“Because at the end of the day, people just want a good story…” Hamza Bangash says about local cinema.
It’s difficult to talk about his upcoming film ‘Rang Raaz’ (‘The Secret of Colour’) without pondering over where Pakistani films have catapulted themselves to. From having no releases for years to having multiple movie screenings in a month, we are truly witnessing a marriage of extremes.
And the young director acknowledges an innate dichotomy, “we have some filmmakers who are making daring, original work that addresses social issues so well,” he says, particularly praising ‘Moor’ and ‘Actor-In-Law’ before adding, “It’s all of the stuff in between that is the problem. The films that are so clearly cash grabs; made with no vision.”
His opinions resonate with facts; on the one hand we have projects that are crafted by and based on underdogs. Take ‘Moor’ for example, a true passion-project which took multiple attempts to finally get a theatrical release, had all the odds stacked against it, and got through the finish line on the back of a filmmaker who believed in it.
“Because at the end of the day, people just want a good story…” -Hamza Bangash
On the other hand, there’s all that “stuff in between” flashy and made to make money, films that lack genuine effort, and at the risk of sounding romantic, lack soul.
The two extremes merge into a confusing situation; where are Pakistani films going? More importantly; what does Pakistani cinema look like? According to Bangash though, a little identity crisis maybe just what we need, because “it is reflective of our society.” In essence, after a rather long pause these are still early days for the film industry, and getting a taste of everything might be good before we settle on a ‘type’.
Still it is easy to decipher where Rang Raaz fits into the puzzle. It maybe early to say this, but the film maybe following Moor’s phoenix-like footsteps. A project that a short while ago was “too dangerous” to be funded is now not only set to release but has already amassed a loyal following.
At the risk of crediting Hamza alone for this early success (because one look at the film’s trailer and you realize that anyone involved has squeezed their blood, sweat, and yes soul, into each scene) yet it wouldn’t be amiss to call him the catalyst behind the camera.
Every risky venture needs one person to initiate it, and in this case that person was Hamza Bangash. A son of immigrants living in Canada, he was drawn to the story of a Muslim girl and Hindu boy daring to fall in love and elope, but unsurprisingly some didn’t share his enthusiasm and the project was turned down by multiple would be financiers. Only this didn’t dampen Hamza’s resolve, “The fact that they were too concerned about their safety- if they became involved in a film of this nature” he says, “if anything only told me that I had a story that had to be told.” The story in question is both typical and radical; technically just a tale of forbidden love, it becomes ‘dangerous’ when the sensitive matter of faith enters the conversation.
“The fact that they were too concerned about their safety- if they became involved in a film of this nature only told me that I had a story that had to be told” – Hamza Bangash
Watch the trailer for Rang Raaz, at once colourful and tense, and the question of why this is a Hamza Bangash film becomes clear. It merges a creative daredevil streak with clever understatement, like many of his past projects.
His works can’t be lauded as blockbusters, but this shouldn’t confuse you in to calling the twenty something a novice. Since graduating from Queen’s University (Kingston, Canada) Hamza’s name has been attached to some ambitious and acclaimed productions. His achievements in both film and theatre are no after thought, and in a creative industry that is as diverse and drenched in extremes as the country itself, Hamza Bangash represents a budding indie scene.
His plays were a hit with ‘Baraf Paani’ being awarded best production at the I AM Karachi Art Festival and being selected for the NAPA international theatre festival and ‘Suno’ garnering critical acclaim and commercial success. His experimental tale of drug abuse ‘Anna In Pieces’ was a favourite at the Kingston Canadian film festival. And then there was the big one, when his short film ‘Badal’ was showcased at the prestigious Cannes film festival in 2014.
Often, independent cinema is hailed as the purer cousin of flashier big budget movies, where the notion of film as an art form is still preserved. This image is rather romanticized, but Hamza’s work could easily be described as such. He calls film, “The most all-encompassing art. It combines art, music, literature, performance…” and skimming through his resume, you can tell that he has a flare for flamboyance. “My dad has a real art-house taste in movies,” he gushes when asked about early inspirations, “and my mom knows what she loves- which is usually huge blockbusters/ animated films. I’m sort of a combination of the two of them.” It isn’t hard to see this combination of tastes in his work; the subject matter and tone may vary but there is a common, subtle intensity in all his work. It could be a petite young girl, reclining from a speeding car window as if to fall back onto the dusty Karachi road (Badal). It could be a busy morning on a congested street, and a man refusing to move for a blaring ambulance (Rasta Dein). It could be a serene view of the beach interrupted by an arguing couple (Rang Raaz). Everything hangs in a balance and the tension only draws the viewer in; his films are vibrant, but the vibrancy stems from story and characters rather than floor length bridal couture and dance numbers.
“Film is the most all-encompassing art. It combines art, music, literature, performance…” – Hamza Bangash
Perhaps his true forte lies in being completely invested in anything that he attaches his name to. His projects are often self-financed and usually involve a small albeit talented team, so that the usual theatrics of cinema are peeled away to let production, direction and performance shine, and what sets Hamza apart is that despite his youth he doesn’t approach filmmaking with a hint of naivety. Anyone calling Rang Raaz’s premise a tad risky given Pakistan’s political climate wouldn’t be wrong, and despite his confidence in the project Hamza wasn’t oblivious to the controversy either. But it was his realistic outlook rather than his idealistic ambitions that pushed the film forward, “I knew we weren’t going to get the money locally,” he admits, “at the same time, I knew that we had a story that had international potential…” In essence, he understood that an emotionally charged drama about a dangerous love story was not something that mainstream movie houses could get behind, but in the ever expanding world of independent cinema such a story would be a definite hit. So they settled on the unorthodox route of crowdfunding, starting a Kickstarter campaign to cover incurred costs.
And that’s when he was connected with his financiers; the people.
Like many an independent filmmaker, and independent creative mind even, Hamza’s projects do have an audience. But they have a niche audience and hence have to skim past the red tape of corporate standards and simplistic profit projections before they can be green lit.
According to the ever positive director, this is where the power of the internet is breaking down barriers. Hamza calls social media “the democratization of the industry” recalling how quickly news about Rang Raaz spread across the virtual world, with people actually putting more money into the project than the team needed. Before long the likes of Huffington Post and IndieWire (and little old us at The Kollective) were talking about this ambitious young team and their promising film. As he describes it, “Social media has been a complete game-changer. It allows us, indie filmmakers, to reach our audience directly- without filtering our message,” which perfectly encompasses why Rang Raaz can already be called a success. That people were willing to spend their money on a film before it was even finished shows the appeal of alternative cinema, and it shows why delving into it now is a calculated risk.
Moreover, by exploring the semi-uncharted territory of crowdfunding, they were able to get financiers who wanted their story told; the complete story.
Often a particularly garish film is justified with ‘this is what the audience wants to see’, but with the advent of social media and crowdfunding the audience can actually put their money where their mouth is. When people are willing to fund a film like Rang Raaz, they have inadvertently decided to back independent cinema as well. It should serve as inspiration to intelligent, aspiring filmmakers that the stereotype of people blindly consuming all that glitters is slowly shattering.
In Hamza’s own words, “I would put my money on the film that balances artistic credibility with commercial appeal,” and judging by the early response to Rang Raaz, so would a lot of people.