New York-based dance choreographer and actor of Pakistani origin Omar Rahim recently forayed into filmmaking with ‘Agency’, an English-language short film. Written and directed by him, the 14-minute film tells the story of a gay South Asian couple who proposition their Indian-American actress friend to become their surrogate, and end up with complications. Sadiq Samani and Saks Afridi play the couple, while Ami Seth (as Anjali) appears as their best pal. The film, which tackles issues of family, parenting, and fidelity, had a successful showing at the Chicago South Asian Film Festival on Saturday. Earlier, it premiered at a festival in Mumbai, though Rahim was not able to attend.
Currently “travelling with ‘Agency’, as the festival circuit begins,” Rahim tells Gulf News tabloid! how the film’s format (short) allowed him “to explore more daring subjects… as the commercial expectations are not as restrictive.”
It also helped that the film was shot on location in NYC — it “gave me the freedom and flexibility to be able to tell the story frankly and without filters.”
Excerpts from the interview follow:
Is ‘Agency’ rated?
No. But if I had to propose a rating, it would most probably be something between PG-13 and NC-17. But maybe no such rating exists!
Are you looking at having private/press screenings in Pakistan?
Indeed, I am. We have made the film about South Asians and the diaspora, and they are our primary intended audience.
Do you think the audiences in Pakistan are ready for such subjects?
I definitely think so. Our film examines the need to connect, to find and hold on to love, and to have family. What could be more universal? While the fact that the family doesn’t fit a traditional mould may alienate some [audiences], I am confident that our relatable storytelling style will win over even the sceptical among them.
Why was it important for you to have all the characters of South Asian origin?
I live and work between Karachi and New York, and I have a foothold in the film/media industries in both places. As a Pakistan-origin actor/media person in New York who comes into contact with reductive and often racist scripts on a daily basis, I realise that we must develop our own projects in order to shatter ethnic stereotypes. Simply put, if we want to increase opportunities for South Asians in the US, we need to lead, and show the industry how it’s done.
Producing out of New York, I have the freedom to take on subjects that would perhaps be considered too risqué for my colleagues and peers in Pakistan or South Asia at large. I feel that freedom comes with a sense of responsibility. As I perceive myself very much as a Pakistani/South Asian storyteller, I strive to push the envelope and take risks in my work because I, as a US-based filmmaker, can. And nothing brings me greater satisfaction than sharing my work, especially within the community.
Tell us a bit about your stints as an actor and dance choreographer, and how and when did you decide to direct a short film.
I started off my professional career as a contemporary dancer in New York. I was fortunate enough to land a place in Susan Marshall & Company, a post-modern dance house that was my absolute first choice, right after undergrad at Wesleyan University where I majored in Humanities. During my almost four-year tenure with the company, Susan, our creative director, won a MacArthur Genius grant, among the most prestigious awards in the world. After that, I started spending more time in South Asia, where I developed a career in dance performance, choreography, and direction. I also maintained links with New York and performed, choreographed, and directed projects stateside. After a few acting gigs, including a lead role in Rubaiyat Hossain’s Meherjaan co-starring Victor Banerjee and Jaya Bachchan, I realised that my passion for storytelling was every bit as strong as my passion to perform. That’s when I started taking screenwriting classes in New York and developing scripts. While I continue to perform as an actor — primarily in American television these days — I continue to develop scripts for stories set in the US and Pakistan. Agency is my first film — I hope the first of many!