Director Asim Abbasi talks to Variety about tonal shift with his upcoming series, featuring Fawad Khan and Sanam Saeed.
Now that it’s raining more than ever/ Know that we’ll still have each other/You can stand under my umbrella.” – Rihanna ft. Jay Z
You can’t help but wonder what’s out there beyond the stars. We find ourselves gazing upon them even if we’re not using them as a navigation tool, an idea made obsolete with the arrival of advanced technology.
As students, we learned about various planets. Man went to the moon while the rest of the world watched in awe, decades ago. But as technological advancements were being made, astronauts from certain countries like America, Russia and China were not only sent with missions to explore, they also created space stations.
Consequently, and dec-ades later, it also led to the militarization of space with powerful countries like America, Russia (followed by China) using it for missions beyond exploration. Just google how satellites have been used with respect to missiles, tracking and more. It is not just a paranoid notion. Plus, how can we forget that billionaires like Elon Musk are working on offering space tourism in the coming years. In fact, two billionaires – Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson – have traveled to space and returned in one piece (even though we secretly hoped that Bezos had just stayed there).
Not all is bleak, though. Satellites can also bring internet to impoverished nations through which people have a chance to educate themselves and learn. In times of war, internet’s very existence allowed protesters to get the word out, as the Arab Spring began in multiple countries. During those days, as anti-government rebellion by the people began, social media sites played an important role. Without internet’s overlords, it wouldn’t have been possible.
Why are we talking about space out of a sudden?
Space, and you can agree or disagree, is a cool metaphor for pop culture. If you really think about it, the space vernacular is apposite for pop culture.
We’ve known for some time that in the last few years, both pre-and-post pandemic, artists were forced to think outside the box.
If the space metaphor applies, it created a situation where the combined work was so bloody good that it went beyond the stratosphere.
A stratosphere is described as one of the layers of the earth’s atmosphere. So, what was 2022? It helped pop culture enter ionosphere, which in plain terms, is above the stratosphere.
Think back and it’s hard to choose.
Fawad Khan came out of hibernation and The Legend of Maula Jatt broke box office records.
Coke Studio 2022 and a little song called ‘Pasoori’ took over the universe or it felt like it did. Ms. Marvel went on to feature Pakistani music, actors, and at least one co-director; Arooj Aftab won a Grammy (with two nominations to her credit) and picked up another Grammy nomination later in the year for the 2023 ceremony for ‘Udhero Na’); Joyland (the name should be enough by now), the rise and rise of rap music with Faris Shafi perched firmly on top of the table; Atif Aslam acting in a drama series called Sang-e-Mah, the indie music scene offering more extraordinary music, Boiler Room coming to Pakistan, Sarmad Khoosat’s extraordinary film, Kamli, the resurgence of Bilal Maqsood as a solo artist and the list goes on. In short, there are too many moments to choose from.
The question remains: can we repeat that year?
We might. Then again, maybe not.
So, what was 2022? It helped pop culture enter ionosphere, which in plain terms, is above the stratosphere. The question remains: can we repeat the creative success of that year?
In the first two months of the new year, though, we’re still looking at upcoming content that will, quite possibly, create some moments that will make us travel from stratosphere to ionosphere.
A case in point is Barzakh, director Asim Abbasi’s latest project for Zindagi after Churails. Before Churails, Abbasi made the beautiful and complex feature film called Cake with a brilliant all-star cast. Barzakh will be his second project with Zindagi.
One of his greatest champions as director is Fawad Khan who has worked with Asim Abbasi for the first time.
In an earlier conversation with Instep, Fawad Khan, while speaking about working in digital spaces, noted: “Right now, we can only collaborate in digital spaces which I’ve done with Asim Abbasi for an Indian online platform.”
Talking to Instep about working with Sanam Saeed again, he noted, “When we go onset, we try to have as enjoyable an experience as possible because this is not the kind of work that can be done in seriousness all the time. I share that [friendly] equation with Sanam as well.”
His reaction, when asked what it was like to work with Asim Abbasi, was one of excitement and one he couldn’t hide as he said, “What a treat to work with Asim. I think Asim (and his team) were sorted and knew what they wanted and they did it in the specified time, which is actually the biggest treat for an actor. It was a talented team to work with and consisted of talented individuals, including associate producers and assistant directors. The entire team was very talented.”
When probed about the different styles of direction between a Bilal Lashari (The Legend of Maula Jatt) to an Asim Abbasi (Barzakh), Fawad told Instep, “I think it’s more about what the role demands and not necessarily the style of direction.”
Fawad did give us an example, with respect to how he sees Bilal Lashari’s way of direction, since Bilal
is also a cinematographer. “His direction depends on how he treats the camera almost like a third person in the narrative, how it moves and how it dictates the story.”
Barzakh is the only South Asian selection at Series Mania “in the showcase’s International Pano-rama, a 12-title competitive section where it will be eligible for the best series, director, actress, actor, student jury and audience awards”, revealed Variety.
According to Asim Abbasi, Barzakh is not like Churails. He told Variety, “Churails had a flamboyant flair and kinetic energy to it. It found its crux in the exploration of rage and our stylistic choices for that series mirrored that. Barzakh is more concerned with the silences, the spaces in between of what is said and not said.
It is enigmatic and mystical in its essence. And therefore, it needed a different level of control, [restraint] and precision.
“As artists, we often find ourselves working in a bubble for long periods, away from outside viewpoints, so to be selected by the programmers at a prestigious festival, where some of the most interesting series from the globe will be having their premieres, is very humbling.
Barzakh has been an experiment of sorts, for both me and Zindagi – a narrative that defies easy definitions. And to see it carve a space out for itself on an international stage, is truly a joyous moment for the entire team.”
– Series Mania will run from March 17 to March 24