Nasheed Qamar Faruqi, Pakistani Britisher is a writer, director and has edited several short films and music videos. She made her first short at the age of 16. She brought rigorous and broad ranging knowledge of cinema and the film industry to her work as a writer and director. Ebuzz has talked to Nasheed about her new short film “Bubbles”, a new short film about enclosure, exclusion and control.
Tell us about your upbringing?
Gosh, well it’s hard to know where to begin… I spent a lot of time drawing, making things and day dreaming. Both my sister and I fairly straight laced girls’ schools, so luckily our home life was a bit more dynamic and bohemian: lots of house guest, people coming and going… friends, conversation, music and books. Yes, I spent with time some brilliant people growing up- the poet Zahra Nigar taught me how to play cards and told me stories for example. Yes, we were surrounded by wonderful people, artists and thinkers; largely thanks to our mother but also because of my Nani who was also a remarkable woman. And there were fantastic stories and ideas around us all the time.
My Dadi’s house (she also lived in London) was also full of interesting people and stories. She told us stories from life (about partition or growing up in Faizabad and djinns) or fictional ones about princesses. My youngest Chacha is an artist and I would constantly raid his art supplies for paints. My Phupos and middle Chacha introduced me to Alfred Hitchcock and Pop Music, while Dadi fed us aloo gosht and taught us how tosew batwas… so it was an unusual upbringing in some ways – given that this is London in the 1980s we are talking about.
Apart from school and homework there was lots of mucking about with our cousins and some close friends; we’d do the usual things: bake, dance, do plays… waste time … that was until I became serious about books, movies and art; then I’d spend my pocket money and free time on museums and cinemas. That was when I really learned to love London and the freedom and access it gave me.
What is it about your life that makes you identify with Pakistan, given that you were born & bred in the UK?
My sister and I were brought up with a strong sense of history, and of pride in our South Asian artistic and cultural heritage. There was also a big emphasis on family and old friends, many of whom are still in Pakistan (and India) – which is what really makes you identify with a place. In addition, there were always cousins, friends and relatives, who would stay with us when they were passing through London, so there was frequently a bit of gossip, a box of mangoes, or a suitcase smelling of naphthalene that would bring Pakistan back to me in the midst of a grey afternoon. Yes, Pakistan was an absent presence in London.
Also, Urdu was my first language. I learnt English when I was five and started school. That was a fairly intense experience, so I knew from an early age that I was not coming from the same place as the Lucindas and Georginas in my class.
Finally we’d spend at least one long holiday a year in Pakistan with my Khala, so over the years I made friends, gathered memories, grew to love the places I knew… Some of my most beautiful memories of growing up are of Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Pindi…
Tell us a little bit about growing up as a Pakistani Britisher and how difficult it was to make a film with South Asian characters?
It has not been difficult to make work with South Asian characters. It is something almost inevitable for me, and I don’t think audiences in the UK – or anywhere else – are averse to that.
The experience of being a Pakistani in the UK has developed over the years. When we were kids, people either didn’t know where Pakistan was, or if they knew, it was because they were hippies. There was racism at school and even at Oxford (when I went to university) among supposedly educated people. Nowadays, people know where Pakistan is, but for all the wrong reasons. It is profoundly sad. There are all sorts of assumptions and stereotypes about Pakistanis and Muslims these days. Luckily the people I know, live and work with have no time for such thinking. Conversely, returning to Pakistan can been equally tricky nowadays because some people in Pakistan also make assumptions about us so-called BBCDs.
Human experience is so much bigger than nationalities and borders. I wish we could live in a world that recognized this.
Tell us about your recent project, the film ‘Bubbles’?
Bubbles is a short film about a little girl who witnesses an act of horrible violence at home and how this breaks her heart. The film is also a cheeky homage to the song “Chabi Kho Jai” in Raj Kapoor’s Bobby.
What is the main purpose behind this short film?
I wanted to make a short film that is gripping and beautiful, that expresses something about the vulnerability of young children, but also their intelligence and sensitivity. There’s something grotesque and outrageous about small children being exposed to violence. I guess that’s quite topical given the times we live in; because so many children are exposed to violence around us. Not just domestic violence – as we’ve seen so recently in Peshawar – the war is now against their persons and in their classrooms, and we’ve got a world in which we also see child soldiers and war orphans…
I wanted to think about violence and explore how in violent situations, the aggression is sort of amorphous, systemic, everywhere. Even when it’s not apparent, it bubbles under the surface. And everyone (including non-violent people) not only feels it, but is a sort of conductor for it – yes, perhaps electricity is a useful metaphor for violence….
You are the director of this short film, but have also penned its script and screenplay. What prompted you to make this film?
I had an image in my head of this small girl, really sweet and docile, but inside her head she’s haunted by terrible visions. Perversely enough, I wanted to reenact those images and capture them on screen.The images I’m talking about emerged from a series of quite disturbing dreams I had almost two years ago. I write every morning as soon as I wake up, before doing anything else, and I captured the dreams in my notebook. The images were so strong and the connections so resonant, I knew they would make a fantastic film.
On a practical front, I’d been making music videos and writing for a few years and hadn’t had a producible short idea for a while, so as soon as I came up with one, I grabbed it and ran with it.
The story of the film revolves around the main character “Bubbles”. What is the character inspired by?
By my dreams. And by watching children. Then once we’d cast the role, very much by the young actress, Yasmeen Siddiqui who brought so much to the role.
How was your experience while working with Shabana Azmi?
Fantastic. I’ve admired her for as long as I can remember, so working with her was a dream come true. It was quite a bleak film to make in some ways, but Shabana was incredibly brave and wholehearted about entering that darkness and the oppressive world that her character inhabits. It was amazing to watch her at work, the focus and artistry; every muscle was at work. Months before the shoot she went on a shopping trip and was meticulous about whatsapping me to make sure that every pin she bought was spot on and in character. So she was immensely supportive and a wonderful collaborator. She’s a great artist. I think the whole of my cast – Bhasker Patel, Christopher Simpson, Yasmeen Siddiqui and Dolly Ballea – did a fantastic job. We had a great team, and Shabana was a vital part of the process because she came on board early and helped us attract other talent.
Shabana Azmi is playing the role of Bubbles Grandmother who protects her from the violence that lurks in the family. What would you say about her role in this film?
I’d say her role in this film is very different from ones she’s played in the past. She’s always played fighters, whether in Genesis, Arth, Masoom or Amar Akbar Anthony – and I love that spirit. But sadly her character in Bubbles was defeated long ago.
In your opinion, how do you think this film will help in eradicating or lessening domestic violence?
It’s just a short film, and I don’t make any earth-shattering claims for it. There are some amazing activists, shelters and charities who do really brave work in preventing DV and helping families stricken by it. We were fortunate enough to have the backing and endorsement of a number of these groups, including Awaaz, Asha, The Domestic Harmony Fountation and Mai Family Services.
As for the movie, if Bubbles makes one person in the audience reconsider beating their spouse, child or parent, I’ll be grateful. My hope is that it gets people talking and thinking about the cost of domestic violence, and the cost of our silence about domestic violence. Because the film (without giving too much away) has quite an unusual depiction of domestic violence I’m hoping that it will also serve to open up and diversify our conversation about DV.
What were the challenges you faced while making this film?
Making a low budget film is always a challenge, and this was no exception. You’re working hard against the odds to get what you need. Raising our funding took more than a year, but we succeeded, thanks to a really heartwarming Kickstarter campaign. The movie has 86 hugely generous backers.
We were kicked out of one of our locations on the first night of the shoot, which was pretty challenging! But in the end I managed to bag us an alternative thanks to my father in law. Things like that become good stories once they’re in the past…. The other challenges, I just view as creative opportunities and count my blessings that I’m working with actors and technicians equally committed to doing their best work.
Would you like to shed some light on your future projects?
I’m working on a Shakespeare adaptation which I hope to direct for the screen, and on producing a short which will be directed by and star Christopher Simpson. Other than that, I am working to get a play I’ve written (about the French Revolution) produced and my first original feature film off the ground. All my writing and directing is quite focused on different incarnations of violence, for the moment.