Usman Mukhtar
Usman Mukhtar Image Credit: Supplied

Not many people know that actor Usman Mukhtar is passionate about filmmaking. Long before he debuted on TV with one of last year’s most popular drama serials, ‘Anaa’, he had wanted to get into production, but lack of support from family led him to study journalism.

He didn’t give up, though: while he started acting in amateur theatre plays, he also produced and directed his own short films and music videos, aided by his close friends. Later, he famously starred in ‘Janaan’ (2016) and ‘Parchi’ (2018), both immensely successful feature films, but he’s yet to direct one. Meanwhile, he’s setting a new benchmark for aspiring filmmakers in Pakistan, with his new short, titled ‘Bench’, which was recently adjudged the Best Short Film at New York’s 2nd South Shore Film Festival.

A simple story

The festival was due to begin on July 25, as a regular event, with red-carpet screenings of finalists in local cinemas followed by an awards ceremony, but it was cancelled due to the worsening Covid-19 situation in the US. Mukhtar tells Gulf News that the jury, which had already watched the movies, chose to announce the winners only.

‘Bench’s’ storyline is as simple as its title — it deals with a young couple sitting on a bench in a public park and ruminating on why their relationship went wrong — but, Mukhtar says, it has several layers to it. The script is penned by Ali Mudar, “a very dear friend; we think so much alike.”

The two-character short has Mukhtar leading the cast alongside noted model and actor Rubya Chaudhry. They have earlier worked together on another short (Aashiqui).

“As we were working on a shoe-string budget, Rubya was kind enough not to charge her fee,” he reveals. “But let me tell you, she’s done a wonderful job!”

Returning to roots

A poster of the short film, BENCH-1594623652800

Mukhtar terms it a project that was a natural consequence of his commercial assignments on TV and film: “When you’ve worked in glossy ventures, there comes a time when you want to return to your roots and do something raw and organic. ‘Bench’, I believe, came about like that.”

Of course, it also served to satisfy the director in him. A jubilant Mukhtar has some advice for those who want to make features and tell stories but don’t have the resources for that: “Make short films!”

‘Bench’ has been submitted to a host of other international festivals, so the actor-director says there are “no release plans yet.”

But he confirms that it will be released on YouTube and not on any subscription-based streaming platform like Netflix, so that it finds a larger audience.

A trailer of the short is up on YouTube already. Recently, Mukhtar also released the film’s soundtrack which is composed and sung by Natasha Humera Ejaz.