For a director who has called the shots for over 2000 TV commercials, it is rather surprising that Saeed Rizvi is a man who likes to stay away from the spotlight. From the late ’70s to the early ’90s, Rizvi was behind every other successful ad campaign, and that is what prompted him to get on board a bigger ship and make the first Sci-fi film of the Sub-continent in 1989, titled Shanee. He soon gained popularity for his horror film Sar Kata Insaan (1994) as well as the Pak-Russia venture Tilismi Jazeera (1997) before he bid adieu to filmmaking with a romantic venture Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere (2000).
Now, after a hiatus of 18 years the director/producer is making a comeback into the field he knows best, and hopes to take the ailing industry forward with his project. “I will be spending the next one month in the US for the preparation of my next project which will be a romantic horror; the likes of which have never been experienced in Pakistan,” revealed Saeed in an interview with Instep. “All I would like to disclose about the project is that the movie will follow the ‘woman-in-white’ theme, will have a fresh cast and combine live action with Animatronics (a cross between Electronics and Animation), something that hasn’t even been tried in Pakistan before.”
However, 18 years is a long time for any director to stay away from the playing field. But Saeed Rizvi believes that taking a break didn’t mean he was rusting away in retirement; in fact he was learning the tricks of the trade and updating himself unlike his contemporaries.
“The biggest problem with our people is that we don’t want to learn once we have started making money whereas in the US or the UK and even in Iran and India, filmmakers keep updating themselves with new technologies that help them in their upcoming projects,” asserted the veteran director. “I am glad that I had the chance of going abroad and learning from world renowned technicians and teachers and that helped me understand a lot of things about filmmaking and its new techniques. I will be trying to use what I have learnt in my upcoming project and with that, I hope to inspire new filmmakers who have the ideas but don’t know how to utilize them.”
Having said that, Rizvi believes the revival of the film industry in Pakistan is only a couple of good films away, provided that the filmmakers keep the country’s demographics in mind. “I am glad that people are making films in Pakistan but their biggest issue is that they don’t understand that language is as important as the story,” Rizvi pointed out. “English is far more commonly understood in India than in Pakistan, even then almost all Bollywood films are in Hindi. That’s because they understand that their target market prefers Hindi; if they want to watch a film in English then they might as well go and watch a Hollywood film.”
Even though Rizvi relates the example with India, he has been very vocal against the screening of Indian films in Pakistan. Nevertheless, he believes that showing Indian films is good as long as it helps the struggling Pakistani cinema stand on its feet.
“As a member of the Censor Board, I get to watch a lot of films before the general public; some of them are very good while some are really bad. It is a good thing that our cinema industry is receiving oxygen in form of Indian films but for how long can we rely on them?” he asked. “We must start making good films so our dependency on foreign films can end and we can start depending on our local material. We have the talent to produce quality material and Na Maloom Afraad showed us that; all we have to do is work with dedication and we will succeed.”
Unlike some of our veteran directors who don’t believe in following role models, Saeed Rizvi admits that he is a big fan of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, James Cameron and Peter Jackson, to name a few Hollywood directors.
“In order to make good films, we must follow the work of these filmmakers who combine script, story and sentiments together in their movies and deliver a complete package. For us, it is a tutorial that we can easily learn from and I am certain that if we follow their work, we can take one step forward which can later become a giant leap,” he said.
He even goes down the memory lane to quote an example from his own career. “When I was making Shanee in the late ’80s, people criticized me a lot and labeled me ‘the next Javed Jabbar’ since Javed bhai had made Beyond the Last Mountain in the ’70s – in English,” he shared. “Shanee worked because the script, the treatment and the execution was all in English, and that’s why it is still remembered after so long. I would advise upcoming directors to make a film the hard way and instead of trusting their monitors and advisors, they should follow the grueling way of filmmaking and come up with a product for local Pakistanis. You might make a film with a monitor and a laptop but you can’t make people like that product for a long time.”
Saeed Rizvi has always had a penchant for extraterrestrial creatures and that is why he chose Shanee as the topic of his first film. Fast forwarding to 2015, Aamir Khan’s recent blockbuster also follows the same theme and the fact that people are enjoying it seems to excite him. “I haven’t been able to watch PK due to personal commitments but I want to watch it as soon as possible. Many people have told me that the first scene of the film in which the spaceship descends to Earth reminds them of Shanee. If the first scene of the biggest hit in Indian cinema reminds them of my film – a Pakistani film – I would take that as a compliment, any day,” he shared.