Director and actor Nimra Bucha sat to discuss process behind the making of the magical film
Dressed in an olive green co-ord set, Sarmad Sultan Khoosat, the man who’s reigning over praises for his magical creation Kamli, was then humbly sitting with a proud smile while taking in all the congratulations for his Cannes win.
While 2022 has been a rewarding year for Khoosat, 2019 saw Zindagi Tamasha plunge into controversy before its theatrical release was held back. However, lucky for him, a concept he had shot in 2019 came in handy to save him in 2020, and eventually raise him back again in the cinematic world two years later.
“Kamli became a bandaid for the scar Zindagi Tamasha left,” said Khoosat in a conversation with The Express Tribune. After the world went into a literal lockdown, Khoosat didn’t know how to process anything. “We had all of this footage that we had already shot and with so much time to kill, we decided to edit it. With my office closed, we moved the editing studio to my house, and with so much time to kill, my two editors and I basically camped for months to edit it.”
He went on to add that because this became such a personal project to him, putting it out before people came with anxiety. However, he trusted his no-formula-used strategy. “I’m not claiming something about a great storyline in my films, but with both of these films, at least, I’ve tried not to follow a formula, but follow my heart or follow the voice that comes inherent to a story.”
Kamli’s cinematography and screenplay are the backbones of the film. Talking about the new writer, Fatima Sattar, Khoosat revealed that she had actually worked with him before on Akhri Station as a colourist. “I knew she could write and so when I had this idea, I called her and discussed with her if she’d connect with something like this. She instantly said yes and then began a long journey of drafts and overdrafts.”
One interesting fact about Kamli’s process is that the screenplay was actually written in English— several drafts of it. “I told Fatima to write it in the language she’s comfortable with first. We had several drafts in English before we went to its translation with Urdu and Punjabi. And of course, translation cannot be literal with screenplays and hence, the story was once again rewritten after locking its characterisation and structure.”
Upon how vulnerable the process was for characters to get into their skins, Khoosat shared that initially, they’d just go to the location, sit and read. “There was a lot of reading initially. We’d talk about our characters, their inhibitions, and their behaviours before we actually went into the shooting bit. These actors also pushed themselves and breathed life into characters to make them more alive, or bitter than they are on paper.”
While being from Punjab himself, Khoosat shared that he “unfortunately” hasn’t seen a lot of Pakistan himself. But while travelling from Islamabad to Lahore, he had seen this valley that stayed with him. He had been waiting for the right project to use the location for, and Kamli’s world perfectly fit into the hauntingly beautiful landscape.
“I learned that this region has mythologies and so much history to it and it made it one of my favourite places. It has peacocks, rabbits, wolves and jaguars, and brown mountains. And this really interesting harsh-looking greenery. All of which is really unlikely for a romantic dreamy landscape because you usually go all the way up north to show the coniferous trees and the snow-capped mountains,” said Khoosat with his hand gestures trying to paint the view as he spoke. “But these mountains are plain brown and while on field visits, we’d suddenly find a lake or a huge barn somewhere. So just that odd mix of natural elements made this area so delicious.”
Nimra Bucha who was also present during the conversation chimed in to call Soon Valley a little “wild” in its quality. “It’s also, at a loss for a better word, untouched. Although it’s not, it has that quality that makes it wild. There are jungles and almost no roads.”
Bringing in a theatre reference, Omair Rana, who plays the rich scapegoat of a husband to an alcoholic Bucha, added that God is the ultimate storyteller. “In Macbeth, when they talk about the murder, the earth did shake. So nature always plays its part in influencing emotions and shooting in that place, its mystic powers seeping in all of us.”
Zeenat–the troubled painter
Bucha played a painter who eschews tradition and lives in a world of fantasy. She likes to create fantastical situations and uses human forms to guide her work through. A rather unpopular fact is that Bucha actually took painting classes by IVS faculty Madiha Hyder and the classes eventually became a “gift” from the film for her.
“After spending that time with her, I couldn’t help but go back to it again and again. For me, the gift of this film is to rediscover painting and art.”
Speaking about what made her choose this role, Bucha revealed that she was actually hesitant to take it first. The Ms Marvel actor shared that she’s a homebody and prefers to do very selective work, and so when Khoosat came to her with a character, she knew he was sure of her. However, their conversation included a lot of whys to satisfy Bucha of how she could contribute to the character like no one else.
“It’s like I resisted initially because I’m lazy that way but also because sometimes I feel Sarmad offers me parts that are vague. It gets hard for me to then embody the character and pin it down. He offers me characters that are un-pindownable. But also, deep down inside, that’s what I love.”