Instep Today

Understanding the language of cinema

Instep Today
By Omair Alavi
Wed, 07, 16

Every film can teach upcoming filmmakers things they should do or avoid. The Usual Suspects taught them not to believe everything they heard while PK provided a lesson that an alien can land outside America. The recent Salman Khan release Sultan tells them the importance of following your heart.

What upcoming filmmakers can learn from the movie Sawal 700 Crore Dollar Ka.

Every film can teach upcoming filmmakers things they should do or avoid. The Usual Suspects taught them not to believe everything they heard while PK provided a lesson that an alien can land outside America. The recent Salman Khan release Sultan tells them the importance of following your heart.

Jamshed Jan Mohammad’s debut film Sawaal 700 Crore Dollar Ka also teaches you plenty of things. The wonderfully shot heist film has a story that takes you down memory lane and forgets to return to 2016. Although the director has teased a hint of a sequel in this movie, there are some things he must acknowledge before returning with another cinematic offering.

Change is usually good, especially for newcomers

Jamshed Jan Mohammad is a second generation filmmaker and his father, Jan Mohammad, was one of those rare directors who had the privilege of working with the best (Waheed Murad, Shahid, Rani, Babra Sharif) in the business and that too when they were at their prime. He delivered hits but his last effort Kuriyon Ko Daalay Dana (1996) was a disaster after which Jan Mohammad never returned to the director’s chair.

His son, Jamshed Jan Mohammad, didn’t grasp anything from his father’s final failure, his lack of evolution with time and decided to retain his father’s team for his own movie, undoubtedly a bad move. Jamshed managed to impress all with his camerawork and one hopes that in the future he will do away with Saeed Gilani as lyricist and Nasir Adeeb as dialogue writer. Had he opted for individuals belonging to the current generation for various jobs, several changes would have been made, I am sure. Remember, legendary Bollywood director Nasir Hussain’s son Mansoor Khan didn’t go with his father’s team (that featured the great R. D. Burman) when he made his directorial debut in 1988 with Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, a film that is still remembered fondly by fans and industry experts.

Never take the audience for granted

A director loses the plot when he or a member of his team presumes that the audience is made up of clueless individuals who lack awareness about anything. Jamshed Jan Mohammad trusted M. Arshad (son of his father Jan Mohammad’s ace music director M. Ashraf) to deliver a worthy background score, a task at which he fails spectacularly. Many iconic songs from the ‘80s such as ‘Laila O Laila’ from Qurbani, ‘Pyar Karne Walay’ from Shaan, ‘Pyaar Do, Pyaar Lo’ from Janbaaz were incorporated shamelessly into the background score that drew heavy inspiration (read: lifted) from Abbas-Mastan’s Race and Farhan Akhtar’s Don film franchise.

Furthermore whenever Shamoon’s character entered the frame, he was greeted by the very famous cowboy theme from For a Few Dollars More as if it was composed by M. Ashraf and not Ennio Morricone. If M. Arshad can’t help the cause of cinema revival by being original, then his contribution to the industry will always be limited. He must realize that the audience has become smart, very smart.

Too much is never good

The Minority Report styled interface, the use of gadgets that’s never been the strong suit of Pakistani filmmakers and the remote controlled mini copter that is pivotal to the plot - for the first time in years, a Pakistani film had ‘next-level’ visual effects.

But then too much of anything is never a good thing and this film articulates that old adage perfectly.  There’s the heist scene, the flying sequence, the overhead passing of planes and the blood on one of the character’s shirts - it comes out as childish. It would have been much better had the director stuck some real stuff on instead of tackling it in postproduction. 

A little common sense goes a long way

New York Film Academy graduate Jamshed Jan Mohammad comes out as an impressive director of photography (DOP) and when a person is good at cinematography, all he needs is common sense to become a good director. His father did the same thing and Jamshed can follow in his footsteps but for that he will have to find likeminded individuals whose aim must not be to make money but to make good films.

You can’t have a voice-over artist tell the audience what the onscreen characters are saying in the local language – we have subtitles for that now. Similarly, if you want to show romance, get the lead pair to mingle before sending them to face the camera without preparation.

Using playback singers from India (Shaan, Alka Yagnik) is no guarantee that the songs will be good. You have to make good compositions and local singers can do a good job. Using ‘supposedly cool’ language without careful thinking in dialogues and lyrics can also have a disastrous effect.

Manners are universal

The cinema industry is in the midst of a revival after many years in Pakistan and old-school filmmakers have little do with this resurgence.  No Sangeeta film, no Syed Noor movie nor a Faisal Bukhari Production urged people to return to cinemas. This was made possible new-age filmmakers like Nadeem Baig, Nabeel Qureshi and others.

Yes, some of these cinematic productions offered straight-up humour that was directed towards the masses but it was done in small dosage, making it more palatable unlike Sawal 700 Crore Dollar Ka where whenever Iftikhar Thakur appeared on screen, people either went to the toilet or the refreshments counter. The appearance of the theatre actor with film veteran Ismail Tara not only broke the tempo of the story (Iftikhar Thakur’s character had nothing to do with the story at all) but also served as a terrible reflection on filmmaking where timeless actors such as Ismail Tara had to resort to vulgar, cringe-worthy comedy that would perhaps appeal to either four-year—olds or those who have the mind of a four-year-old.

As for item songs, the numbers in both Na Maloom Afraad and Jawani Phir Nahi Aani were anything but vulgar especially when compared to those in this movie. The Don-esque ‘Aaj Ki Raat’ and the obscene ‘Ras Gullah’ were noisy and just full of nonsense. Our filmmakers must realize that ‘multiplex’ is the future of cinema and the cheap single-screen gimmicks can’t sell tickets for them. Ultimately, they must create universal films that not only appeal to those of us who are rowdy but also those who visit cinemas with families and friends and are looking for substance, not just tawdry antics.

Omair Alavi is a freelance journalist and can be contacted at [email protected]