"At the end of the day we’re celebrating yet another exciting, female character"

September 4, 2016

Sarmad Khoosat talks about Ek Thi Marium and what it means to be chosen for the Pride of Performance

catching up

Sarmad Khoosat always has interesting things to say and therefore conversations with him are insightful and intelligent. You know that any project Khoosat is working on will be worth watching, whether it’s a drama serial or a groundbreaking film like Manto. The government must have thought so too, which is why they conferred him with the prestigious Pride of Performance this year.

"I wasn’t expecting it at all; it was all very random," he laughed characteristically when I called to ask. And then he added, "but I am very happy. Happy and excited but also scared at the same time." Scared? "Yes, scared because there are people who should have gotten it years ago, in the similar discipline. But it is a great feeling and it’s good to know that the government has a system by which they’re watching over what people are doing. It’s acknowledgement of the fact that cinema is resurfacing. I do represent the new wave and the new cinema. TV had that constant stream of new people coming in but cinema never did. It was a very close circuit thing and there wasn’t much transition. We’re seeing that happening in cinema now."

I wonder whether he’s getting the award for his work on television or in films…

"The department says ‘cinematography’ but then it’s not an award you get for a certain project, it’s overall contribution. I think the citation should be ‘performing arts’.

Talking of performing arts, I bring up Ek Thi Marium, the upcoming tele-film that Khoosat has been working on. It’s a very unique project, one that he says he stumbled into. Ek Thi Marium, releasing on September 6, has been made in the memory of Pakistan’s first female fighter pilot, Marium Mukhtiar, who died in the line of duty last year.

"I’m an accidental peg in the film," Khoosat plugged in modestly. "This was a Mehreen Jabbar, Umera Ahmed and Nina Kashif project. Nina initiated it and Umera wrote it and Mehreen was directing it. But then Mehreen got caught up in her own project (we’re assuming that would be Dobara Phir Sey) and it came to me. I read it and was initially skeptical; I have this thing about not glorifying something I’m supposed to ideologically believe in. But then it’s something I read up on and I found myself interested in. Mariam was the only girl who graduated from the Academy, that too to be a fighter pilot and I tried not to make it sound like a feminist thing but the spirit of a young girl, a 22 year old who knew how to fly a fighter plane and then she died on training. It was an accident. I wanted the film to be not so much [about] her shahadat but her story. How does a girl get to be there, in that misogynistic environment?"

Was this an easy film to shoot?

"Not really, to be honest," Khoosat replied. "But this could not have been possible without Sanam, who was an absolute trouper. She actually sat on a mushshaq, which is a tiny claustrophobic plane. There was boot camp, jumping off towers, salt courses, and obstacle runs etc and it was very physically grueling. We don’t have stunt men and we don’t have insurance so it was all very risky. I did everything before she did to ensure its safety, he laughed. "But Sanam was a big motivation. She handled it all extremely professionally."

"And Marium was a girly girl," he added. "She wasn’t butch and it was good to know her story. The planes are quite intimidating and it’s not easy flying them. But her heroism was just being part of it. I think at the end of the day we’re celebrating yet another exciting, female character."

Many people who have seen images wonder why she’s in a headscarf and whether she wore it in real life?

"The headscarf is part of the uniform. It’s not optional. I shot on five different bases and the air force has a sexy uniform and the headscarf changes from year to year but it’s mandatory."

Was this an ISPR funded film, I was curious to know…

"No, this is logistically supported by the Air Force, obviously, but it is not an ISPR project. It was actually quite a challenge to film it. Sanam was the professional actor but the rest of the girls were girls actually there at the Academy and they had problems being filmed. It was not at all simple."

You said that this was your way of celebrating yet another exciting, female character. Which other characters would you put on that pedestal?

"Safia, Nimra Bucha, parts of Khirat, Falak did not go the standard route, Sania Saeed from Kalmoohi. Characters who want to do something. Marium was exceptional. And this film is a celebration of her achievements."

Ek Thi Marium certainly isn’t your average feature film at all; in fact it’s more a tele-film (which will be telecast on September 6). So what comes after it?

"I think I want to go back a bit and do a solid, romance. Something light hearted…" he trailed off.