While the exodus of its young and affluent citizens is a reality that Pakistan is all too familiar with, there is a lesser-known phenomenon at work in small pockets of the country as well. We’ve all heard stories of travellers from foreign shores who’ve come and chosen to live here – out of their own free will, mind you. We may dismiss these incidents as urban legends – who in their right mind would voluntarily want to suffer the heat and the loadshedding – but crazy as they may sound, such people actually do exist. Instep caught up with one such intrepid adventurer, the Australian filmmaker Summer Nicks, who has been living in Lahore for close to a decade now and whose contributions to the local art scene would put many a native to shame.
From running a restaurant in an Australian tourist resort to teaching scuba diving along Thailand’s picturesque beaches to living as a monk in India, Summer Nick’s journey through life has been anything but predictable. Still, when the Australian decided in 2005 that Pakistan was going to be next on his list of travel destinations, there was much hand wringing and consternation amongst family and friends about his choice of country.
Back then, the events of 9/11 were still fresh in the global memory and Pakistan had been reduced to the status of a pariah in the international community. Despite the bad press the country had been receiving, Summer had no reservations about coming here.
“Having visited South Asian countries numerous times, I was quite accustomed to the culture so I kind of knew what to expect,” he recalls.
While he may have come prepared for the traffic, the pollution and the frequent power cuts, what Summer didn’t expect was to fall madly in love with the country and its people. The relationship that he describes as ‘love at first sight’ began with a stint at the Australian Cultural Centre in Lahore and is still going strong, with the man from down under donning different avatars in the eight years since.
It wasn’t just our legendary hospitality that bowled him over, though he says Pakistanis made him “feel more welcome than I have felt anywhere else in the world.” The food, the culture and the music are the reasons that have kept him here all these years.
Many Lahoris will have fond memories of Summer’s first venture in Pakistan, a restaurant by the name of Carpe Diem that introduced the concept of organic food at a time when the word ‘organic’ was associated more with science textbooks than with a fashionable trend in eating out. The investment was a sign that Summer was firmly anchoring himself in the country and although the restaurant no longer exists, it paved the way for what could become his biggest contribution to the country: being one cog in the wheel of Pakistani cinema’s reinvention.
Through various events and gigs held at the eatery, Summer became part of a vibrant group of individuals with dreams as zany as his – theirs was to revolutionize Pakistan’s arts and entertainment industry and his was to promote the arts at a global level. Thus began his involvement in the media and bore fruit with the release of Seedlings, for which he wrote the story and screenplay and also shared production credits. The film went on to win numerous international awards and heralded a new chapter in Pakistani cinema.
“To be part of the rebirth of the local film industry was a great experience. Those were, and still are, exciting times and the talent and creative energies at work here are overwhelming. I’ve worked with some of the best names and that’s testimony that Pakistani cinema’s future is very bright,” observes Summer.
Post Seedlings, Summer’s artistic outings took a more commercial turn. He made his Lollywood debut playing a ruthless cricket coach in Main Hoon Shahid Afridi and has co-directed the Shaan-starrer mega project Operation O21. The spy thriller, based on a screenplay written by Summer, promises to be a slicker, more intelligent version of Waar and its success will firmly cement Summer’s position as a bona fide member of the local film fraternity.
He may currently be away from the country but that doesn’t mean the country has left his thoughts. “What I love and admire most about Pakistan is the resilience of its people in the face of all adversity and the strength and will of their hearts. It has really changed my life and opened me up spiritually to a side I never knew I had.”
His latest directorial venture is an ode to that newfound spirituality, a film set in Hunza and shot in New Zealand. Called Shambhala, after a mythical kingdom in Buddhism, the film will be a “mythical action adventure.” While it may never become a commercial success, Shambhala holds the kind of appeal that can make it a hit on the international film festival circuit. If nothing else, it can be credited for putting one of Pakistan’s most picturesque and under utilized regions on the global map.
Through his travels, Summer says he never misses an opportunity to tell people about his life in Pakistan. “When I mention Pakistan and tell stories about my amazing time here, everyone is genuinely surprised and intrigued. And when I show them pictures, they invariably remark how they’ve never seen the beauty of the country presented in the news. Many people have visited Pakistan upon my recommendation and I’m proud to say that they come back with wonderful stories of how much they loved it.”