In early 2008, when I left a career in advertising to go to film school, I really never thought I would work on a feature film in Pakistan but I was lucky enough to find a job on Rafina right after I graduated.
Working with Rafina‘s Director Sabiha Sumar, who had already made a successful film, was a great experience, as it would have been for any film maker, but as an introduction into feature film making it felt a little too smooth, too polished, devoid of the nerve racking, hair pulling, pressure cooker environment that is usually the usual first feature film experience, but little did I know I would get exactly that in my second.
If the production on Rafina was a well-oiled machine, Zinda Bhaag was passion, it was 18-hour work days, caffeine fueled nights, doing, re-doing and then doing again, you argued, found solutions, made mistakes, learned from them and celebrated the success. For a month and a half; it wasn’t a crew, it was family.
Like every family it had archetypes, the mother, the father, the annoying sibling that walks up to you regardless of the situation and tells you what you are doing wrong … I was that sibling.
As Script Supervisor and Continuity it fell to me to make sure that film continuity was followed to the letter, this involved me walking up to the Directors, DOP, veteran actors, art department, anyone, everyone and telling them exactly what they were doing wrong, how people feel about me after the film ended, I shall never know.
Continuity is a very demanding job; in essence you have to make sure that every element in the frame, be it hair, make up, clothes, props or any thing that is way in the back and slightly fuzzy, is where it was in the previous take, where it “appears” to be in the previous shot and where it will be in a not-yet-shot in two weeks from now.
On set, the question I most often asked myself is “will this cut?” Continuity is fought on a battlefield called the 180-degree line, simply put if a character is to the left of your screen, he, will always be to the left in every shot to avoid confusion for the audience. Pretty simple, but what if the characters keep moving, like in a boxing match? Confusing but manageable, now what if you increase the number of characters to lets say a 100 people at a party, constantly moving around in relation to our protagonist? At times like these maintaining the 180-degree line, screen direction and eye line, so everything will cut together, can almost make the continuity person want to take a nice long bath with a plugged-in kitchen appliance.
If the 180-degree line is the battlefield; the “Eye Line” is the mortal enemy of continuity. The eye line is the line of sight of a character, so one character looking at another is his eye line, which by the way keeps changing with the camera angle, so by the end a character can sometimes be looking two feet to the right just to make it seem like they are looking straight at someone. Oh the wonderful moments Satya and I shared trying to strangle each other to death because of it, by the end of production some of the crew had already nick-named me eye-line.
Crazy? Most definitely, but I loved every moment of it. A film set is a place where even the accountant is a dreamer, people with more settled heads on their shoulders choose saner professions like race car driving and professional wrestling, with meagre monetary rewards, especially in Pakistan right now, film makers look at different things as compensation, for some it’s the experience, for others the celebrity that comes with it, for me, in this movie, it was watching Meenu and Farjad sculpt a performance, working with first time actors is just as hard as working with veterans and the two of them handled both with grace and poise, a push here and a nudge there till they had the scene exactly where they wanted it. My favourite moment on set was when Meenu sweet-talked an actor (who was deathly scared of chickens) into hugging a rooster like he was hugging a baby and that image is just one of the reasons why this movie is a must watch.
Years ago, I was talking to Server Moosavee, a filmmaker; teacher and human being par excellence, I told him I did not like a video he had done, he replied in the all knowing way that he usually does, “this is not for you, it is for the rest of Pakistan.” Now every time I start a project, I ask my self is this relatable?
Zinda Bhaag definitely is; it isn’t a story about the content few, it is a story about everyone else, about those that were born into a predicament and spend the rest of their lives fighting to find a way out. In essence it’s a truly Pakistani story.
The writer is a Fulbright scholar, graduate of the New York Film Academy and film maker.
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