From assisting well-known cinematographers such as Nick Noland in memorable projects Jinnah and Immaculate Conception, to shooting the controversial film Bol, Salman Razzaq has come a long way.
While his name is mentioned in the credits of almost every other well-constructed music video in Pakistan as ‘Salman’ Razzaq, the film students at the South Asian Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Television (SAAMPT) were left perplexed when he clarified:
“My name is Suleman Razzaq Khan and I have been a part of the entertainment industry for almost 25 years.” After introducing himself, he spoke about his experiences and shared the ups and downs of his journey as a cinematographer.
Speaking to attentive film students on Monday evening, Razzaq highlighted the importance of film education in Pakistan. “I entered the studio right after I completed my matriculation exams in the late ‘80s and have never looked back,” he said. “I wonder how different things would have been or how strong my foundation could be if I had been to a film school.”
Although Razzaq has learnt a lot and gained positive exposure to the work he is so involved in, he owes most of his learning to the more educated, skilled and professional foreign technicians he assisted. “A perfectly sane person who enters this industry in Pakistan, becomes totally mad after a certain period of time,” he laughed. “That is why it’s important for all of you to work with foreigners who have the right kind of work ethic and above all, respect film-making as a craft.”
He further elaborated on this notion with an example of the veteran Bollywood actor Shammi Kapoor and how professional his behaviour was during the shooting of Jinnah. He recalls how Kapoor was provided an air-conditioned van to relax in between the scenes but he chose not to. He was seen sitting on a bench near the location instead and when asked why, he said: “It saves time.”
Apart from films, Razzaq has also been behind the success of numerous music videos — transforming the way they are shot in Pakistan. Fuzon’s “Khamaj” and Ali Azmat’s “Na Re Na” have taken excellence to the next level for Pakistani music videos. “I watched The Artist on a flight and felt so proud that at least visually we had achieved this level of video-making 10 years back in ‘Khamaj’,” he added. “As far as ‘Na Re Na’ is concerned, Pooja Bhatt was overwhelmed to meet me in Lahore when she found out I had shot that video.”
Commenting on the debate between whether digital media will make old school film-making redundant, Razzaq, along with other cinematographers, believes that film cameras are here to stay. He further added that the only factor which continuously tempts film-makers to make the switch to digital cameras is economic feasibility but ultimately it is film which still wins. “In the ‘90s when there was a huge influx of DVCAM, everyone said film [cameras] will die,” he said. “And now, 15 years later, when Red cameras and Alexas have come out, the debate has started once again.” However, Razzaq believes that there’s still a lot of time for film cameras to fade away.
Wrapping up his session, he advised the film students at SAAMPT to always watch films in cinemas instead of buying DVDS because that is how you are able to monitor minor yet very significant details effectively under scrutiny — which is what makes a true cinematographer. “Watching films in cinemas is the key — that is how you realise your mistakes,” he said. “That is how I realised mine, in shooting Bol.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 10th, 2012.
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