umar Riaz has created in a decade, from 2012 to 2022. Will you find it at a local cinema? No, and for good reason. What chance does a short have when a film like Kamli doesn’t get the run it deserves?

As for Parallel Stream, it contains music videos, short films, and branded content in chronological order, and while there is no plan to release it on the festival circuit, according to Umar, since some of it has already been released, the idea is to release it on his website soon.

Director Umar Riaz’s name may or may not be known to you; unless you are an Ali Sethi buff or watch a majority of the music videos that release in Pakistan, chances are you do not know the gravitas of his works.

Parallel Stream is not only an encounter with good shorts in various fields, but an introduction to the present generation of filmmakers who have it in them to take Pakistani content and stories to the next level, moving away from clichéd ideas and themes.

Since Parallel Stream is showcased in a somewhat chronological order, it would be unfair to decipher each short and give it away. However, whether you watch it in sequential fashion or otherwise, it is also obvious that Umar Riaz has the potential to become a cinematic director, joining the ranks of Asim Abbasi and Kamal Khan.

Umar Riaz is among the most underrated directors in the present cultural, social scene. He is conscious and constantly challenges narratives in a distinctive style. – Photograph by Greg Scaffidi

“The desire to reach the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise and most possible.” – Maya Angelou

The wise literary giant, Maya Angelou, is on to something here. Watching shorts from Parallel Stream does touch your heart and is wrapped in compassion, a strong quotient of thrill, and equally strong acting.

The first short is called Kal Raat and begins with the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan, circa 1947. As this almost heartbroken young man sits before a mic and tells us who he is, the shots make you notice he is alone, with a damaged spirit. He speaks in English and Urdu as he asks into the mic: “Yahan kya huwa aur kyun huwa,” speaking from a dim-lit room. The shot changes but returns to him as he admits there are three things. One, he admits to have consumed poison that will kill him. This shot is not only arresting; it speaks of a larger trauma that has become a generational trauma when the subject of partition is truly spoken about in different contexts. Why does he want to kill himself and what are the two other things? What is the context between partition on August 14, 1947 and this man’s reasoning?

The production design, the nuanced cinematography, and the acting come together under a director who knows what he is doing. Not to give away the entire short or reveal any spoiler, what can be said is that Kal Raat is not just seething, it is daring and touches the heart of any viewer.

With Kal Raat, Umar Riaz’s Parallel Stream is off to a great start.

This 90-minute project is covered with short works; whichever category they fall in, is in a word, arresting. It is astounding that someone like Umar Riaz is flying under the radar, and he should become a mainstream artist. Why? Because his work is intelligent, thrilling, heart-melting pie-ces of cinema, trickling with ideas, music, of identity that fall under a cultural standpoint.

For another example, there is another short, number four, which is called Notes on Violence. It begins from a shot of a clock, tick tock, its presence continuous, as the camera goes to a man who speaks in a soft-spoken tone about violence, the violence within us, questions that will gnaw at you late at night. As he speaks with subtle enunciation, the narrative moves back and forth to a person who is literally taking a human life and making sure there is no sign that he has committed the most violent crime there is, killing another human. The narrative moves back and forth as we see a young man taking a life and an elder gentleman talking about where violence comes from… until he admits it was him who took a life.

His monologue is haunting, the young man in some internal turmoil, and we are left wondering about those haunting words, which hit close to home, given the amount of violence, homicidal and otherwise, that is as common as morning breakfast.

The fifth short is called The Idea which begins with a man calling and addressing a man (the same one who decides to take his life in Kal Raat) in uniform and is being grilled for virtuous qualities as if they are criminal and inquiring why a certain someone left his earthly possessions to this particular young man. There is disdain in the uniformed man that is almost dripping from his tone as he asks this man, who is writhing with internal agony that is captured beautifully. He answers back in his white kurta against the military man: “I try to not make assumptions without facts. And as [far as] Redmond is concerned, I’m certain I will see him soon. And that’s the truth.”

Watching the film chro-nologically is a smarter play because there is a connection that will automatically make the dots connect. Seen non-sequentially, there may not be a connection, but each short can still hold its own.

Ali Sethi in the conceptual and inclusive music video of ‘Ishq’

Without giving spoiler alerts, this work, spanning a decade and various forms of content including music videos, shorts, and branded content, will also leave you feeling visceral and conjure questions, nostalgia, and a variety of emotions. It particularly challenges norms, pre-partition relationships, and the bonds that were broken.

Even the music videos are a symbol of out-of-the-box thinking, the frailty and vulnerability of human bonds, the voices that go beyond contemporary to an astounding singer found in a village and typical societal-approved relationships, beliefs, and falling in line and following a myopic system.

As Parallel Stream eventually goes online, we must remember this decade of work as something that is a necessity to watch. Is it heartbreaking in places? Yes. But it is within those heartbreaking moments that you are forced to think about everything and look into the mirror.

A cultural moment, a commentary on violence, partition, inclusivity, challenging and chewing questions, Parallel Stream is a showcase of work that deserving a standing ovation. But in the absence of cancelled screening, when it does release, watch it and give it a standing ovation. It is the only befitting response. Period.

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