‘The protagonist’s transformation by night makes the plot attractive’

September 26, 2021

Nauman Khalid, the London-based director of short film One-way Glass, talks about his first project that screened recently at festivals in Mumbai and Chicago. The film delineates human complexities adroitly via the character of Farzana, an ill-fated immigrant to the UK.

‘The protagonist’s transformation by night makes the plot attractive’

The News on Sunday (TNS): What were the circumstances that motivated you to make this film? Were you always inspired to express yourself in this genre?

Nauman Khalid (NK): The inspiration behind the film was Irfan Ahmed Urfi’s short story Gudiyan Patolay from his debut collection of short stories, Paon – two debuts then, his and mine. I had never thought of that – amazing – considering that we are the best of friends, kindred spirits really. The seed of the idea took root years ago, maybe eight or even ten years, when Urfi read the story to me in draft form and sought my critique. He’d often bring his stories for me to read and we’d bandy thoughts and ideas back and forth. We were both – still are – literature buffs. He read and knew a lot about Urdu literature and I mostly read books in English so there was this wonderful exchange between us where he’d be telling me about Manto, Quratulain Haider, Mumtaz Mufti and Fehmida Riaz and I, of my personal canon of people writing in English. We shared a love of music and film as well so it all came about organically – it just took a long time as creative endeavours can do. Of course, there were all kinds of other considerations: family, life, loves, aspirations, finances, etc. along the way. As I also write stories in English, I wanted to try the visual medium for a change. At one point – an eternity ago – I had begun a Master’s in Television Production at Syracuse University in the US. After providence intervened and thwarted, I had to return to Islamabad. Subsequently, I followed a different path that brought me to the UK. Eventually, I undertook some film training at the London Film Academy in Fulham close to where I live in London and the rest is very recent history.

TNS: Did you also write the script? If yes, what were your inspirations?

NK: The script was Irfan Ahmed Urfi’s, who is now an established film, television and literary writer in Pakistan. Both he and I discussed, dissected and bounced ideas off each other. He adapted the story for the screen in consultation with me. The dialogue in the film is mine, though there is very little of it. The story struck a chord with me. I felt it would translate well to the screen. The layered narrative and the central character’s bizarre transformation by night are what made the story attractive for me.

TNS: How long is One-way Glass and what were some of the challenges of creating the pace and length of the feature?

NK: The film is 16/17 minutes long and the pace and length were largely left in the hands of our editor, Olly Barilla. She, of course, sent versions of the film with edits back and forth and I, my cinematographer, Markus Ilschner and producer, Aybuke Kavas gave feedback so as to keep the film to a length which would be acceptable to a lot of festivals. It is generally the case that the shorter, the better. Ten minutes is thought to be a good duration because festivals are under pressure to include as many shorts as possible in their programmes, but I couldn’t have made it any shorter – there were important parts that would have been lost [if I did it].

TNS: Who are your lead characters? What was behind your choice of cast?

NK: Farzana, a Pakistani migrant to the UK, is the pivotal character in the film. Then we have two male figures: her husband and a male masseur who complete the triangle of the film. The film was realised in its second incarnation. For the first, we flew over a Pakistani actress to London but things fell apart due to a host of reasons. Subsequently, I did not have the funds for lavish expenditure and that is when Amna Khalid stepped into the breach who, incidentally, is my sister. The other actors auditioned for their roles.

TNS: Where is the film located and how does that influence the story?

NK: The events take place in London. What could be better-suited for a story of migration? From Lahore comes this unsuspecting girl to the heart of the mother country and so on and so forth.

TNS: What kind of feedback have you received so far?

NK: The film’s been extremely well-received in festivals around the world. It had its premiere at the Mosaic International Film Festival in Toronto; was shown recently at Mumbai’s Queer International Film Festival, Kashish. It is currently showing at the San Francisco Independent Short Film Festival and the Chicago South Asian Film Festival. I hope to bring it to Pakistan for private viewings in December.

TNS: What kind of audiences do you hope will see this film? Do you want to share a message with them?

NK: I would like as many people as possible to see the film. In Pakistan, one has to tread with caution. There is no single message in the film – it wasn’t made with a specific agenda in mind. I would like people to interpret it freely and take from it what they will.

TNS: What’s next on your creative agenda?

NK: At the moment, I am looking for a literary agent for my stories while also attempting to place them in literary journals. I would love to make another short soon but only if I am able to generate the funds. One-way Glass, hopefully, will prove a persuasive calling card.

The writer is a journalist and was most recently the Editor at HELLO! Pakistan. Previously she was an Assistant Editor at Newsline Magazine. You can find her at amnarali.com and @amnarali_official

‘The protagonist’s transformation by night makes the plot attractive’