This post is the unedited copy of the review published in Mag the Weekly, on 18th of June 2016.
Hassan Waqas Rana – An Insight On the Man & Big Budget Cinema of Pakistan
By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
A few years ago when WAAR came, I was one of the most vocal of its critics. So impassioned was my review (with due reason, of course), that the director himself voiced his opinion in the comments. One of my strongest arguments were the problems with the screenplay. Now years later, when I had an opportunity to have a long detailed conversation with WAAR’s producer Hassan Waqas Rana, he himself admits that the screenplay was at fault; he was, as he points out, a first time screenwriter. Although we talked about WAAR is detail, most of my conversation was about Mr. Rana’s next big – evidently far more extravagant – venture Yalghaar, set to come out this year.
Talking about WAAR, Mr. Rana says that “I didn’t write Dr. Zhivago”, later adding that critics should understand what they are writing about. “It had the philosophical context of a bloody axe”, he adds to the genre of his first film.
For the record, he wasn’t targeting me. A few minutes before, we were talking passionately about two things we had in common: the technicalities of filmmaking, and uneducated writers. Film critics, he says, often only give away the film’s story, without dwelling into compelling arguments against their reviewed motion pictures. I, of course as readers know, share Mr. Rana’s concerns, having brought up the point in a feature a few weeks back. (“There are people who have never seen the inside of a film set”, he says. So true).
Mr. Rana tells me that before WAAR he was a businessman into steel and oil. So what led him to filmmaking, I asked?
“I was passionate about movies and the whole process of it. At that particular time I had some money stashed away, and I thought the best possible use was to take start in the industry”, he tells me. “It was a huge risk. I used to laugh and say that it could be the most expensive home movie ever made”.
“Wasn’t it a huge risk?” I asked.
“Basically the world is primarily made of greater fools. The greater fool is a person who thinks he will succeed where everyone else has failed. Every (major achievement) our world has seen in the last hundred years or so (is accomplished by greater fools). Filmmaking is still a huge risk in Pakistan”, he replied.
“When I (thought of) making a film, I wanted to do something bigger, something that hadn’t been tried before. Basically an action movie – something that if you are able to (pull off), is able to give birth to a lot of (opportunities) in the industry”.
“We are pretty competent as far as making romantic comedies, and all of that. There are people in these genres who are much better than I would be at it”, he elaborates.
Continuing with our conversation on WAAR, he details the problems of making a grand action spectacle: “WAAR took three years, and I had a first-time director who was also trying to find his way. Everything had to be invented, people had to be trained. Digital cameras and the technology had not grown that much. Initially I got a team from United States, and started to train people here, and then develop resources locally for the industry. Each and every aspect of the technicality had to be learned and then utilized”
I asked Mr. Rana why he chose to do a film about the Pakistan armed forces, and that it is perceived as an army-backed production. “As far as the backing of the army is concerned, it was perceived as such”, he said. “Yes, we did get some logistical support, and that’s about it. People actually took away the credit of the Islamabad police who actually helped us make the movie”
We talked extensively about how the industry is changing, and then geeked out about filmmaking technicalities, like lenses (we both, it seems love the warm tone of Angénieux – a very expensive cinema-specific zoom lens brand – he had his set custom made, he tells me). We also talked about distribution, production and post-production aspects like DIT.
Mr. Rana tells me that after WAAR he went to the New York Film Academy to study in their 8 week hands-on film course. It was a necessity for Yalghaar, where he is wearing multiple hats – he is the writer, producer, director and the director of photography.
Has Yalghaar been easier to produce, now that he has experience in the genre, I pondered.
“Yes, of course, there has been a lot of things we’ve learned. The technology has moved in leaps and bounds since then. Obviously, it’s still an evolutionary process. (However), Yalghaar is a far bigger animal than WAAR was – just the sheer number of cast is mindboggling”
“With its extensive cast, was it difficult getting everyone together to shot the movie”, I asked
“Getting everybody together is a logistical nightmare. When we have three thousand people working in a film, which is something unimaginable in Pakistan, it becomes a difficult proposition. Still we were able to make it in two years – a year less than WAAR”
Our conversation led to one of my conversations with Adnan Siddiqui a while back.
“People have always conceived Adnan Siddiqui in romantic roles”, he tells me. “I tried to experiment a lot – with the way the film is made and with the people we have. I wanted to reimagine him as a soldier – and he did a brilliant job. It was very tough for him training as a solider with live ammunition. He had to work really really hard to come up to the point of doing the role justice – which he did”
“Humayun Saeed is (also) a revelation”, Mr. Rana says. “The sheer craft of it he has done an amazing job; he has blown everyone away”.
“For me my actor is the most important asset on set – not the equipment. Whenever I write a character, I try to get my actor involved with it – how he’s imagining it. The characters in Yalghaar are far better than the ones I was able to do WAAR. It’s because there’s an evolution and an aspect of team work, and how my actors evolve the characters. And since I am the writer of the film as well, the process of collaboration becomes easier”
Is he heavy-handed as a director, I asked: “As a Director of Photography and the Director, I try to give them a lot of leeway when I am directing the scene; if you try to incessantly block your scene, it inhibits the actor’s abilities and their creativity”. He later confirms that like most writers, he tries to imagine the characters as real people.
Mr. Rana later tells me that he shot a sky dive scene, with range extenders (a special add-on on the lens) to keep everything in focus.
“I have to give them something they don’t see in television. In order to achieve that, in order to give the audience that, you have to push the envelope”, he explains.
“We can never predict the audience’s reaction. I cannot honestly predict that Yalghaar will do very well. It all depends on if the film connects with the audience or it doesn’t. For the Pakistani audience, there is no middle ground. I also believe that if WAAR would be releasing now, I don’t think it would do that well”, he said.