Mert Sismanlar plays a firangi in GAWAH REHNA-1572240868719
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Pakistan’s 70-year-old film industry has produced many directors who never went to a film school and were self-taught. They still went on to become screen legends.

First-time screenwriter and director Tahir Mahmoud looks likely to go that path. A civil servant, Mahmoud was posted at the Pakistan Embassy in Turkey in 2016, where he thought of an idea that could be developed for cinema. With no prior experience — he had only scripted a documentary titled ‘Amazing Pakistan’ — he jumped into filmmaking, goaded by a desire to “promote our country’s soft image on international platforms,” he tells Gulf News tabloid!.

Today, as he wraps up the shoot of his debut feature, ‘Gawah Rehna’, he’s a happy man.

“It’s a period film,” he says. “Set in the Pakistan of 1920, against the backdrop of the Khilafat Movement which our forefathers led for the people of Turkey, and which gave us the confidence to take on the imperial forces of the British Raj.”

The film is inspired by real events, but the characters are fictional. Its lead cast includes award-winning television actor Emmad Irfani, Ghana Ali and Qavi Khan. Turkish actor Mert Sismanlar plays a firangi (vernacular for British). The film is being readied for a March 2020 release.

According to Mahmoud, ‘Gawah Rehna’ is produced by Kashif Esmail, a Gujranwala-based businessman, but it also has the “full support of the foreign ministry of Pakistan, as it hopes to strengthen Pakistan-Turkey relations. It’s about our shared history; it celebrates our heroes.”

Excerpts from the chat follow:

Film direction is a skilled job as well as an art. How and when did you realise you were equipped to take it up?

You are very right, but I had earlier made an experimental film, a five-part documentary, which initiated me in this field to some extent. Later, when I started working on ‘Gawah Rehna’, I kind of honed my abilities.

It also helped to have a great team of technicians. I can obviously not comment on my own work, but I can safely say that it’s been smooth sailing so far, MashaAllah! We’ve finished shooting our major sequences. The result is beyond my expectations.

What is ‘Gawah Rehna’s’ strongest point?

Our story.

Is it a love story in the backdrop of Khilafat Movement?

No, but it’s an intense story. Though, it may be classified in a number of genres such as thriller, family drama, romance etc. It is inspired from real-life events but the characters are all fictional. The film is set in the time when the Muslims of the subcontinent started Khilafat Movement; they put themselves in direct conflict with the British. Whatever happened as a result of that conflict is the subject of our film.

A period film must be hard to put together, especially in terms of production design and shooting locations. Are you shooting on chroma, so that images can be corrected in post-production with the help of VFX?

No, we aren’t shooting on chroma at all. We’ve designed massive sets in Gujranwala. We had to recreate a village from a century ago. It was a huge task, and involved a great deal of research. Our final set — a village bazaar — is currently under construction.

Are you going to shoot in Turkey also?

No, we aren’t. But we’ll be releasing the film in Turkey and many other fresh territories such as Central Asia.

The movie industry in Pakistan is still in a nascent stage. Was it difficult for you to put together a competent team?

To be honest, no. We were able to get a very professional team. For instance, our sound department is being looked after by Abby Absar Khan, who has earlier worked on Jami’s ‘Moor’. Similarly, our DoP, Sadiq Azeem, is a seasoned cinematographer.

How prepared were you on your first day of shoot? Were there any jitters or apprehensions?

To my advantage, the script was entirely my own creation. I’d even done the shot-divisioning. So, I knew what I wanted when we went to the shoot.

Secondly, we had had elaborate rehearsals and orientation sessions with the actors, because of which everyone was clear about what they were required to do. This way we also developed great comfort level.

What are your expectations from the film?

I strongly believe that cinema and television can be used to promote our country’s soft image abroad. Hopefully, ‘Gawah Rehna’ will do the needful.