Over the past couple of weeks, I have been on a Pakistani film kick (definitely inspired by Syed Noor’s decision to stage a comeback) and while I really wanted to review the much anticipated Yalghaar I don’t think they’ll be releasing it in Canada anytime soon. But since I had some time, and was buzzing with cinematic vibes, I thought I’d discus the aspect of local films that manages to interrupt the most reclusive of us.
Film trailers in 2017 are an institution unto themselves. Trailers began as and I could argue continue to be a film’s amuse-bouche; literally a taste of things to come. But constantly changing mediums entail that film trailers today have to be inventive. It isn’t enough to give audiences a glimpse into the film, it also has to be something unique enough to warrant discussion.
Yet, Pakistani cinema seems to have neglected this vital part of the film-going experience. Trailers for local films either follow archaic tropes or fail to capitalise on their subject matter. Granted this isn’t limited to local films (if you’re a fan of Death Note for example watch the trailer for the upcoming Netflix live-action series. What the whitewashing is going on?) Still it is fun and necessary to talk about Pakistani films because as our industry shapes and morphs into something, we should talk about what it is shaping and morphing into. So, here are some problems I’ve had with recent trailers.
Film trailers are supposed to give you a snapshot of the film. Hence, they are meant to be short.
This incidentally is the first weakness facing local films. When cutting a trailer, most production teams fall into the too much information trap. Even well received films have been guilty of this (Ho Mann Jahan for instance) but given the notoriety that has followed its release I have to use Chain Aye Na to explain this.
Some believe that a trailer should be no longer than two minutes. While I am not a fan of rigid outlines, I will say that a trailer should be short enough to keep people interested. And amongst everything that was wrong with it, I’d say that the length didn’t help this one.
By the time it ended most people had given up on it.
Show don’t tell
Once upon a time (more specifically the 1990s) film trailers felt the need to tell audiences about the film. Literally. They would have a booming narrator announce that this film was going to be a hit. Sometimes they’d use text instead, but the intent was the same.
Now, since they don’t have a lot of time I can just about understand why modern filmmakers would use of textual cues. But we want to watch a movie, not read it. Hence when an otherwise good trailer is bombarded with text, it doesn’t help.
This is precisely what happened to Mah e Mir.
I liked almost everything about the trailer. Except the fact that it wants to hammer in the ‘madness’.
And the problem with telling instead of showing is that once you start, it is difficult to stop.
And so you have the promo going a little something like;
There is madness,
There definitely is madness,
Oh, and did we mention the madness?
Stereotypes are difficult to stomach in films themselves, so when a promo is bombarded with them it is even worse since we only have a few minutes to digest everything. Yet many a Pakistani film has had a stereotype laden trailer.
The recent Yalghaar is an excellent example of this. Yes, the film is about a military operation. Yes, there will be blood, sweat and tears.
But, do we really need Humayun Saeed emerging from the darkness like a particularly hammy Hammer Horror villain?
Or the muscleman montage?
Pick and choose
A film trailer is supposed to give you a sense of the film. In layman terms, this means that it should be a mix of the film’s best elements but it shouldn’t give away major elements of the plot. But for a Pakistani film, the trailer often the narration of the entire story. This is certainly something that Na Maloom Afraad 2’s promo is guilty of. It goes out of its way to follow the formulaic ‘blockbuster’ blueprint, and in a bid to perfect this it gives away too much.
Rather than stopping where the Arab Prince’s gold toilet is stolen and our leading men blamed for it (I cannot believe that I actually just wrote that, but yes this is the plot) the promo goes onto tell us that the prince is actually a scheming mastermind.
The diamonds, the kidnapping of leading ladies, the detective element could all have been interesting twists in the film but are instead revealed in the promo. Rather than making me want to watch the movie it just made me feel like I’d seen the entire film in three minutes.
Using everything else
There have clearly been some production teams that have really used what they have to put forth an innovative and effective campaign. The best of these always view trailers in the larger context of cine-goers and social media, with a lot of other elements accompanying and helping the promo itself.
For example, Mano Animation Studios used their promo for The Glassworker in conjunction with a website, an interesting behind the scenes and a first look that continues to keep audiences interested.