Uzma Zakaria with ace director Nadeem Baig, working on the script of LONDON NAHI JAUNGA-1590997694722
Image Credit: Supplied

An uncomplicated, small-budgeted, barely six-minute-long short film is tipped to move the needle, as they say, thanks to its pertinent social message.

Titled ‘Eid Pe Kya Pehnugi — You Vs Your Ego’, the film is about a young, city-based woman, Mina, who can’t seem to decide how to dress up on Eid amid the pandemic.

While she’s fine with repeating an outfit, because one has nowhere to go anyway in these times, her other, attention-hungry self begins to tempt her by ‘reminding’ her that she’s to face her Instagram critics some of whom will not forgive her for wearing the same outfit again.

Eventually, she sets out to buy a new one. At what price? That’s for the audiences to find out.

It’s a subject that would resonate with most Pakistani girls and women. But this isn’t precisely what attracted its female director, Uzma Zakaria, to the short. The film’s bigger message is that if you go shopping (in this case, for Eid), reckon that you’re inviting trouble in the form of the deadly virus. To Zakaria’s credit, the film is so light-hearted and breezy that at no point does the message become cumbersome.

It’s also very well shot and crisply edited — qualities that you don’t commonly find even in indie movies.

‘Eid Pe…’ is a project of Nashpati Prime, a YouTube channel, and features up-and-coming TV actress Rabya Kulsoom in the twin role of Mina and her “Ego”.

For Zakaria, a film graduate from New York Film Academy in Los Angeles, it’s that little stepping stone towards the silver screen that every aspiring filmmaker dreams of.

However, she says she isn’t in a rush — “I wanted to start [in the industry] as an assistant director and then work my way up,” she tells Gulf News tabloid in an exclusive interview.

Over the past few years since she graduated from the academy, she has held several jobs as AD — chiefly on director Jami’s feature ‘021’ (2014); ‘Who Killed Carl Washington’ (2016), a short by Nigerian filmmaker; American horror movie, ‘The Monster Project’ (2017); ‘Armed’ (2018); and Humayun Saeed’s 2018 blockbuster, ‘Jawani Phir Nahi Ani 2’. It’s an experience she feels should prepare her to be a director in the future.

Excerpts from the interview:

Uzma Zakariya calling the shots on the set of her short film-1590997691409
Uzma Zakaria Image Credit: Supplied

Being a woman director in this largely male-dominated industry, did you ever feel any issues calling the shots on the sets? Did it ever cross your mind when you were casting or putting your team together for ‘Eid Pe Kya Pehnugi’, to pick the people you were most comfortable with?

Uzma Zakaria: I agree to an extent that the entertainment industry is male-dominated but that is slowly changing. We now have women leads, stylists, project heads, producers, scriptwriters, directors and casting managers. Our industry is blessed with some exciting female talent who are competent and hardworking. I am genuinely excited about the prospects of working with more and more women in the industry.

Personally, I’ve been lucky enough that I got to work with people who wouldn’t differentiate based on gender. So, I’ve never had any uncomfortable moments.

Do you have any role models in the field?

Even though I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry globally, I am especially grateful to my mentor, Nadeem Baig! He is one of the finest directors of our industry and has played a vital role in the revival of Pakistani cinema.

I’ve a few other favourites: Christopher Nolan, Asghar Farhadi, Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Basu, Damien Chazelle and Martin Scorsese. This lot really knows how to tell a story beautifully.

When you took up your first job — at Six Sigma, in Karachi — did you get a sort of a ‘culture shock’, in terms of the kind of equipment and work ethic you had seen back in LA and what you were working with in Pakistan?

Yes and no. I would not say it was a culture shock — the general formula and mechanics in Pakistan are quite similar to how we worked in LA — but comparing us with an industry as huge as Hollywood at this stage would be unfair, especially because the revival of our cinema is still in its early stages, and we work with far limited resources and budgets. Yet, we’ve been able to produce quality content. I am sure we are headed in the right direction and will soon be able to compete with the best in the world.

In the film industries of other countries like, for instance, India, established directors’ second or third ADs get the opportunity to head their solo projects. We don’t really see that in Pakistan. Comment.

It’s not like that, because every one of them started somewhere! There’s lots of hard work and struggle that goes into a career in filmmaking before you finally get your big break. So, whether it is India or the US, an AD has to climb the ladder to get to the golden opportunities.

Tell us briefly about your upcoming projects.

Up first will be Humayun Saeed and Nadeem Baig’s ‘London Nahi Jaunga’, as an associate director. I have a few other features in the pipeline as an associate director and executive producer. This is only the start of my career as a filmmaker, and I have big aims — I want to represent Pakistan internationally. The way our industry is growing, I’m sure we will begin to get noticed globally also. The future is truly exciting.

Is there a film genre you feel most inclined towards?

Well, I love biographies and drama with a flavour of a romcom. Basically, it should be able to captivate the audiences. I think I’d start my directorial career with a sports-based biopic, with a woman as the central character.

I would also love to make a web series that shows Pakistani culture, and knowledge-based short videos. I certainly believe digital content is a great way to educate the world about our beautiful culture and that is something I have set myself as a challenge to achieve.