Not a great place for business: Saim Sadiq

From becoming an international film festival darling to surviving censorship in Pakistan, Joyland has seen a lot for a young filmmaker’s directorial debut. Speaking with host Shehzad Ghias Shaikh in the recent episode of The Pakistan Experience podcast, Saim Sadiq delved into the process of making and releasing the 2022 drama film.

Commenting on the economic constraints that undergird filmmaking in Pakistan, Saim offered, “There are less than 100 theaters working in Pakistan. It’s not a place for great business unless you make a Maula Jatt…but then you need to have the kind of resources that Maula Jatt did.” The director underlined the unpredictable nature of the industry and how even films starring big celebrities often fail to recover money.

Saim added, “Even the big Humayun Saeed films don’t make a lot of money…A successful film is the one that recovers its money.” Pointing out the changing landscape of viewership, he drew a comparison between Kamli and Zindagi Tamasha, Sarmad Khoosat’s recent two releases, and how the former’s theatrical release was outdone by the latter’s digital reach.

Kamli released in theatres and Zindagi Tamasha did not. Zindagi Tamasha has been seen by, I don’t know, a hundred times more people than Kamli was seen by,” Saim contended. “And so that’s the fact…Times are changing faster than we can sort of wrap our heads around because of course there is still a fascination about having a theatrical release.”

To artists working on their first film, the Joyland director emphasised the long process of editing a draft before raising expectations. “Sometimes it’s also because your film is not good, you know, and you haven’t worked hard enough,” Saim identified one common reason why a potential film might not receive funding.

He furthered on, “I have seen a lot of people, you know, frankly speaking, who come up [to me] and I’m like, do you have a script written? They’re like, no, we have like five pages of art…You’re expecting the world to fall on your feet, but you haven’t even gone through the effort of locking yourself up in a room for six months [and] coming up with a draft.”

Referring to his own experiences with Joyland, Saim divulged, “That’s what I did, you know. Nobody gave us money for seven years until they did. For all the earlier drafts, nobody gave us money.” While rejections are every artist’s nightmare, for Saim they are part of the bigger process. “You have to take your struggle in your stride a little bit as well and not expect too much sometimes before the time comes,” he mused.

Responding to an inquiry about his earlier drafts and the basis for their rejection, the filmmaker reiterated his conviction in the bigger process that a story needs to undergo. “We had to just get rejected,” Saim interjected with a smile. “There were a lot of things that were wrong…I’m not saying that there was no work to be done…Some of the characters were a little two-dimensional…Everybody spoke in the same language, like in the same tone…they all spoke like me,” he explained the errors in the first draft he penned.

“And that’s the note that I got, that all your characters speak like you in this snappy, smart mouth, kind of, you know, wanna be funny way,” Saim disclosed how the feedback helped him flesh out his characters’ distinct mannerisms after a couple of attempts at rewriting and editing. In retrospect, he surmised how the story met several rejections before finding a home. “It was the zeitgeist. We had to get rejected to get to a place which was like, okay, I would be interested in that.”

When probed about Joyland’s predecessor Darling’s success in the film festival circuit, Saim recounted how the short film did not help him secure funding immediately despite applying to various Swedish and French funds. “I applied to Sundance many times,” he humourously recalled. “Now I joke with them about it, because the film screened at Sundance. And I actually, when the premiere was happening, I went on stage and I was like, well, my script was rejected three times from their lab. Now I’m here.”

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