The metamorphosis of Jamal Rahman

October 18, 2020

The musician/producer, whose musical credits include films like Manto, talks about transitioning to films with his first short film, Elizabeth, creating buzz on the indie film circuit and the prospects of local cinema.

Jamal Rahman is presently working on two short films; one is a collaboration while the other is a solo project.

Anything can induce anxiety in today’s times. Even good news can shift from great to that fear that follows you everywhere.

In Elizabeth, Jamal Rahman’s debut short film, revolving doors are akin to that affect. But it isn’t just what but how effectively the narrative has been told. It would be unfair to give away the film (yes, we’ve seen it) since Jamal hopes that the film runs across film festivals in Pakistan and beyond.

Elizabeth, his first and arresting short film, is already signed on to be screened at the local Art Divvy Film Festival in Islamabad.

The filmmaker thrives

Presenting fresh narratives through the medium of films is not an idea that came to music producer Jamal Rahman overnight. He always wanted to tell stories. And it solidified a space in the corner of Jamal’s mind as while recording audio and shooting videos for True Brew Sessions; the format varied where one featured an audience and the other recorded the artists in solo fashion.

His segue from producing music to directing films began with a campaign for fashion brand Generation. The journey of Jamal Rahman as a filmmaker had begun. “I’ve always had it,” says Jamal, “but I never explored it. There weren’t many opportunities. I was heavily involved in music so I didn’t feel the need to do anything else but around 2018, I felt a bit stuck in the music community here.”

Instead of doing more of the same, Jamal wanted to do something else creatively and via True Brew Sessions and recording the videos and how to explore narratives became the impetus he needed to begin.

But filmmaking, as Jamal Rahman tells Instep, has a lot of moving parts and techniques and to learn more about it, he began looking for courses abroad.

“Around the end of 2018, early 2019, I enrolled in New York Academy and earned a diploma that gave me the confidence to do it full-time.”

As part of his thesis, Jamal needed to make a (short) film and he made Elizabeth in just a little over a week, which is a very small window for a film. The idea behind the film, however, was strong enough that his professors at the NY Academy suggested approaching film festivals.

The film ended up as a semi-finalist at Los Angeles Film Awards 2020 and winner at Top Shorts Film Festival 2020.

Elizabeth was my final project at the school; I’ve lived in London when I was in college and so New York was not my first time in a big city. But New York has this frantic pace. One morning I was casually walking to a revolving door and the traffic through that revolving door was very fast. I, in my leisurely pace, almost got thrashed by the door because it moved very fast. That sparked an idea about someone who has this anxiety or fear. It can be oppressive.”

Throughout the course, explains Jamal, a student had to have a new idea every week. “It has to be quick. From inception to going into post, it was done in 8-9 days. That’s the pace of the diploma.”

“As a filmmaker you should know your genre and I wanted to make a serious film at the time. But given the resources, I did this film because it is almost like physical comedy. There’s not a lot of talking in the film; it is all about using the mechanics of filmmaking to make visual comedy for that particular project.”

For the film, Jamal wanted to cast South Asian actors and though auditions were held, he just couldn’t find any.

Moving forward, as a filmmaker, admits Jamal, he wants to talk about South Asian stories, our experiences. “I also want to talk dynamics of class so there are like 7 billion stories untold. I’m interested in those stories that are fresh and also making them inclusive.”

Elizabeth is a short film made for school and is heading to the indie circuit, both in Pakistan and abroad. “I’m hoping to hear back from other festivals as well.”

However, embracing the role of being a filmmaker right now can be challenging. Is the future of filmmaking going to be streaming services (and it’s not just Covid-19)?

“You’re right, last year (before the outbreak of Covid-19) cinema attendance in Pakistan had dropped by 50 per cent. Our cinema industry is a different matter than the global cinema industry. Locally, the situation is that people don’t tend to watch English films except blockbusters and not all of them make it here. With local films, they are either not good or the good ones are not made enough. There’s just not enough output to choose from. Indian films are banned. So how do exhibitors and distributors make a living? It was already under question.”

However, Jamal has his eye on the prize. “If someone does a commissioned project for a streaming service, immediately you’ve got funding, distribution, and marketing taken care of. There is also freedom of censorship where you’re able to do any kind of film that you cannot do on any platform in Pakistan.”

Netflix is available to 190 countries. A Netflix can get nominated for an Oscar. Something like Churails can’t be made on local television. It needed a Zee5 Streaming service to be made in the way Asim Abbasi envisioned it.

“Local TV has their own cliques and work with their own people. Same people, same ideas. For them, it’s ‘if it’s not broken, why fix it’ kind of situation.”

Easy comedy sells. “There is a perception that our audiences are dumb but they’re very smart; they have internet access and opinion on things and filmmakers need to give them credit for being more intelligent.”

“For people like me, the choice is a streaming service and it will empower more voices,” says Jamal.

As for the future, he is writing two shorts. “On one, I’m collaborating with someone and the other I’m writing myself,” he says conclusively.

“Then, I’m hoping to find funding for it. They are also geared for festivals because they are a great space for networking. I’m also directing a music video for Towers, having worked on the track with them a month ago.”

The metamorphosis of Jamal Rahman