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December 19, 2016

No lights, no sound, no camera – but there’s action!


December 19, 2016

KU visual studies dept lacks a studio and essential equipment,
but resilient students still produce captivating short films

Zoobia Anwar, a graduating student of the Department of Visual Studies at the University of Karachi (KU), was in seventh heaven as she stood in a corner of the Feroza Hashim Hall. Her dream had come true. She was screening her short film at the degree show of the graduating media students on December 11.

Whistles of admiration and rounds of applause kept erupting in the jam-packed hall for the 16 students who had put on screen an impressive show: compelling lighting effects and camera work and intriguing performances in their short films.

As the budding filmmakers bagged appreciation from the audience, Zoobia recalled the journey that had brought her to this point: learning filmmaking in the absence of studios and basic equipment such as cameras, lights and audio recording and editing system.

Diverting her thoughts from the lack of facilities in the department, she remembered how her teachers and fellow students had been a life support system. “Imagine a team of 30 students working selflessly on my set – that too with a very professional attitude,” said Zoobia, who screened her 50-minute Aghwa Baraye Taawun (Kidnapping for Help).

“The only desire of my juniors was to learn; the only aim of my fellows was to help me in this endeavour. Without their taawun [help], this plan of abduction [shooting film] couldn’t have materialised,” she cracked a smile, which soon turned into a smirk as she opened up about how they learnt colour grading, lighting and editing without the necessary equipment in the class.

“We were fortunate to have practising professionals as our teachers who put their best efforts to make things comprehensible for us. Students arranged some equipment on their own. The rest was learnt by working as freelancers in the field.”

It still took Zoobia Rs350,000 to shoot her film, as she had to arrange for all the necessary equipment on her own. Whatever she had saved from freelancing, she spent on the film. Yet she had to borrow money from her parents to complete the project.

“This culture of a big squad of students gelling together for shooting films is what can be termed a unique feature of this department,” said cinematographer Faraz Iqbal, who also teaches at multiple universities as a visiting faculty member.

Taking departure from the rhetoric of having enormous talent in Pakistan, Iqbal said: “What we do with our talent is a matter of grave concern. Like many talented cricketers fail to make it big on international grounds due to lack of support and facilities, the young lot of aspiring filmmakers in Pakistan is also suffering from lack of resources.”

For ‘Moor’ filmmaker Jami, it is heart-wrenching to see such talented students struggling due to lack of attention from the government and the corporate sector. “We know that film is one of the most powerful mediums which can make or break the image of a country, yet our authorities have never attached priority to visual medium in Pakistan,” lamented the film director, who has been offering internships to KU students.

“Billions of rupees go to waste in useless projects, but these students who come from humble backgrounds have failed to garner the attention of the authorities despite producing impressive films in unfavourable conditions.” Jami also urged the corporate sector and filmmakers to help the students, who could potentially become an asset to the Pakistani film industry.  

Neglected department

Started in 1999, KU’s visual studies department has been running under the supervision of sculptor Durriya Kazi, who claimed that the employment rate of the graduates from her department was 94 per cent. The department offers BA in Architecture, Fine Arts, Islamic Arts, Art History, Industrial Design, Textile Design and Design &Media Arts.

“We need to revisit our priorities,” she said. “This department is ensuring job security for students, as there is a growing demand for communication specialists and designers in the market.”

Karachi University Teachers Society President Dr Shakeel Farooqui said the department had started new programmes that were in demand. He, however, said the KU administration did not allocate enough funds to fulfil its requirements. “Unlike traditional disciplines, this department needs special attention, as the students need expansive stuff for their projects.”

‘We need a studio’

The students have been demanding a studio. However, Farooqui said the university administration had not even sent a proposal to the higher authorities for establishing a studio. “Neither does this [visual studies] department have a studio nor has the mass communication department ever been provided a studio setup for their students.”

The visual studies department, which was earlier a self-finance unit, was declared a budgeted department in 2012. While the faculty and students were expecting a change in the department after declaring it a budget department, the only change observed was a drastic increase in fee structure, which rose from Rs17,800 to Rs32,000 for the foundation course per semester. “It’s an extra burden on our students, as they have to spend huge sums on their project,” lamented a department official.

Zoobia Anwar also believes that students should not be financially overburdened. She said they were hardly able to arrange for money for their projects, as everyone could not manage sponsorship for their final films.

Cinema culture

The Feroza Hashim Hall had more attendees than many of the cinemas in Karachi that seem to have been deserted after the ban on Indian films. Students believe there is a need to invest on developing cinema culture in Pakistan, which would only be possible by making captivating films.

“Our indie filmmakers have been showcasing their skills, but their films reach out to a very small audience,” said Zoobia, who is about to start working on a professional film as the second assistant director. “There is a dire need to devise a long-term policy to help support the cinema industry.”

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