Who knows what cinematographer Asad Faruqi may have let slip had he truly pursued the line of work he was initially meant to – Chartered Accountancy. Had fate and passion for storytelling not intervened, the 30-year-old cinematographer may have been left ruing his fate seated behind a corporate desk buried under paperwork and financial documents. But most of all, he may have missed out on the opportunity to be part of an Academy Award-winning team.
“Fortunately for me, I realised very early on that I wasn’t cut out for the 9 to 5 desk job, quit two years into it and went straight to film school,” recalls the Director of Photography (DoP) of A Girl in the River.
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A graduate of the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology’s (Szabist) Media Sciences programme, Asad’s journey from being a potential chartered accountant to becoming a bona fide documentary film-maker reads like an engrossing coming-of-age story.
Currently basking in the glory of helping Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy bag her second Academy Award a couple of nights ago, Asad lived out the dream of countless aspiring film-makers as he attended the Oscar ceremony. But despite the accolades and praise coming his way, it has not all been smooth sailing for Asad.
Turning back the clock a few years, Asad shares how his decision to switch his field of study from chartered accountancy to film-making was not greeted with cheers and glad tidings by his parents. “Obviously they were a bit apprehensive, especially given the state of Pakistani cinema at that time,” he tells The Express Tribune.
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While people around him may have tried to talk him out of this decision, remarking how there wasn’t much scope for film-making in Pakistan, Asad was undeterred in his quest as he eventually convinced his parents with the reasoning, “If I am honest with my craft I will excel at it.”
Initially biding his time as a photojournalist for a local publication, word had just gone out that Sharmeen was starting work on a documentary titled Taliban Generation. “When I got to know about the project I contacted her and told her about my [journalism] background after which she took me on board.”
Asad was at first meant to have a smaller role in the production, but managed to impress Sharmeen so much that his post was soon elevated to that of camera operator and associate producer.
Looking back at the project now, Asad terms it as a steep learning curve, noting how he travelled with Sharmeen to Swat – at a time when the military operation had just started – like “true journalists”.
That experience not only played a major role in Asad’s development as a cinematographer, but also as an individual. He says he started viewing the world in the grand scheme of things. “I’ve started viewing things in a completely different manner, which has helped me both professionally and personally.”
Working under Sharmeen’s wing for the better part of a decade, Asad describes his relationship with his collaborator as that of a sibling. “She is like an elder sister to me. She took me under her mentorship when I was very young.” Now, with invaluable experience under his belt, the cinematographer is about to take the director’s chair with his first documentary being produced by Sharmeen.
Rubbing shoulders with some of his idols and winning an award on possibly the grandest stage in cinema is a moment Asad is unlikely to forget. Having missed out on the chance to attend the Academy Awards ceremony in 2012 due to visa issues, Asad was not going to let this opportunity slide by again. Describing the Oscar experience from three nights ago, he shares how they were seated in the balcony of the Dolby Theatre next to some of the major players of Hollywood, including the VFX team from Star Wars.
“It’s just so overwhelming and surreal. Honestly, when I saw the trailer for the other movies I didn’t think we were the favorites,” shares an ecstatic Asad, recounting running into a famous Instagram friend at the ceremony and discussing cinema with him. “I met Emmanuel Lubezki (DoP of The Revenant) for the first time. Previously, we’d just been friends on Instagram as he likes some of my posts and I enjoy his work. But this time we spoke about cinema, Tree of Life in particular, since I really love that film.”
Accompanying Asad and Sharmeen to the Oscar ceremony was another of the latter’s mentors, co-producer of A Girl in the River, Haya Fatima Iqbal. Having flown back from the US, after studying documentary film-making at the New York University (NYU), Haya landed her first job at SOC Films the same day Sharmeen won her first Oscar for Saving Face.
To many it may be Sharmeen’s work ethic and unrelenting nature to get the job done that may serve as an inspiration, but according to Haya it was the director’s nature that stood out. “She is not your typical seth (boss). She’s always accessible, you can go talk to her, and she’ll respect your opinion as well. There is no takalluf with her,” says the co-producer.
Interestingly, both of Sharmeen’s protégés – Asad and Haya – have prior experience in journalism. And both are quick to credit their experience in the newsroom with helping them become well-versed in the art of storytelling.
“Gone are the days when you’d apply the inverted pyramid style to news stories. Now, you have to make your pieces more engaging, just like documentaries. The difference here is just that previously I had a pen and a notepad as a reporter, but now I have a camera as a documentary film-maker,” says Haya.
As the confetti from their celebration settles, Asad and Haya are focusing on their own personal projects. Haya is working on multiple docuseries, while Asad will be making his directorial debut later this year with Indispensable, a documentary that follows the story of a bomb disposal squad.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2016.
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