With their widely praised thriller Gumm, filmmakers Ammar Lasani and Kanza Zia have arrived in the world of cinema. The debut film of the husband and wife filmmaking duo has been exhibited at numerous international film festivals and has won awards, accolades and praise all over the world. Ahead of the wide release of Gumm, the talented young couple sits down with Ally Adnan for an exclusive interview for GT and talk about their first feature film and how it is to work together
Gumm was compared with Alejandro G. IÃ±Ã¡rrituâ€™s epic western The Revenant at the 2018 Madrid International Film Festival. That must feel good.
Ammar Lasani: It sure does! The Revenant is a masterpiece and a truly great film. Gumm and The Revenant are very different in style and approach but deal with the same theme â€“ challenges facing man and nature in the modern world.
Pakistan has been ranked as the seventh most vulnerable country to climate change by German think-tank Germanwatch. Deforestation and global warming are real and serious problems. We have tried to highlight them by shooting a major portion of Gumm in the deep jungle.
Kanza Zia: I should add that the comparison to The Revenant is an honour not just for ourselves but also for our emerging film industry. It feels great to know that a Pakistani film is being compared to a critically acclaimed film from Hollywood.
Gumm has so far represented Pakistan in eight international film festivals. How was the film selected as Pakistanâ€™s official entry to the festivals?
Kanza Zia: I believe that we have made a good film in Gumm. Its story-telling style allows viewers to fully enjoy, experience and, if you will, live the story. I believe that the film has been selected as Pakistanâ€™s official entry to several film festivals because of its merit and quality.
Ammar Lasani: As graduates of the New York Film Academy, Kanza and I have an international perspective on films. We have made a film that has universal appeal and meets international filmmaking standards. We are glad â€“ and grateful â€“ that it has represented Pakistan all over the world and won seven major awards to date.
How does exhibition at a film festival help a film?
Kanza Zia: Exhibition at a film festival helps a film by giving it greater exposure, a wider audience, and a proper platform to present itself. It also helps raise the standing of the filmmakers amongst their peers.
Ammar Lasani:Â More importantly, it helps gets the best of viewers for films. The finest of critics, scholars, directors, industry professionals, and cinema aficionados attend these events. One cannot ask for a better audience for a film than the one we have at international film festivals.
How do awards benefit a film, its cast and crew?
Kanza Zia: Awards, along with positive reviews and box office returns, are a major index of a filmâ€™s worth. They offer great encouragement to the filmâ€™s cast and crew and raise their profile in the industry.
Ammar Lasani: They also help by making it easier to secure financing and support of subsequent projects. And, they are a veritable endorsement for the film, its cast and crew.
The two of you made Gumm â€“ your first feature film â€“ together. Was working together as a team difficult for you?
Kanza Zia: No, it was not. In my opinion, we did very well as a team; both of us are aware of our strengths and weaknesses and worked together in a manner that allowed us to enhance the former and mitigate the latter.
Ammar Lasani: Kanza and I are very different as filmmakers, with different areas of strength, skill and expertise. Fortunately, these areas are complementary and come together like pieces of a puzzle when we work together.
Did being married to each other help?
Kanza Zia: Yes, it did. Working with Ammar was like realizing a dream together with a friend, confidante and partner who completely shared your vision.
Ammar Lasani: The fact that we are married helped communication, collaboration and teamwork. We shared ideas, discussed details, debated approaches, and envisioned scenes, while preparing for our film, around the clock. I also feel that our debates, discussions and arguments were pleasant and productive because, as husband and wife, we had trust, respect and love for each other; with someone else, they could have been corrosive and hostile.
Writing, directing, editing and cinematography, you did a lot for the film yourself. Why?
Ammar Lasani: You forgot to include the background score. That was done by us, as well. We did engage the services of a lot of people for Gumm but there were areas where we felt others would not do a job to our liking. We took care of those ourselves.
Kanza Zia: Ours is a fledgling film industry and it is difficult to find people who are talented, capable, and share oneâ€™s passion, dedication and vision. We did not want to compromise by recruiting someone who would not be able to deliver satisfactorily and ended up taking a lot of roles in the making of Gumm.
How did you come up with the idea of Gumm?
Kanza Zia: We are staunch environmentalists and wanted to tell a story that highlighted the plight of our planet.
Ammar Lasani: The two of us have a great fascination for human relationships and believe that cinema is a great forum to explore them in all their complexity, beauty and charm. We started on Gumm with the aim of telling a moving story, centered around strong, flushed-out characters and their relationships. Environmentalism made a great backdrop for the story that we wanted to tell with Gumm.
How different is Gumm from the film that you had envisioned originally?
Ammar Lasani: It is not different at all. We made the exact film that we had envisioned originally.
Kanza Zia: I believe that the amount of planning and preparation that went into getting ready for Gumm ensured the faithful realization of our vision. There were times when challenges and difficulties made this hard, but we never gave in and never compromised. We had a film in mind and we were determined to make it. I am glad that we succeeded.
Gumm has three principal characters â€“ Haider, Asad and Dua. How did you cast for the three roles?
Kanza Zia: I couldnâ€™t agree more with the celebrated French film director and screenwriter, Bruno Dumont, when he says, â€œmatching character and actor is what a good director does.â€ That is what we tried to do in Gumm.
Ammar Lasani: We had Sami Khan and Shamoon Abbasi in mind for the roles of Asad and Haider while writing the final draft of our screenplay but did not have anyone in mind for the Dua. We selected Shameen Khan for the role after watching her showreel. All three actors loved the story and screenplay of Gumm and signed on to do the films soon after we approached them. The film would not have been the same without the three of them.
Sami Khan has won tremendous praise â€“ and the best actor awards at the prestigious 2018 Madrid International Film Festival and the Creation International Film Festival, Canada â€“ for his portrayal of Asad in Gumm. Although he has always been known to be a resourceful actor, his performance in the film is said to be significantly better than the ones he has delivered in the past. Why did he do so well in Gumm?
Kanza Zia:Â Sami Khan is truly a directorâ€™s actor. He understands what the director wants and does his very best to deliver accordingly.
Ammar Lasani: I think a number of factors contributed to Sami Khanâ€™s phenomenal performance in Gumm. First and foremost, he worked very hard, with great dedication and determination. Two, the story gave him a lot of room to perform well as an actor. Three, he understood our vision very well. Four, he is a very intelligent, insightful and perceptive person and used these attributes to make Asadâ€™s character real. Most importantly, he used the positive energy that is an intrinsic part of his persona to bring out the best in himself and in others. I am not surprised that he has won two major awards for his performance in Gumm already. Kanza and I had always known that this would happen. He will certainly will take home many more.
Who was the most difficult actor to work with â€“ Sami Khan, Shamoon Abbasi or Shameen Khan?
Kanza Zia: Each one of them have different personalities and styles of work. Ammar and I made sure that we accommodated their individual temperaments and gave them the space, guidance and environment they needed to deliver their best as actors. At the end of the day, it is the directorâ€™s job to manage each member of a filmâ€™s cast and crew. We did that as best as we could.
Ammar Lasani: Every human being has his own idiosyncrasies, peculiarities and eccentricities. We accommodated theirs as, I am sure, they accommodated ours.Â We made a great team together.
Who delivered the best performance: Sami Khan, Shamoon Abbasi or Shameen Khan?
Kanza Zia: In my opinion, all three of them delivered solid performances and did full justice to their roles. No one actor in Gumm is better than the others.
Ammar Lasani: That is not a fair question. It is like asking parents to name their favourite child. I think all three did well; very well to tell you the truth. People who have seen Gumm, loved Asad, hated Haider and adored Dua. That is testimony to the fact that all three actors played the roles convincingly.
What challenges did you face while making Gumm?
Kanza Zia: As debutante filmmakers, we faced a number of challenges. It is not easy to find oneâ€™s way in an industry where people constantly try to pull each other down.
Ammar Lasani: There were so many challenges that I stopped keeping track of them a long time ago. I believe that we handled each one of them well and have since moved on. I do not want to talk to them at a time when our film is doing wonderfully well all over the world and is poised for a huge domestic release.
What do you think of Gumm as a film?
Kanza Zia: Gumm has universal appeal. It explores familial relationships in great depth. It has drama, thrills, romance, and comedy. It tells a poignant story that is both engaging, interesting and entertaining. It makes a strong emotional impact and gives viewers food for thought.
Ammar Lasani: Gumm is an intelligent, sensitive and nuanced exploration of human relationships. It deals with topics that are real, important and relatable. It meets international filmmaking standards. I hope that I do not sound arrogant in saying so but I feel that Gumm will open new avenues for the Pakistani film industry by encouraging our filmmakers to make films for both domestic and international audiences.
Gumm has not been released in Pakistan yet. How do you think the film will do critically and commercially in Pakistan?
Kanza Zia: Gumm is very different from the Pakistani films that people are used to seeing in the country. I believe they will enjoy and appreciate its novelty and originality of the film.
Ammar Lasani: We are certain that the film will do exceedingly well in Pakistan, both critically and commercially. Pakistani filmgoers are intelligent, mature and discerning. Gumm will touch their hearts and move them both emotionally and intellectually. Watching the film will be a wonderful experience for them.
Are you planning a big premiere, full of glitz, glamour and glitter, for Gumm?
Ammar Lasani: As a matter of fact, we are. We did not cut any corners in the making of the film and do not plan to do so when marketing it either.
Kanza Zia: We plan to design a proper marketing campaign for Gumm, once the release date is finalized. It will, of course, include a big premiere.
Are you concerned that the critical acclaim of Gumm has raised expectations to a level that audiences may be disappointed when they see the film?
Kanza Zia: No, not at all.
Ammar Lasani: Gumm will live up to the raised expectations and then some.
Photographs by Fahad Raza