A few days ago, I received a final email from ISPR, Pakistan Army’s Public Relations division, regarding our repeated request to get the permission to make our film around the subject of Pak-India peace. We had been running in to problems with getting this permission.
For those of you who do not know, Pakistan army has a good deal of authority when it comes to local media, especially if the media content in question has any mention of the Army. For our peace film, since the story involves a Pakistani and Indian soldier coming to terms, we can virtually do nothing beyond pre-production without a permission from the Army. Over months, we have learned a lot about ISPR’s views, priorities and method of working. They study scripts down to details, do background checks on filmmakers and are even known for showing up on film sets during shoot, to make sure soldiers appear the way they like. They even sit in the film censor board. Their influence goes beyond this but you get the picture. In short, not having them fully on board means that a film can virtually be shut down at any phase, be it pre, post, release, distribution whatever.
Unfortunately, the final conclusive email that we have received from ISPR, has denied us the permission for our film, for the third time now. In addition, this time ISPR has also restricted us from applying for the permission again going forward, as we have been persistent in the past. This of course does not come as good news.
To give some background, back in May, we had managed to gain the principal approval from ISPR, after the first time our film was rejected when we had submitted its basic story-line to them. We got around this rejection, by managing to land a meeting with the Director General of ISPR, who after the meeting concluded that our film was not just unobjectionable, but in fact beneficial for Pakistan Army’s image. He was excited and this was a very encouraging sign. He swayed the views of his sub-ordinates and granted us the principal approval for our film. From this point on, we got in full gear to detail out our production.
A few months and a lot of budget spending and investor meetings later, we randomly received an email from ISPR informing us that we did not have the approval now. (probably because the only person favoring our film in all of ISPR – the Director General of ISPR – had retired by now). Our further attempts from this point on revealed that things had gotten tough and less flexible for us now.
ISPR is a military organization. I’m a patriotic guy and appreciate the brave services of the soldiers for our country. They are our heros. Because these soldiers are trained to defend Pakistan from the “enemy neighbor” given our history of wars, there is a strong ideology and narrative which runs through every soldier. Based on these ideologies, ISPR – being soldiers – had raised both specific and general issues with our film. For example, one of the specific issues of theirs in particular is the climax of the film where the Pakistani soldier forgives the Indian soldier and let’s him go. This has been particularly the most troubling specific issue for approval, among others.
If we talk about the general issue, which in my opinion is actually the only “real” issue that all matters, it is the fact that our film has a Pakistan-India peace concept to it. This has really been the root of all our problems. This idea has not settled very well with them contrary to our initial calculations. I hate compromises. Still, no matter how we changed our script, address all of their specific issues, painstakingly investing months making sure we leave nothing in the script, changing situations and climax around, compromising in hopes to just get an approval, we always faced the brick wall in getting the permission for this particular concept. Of course, compromising on the peace concept itself simply defeats the purpose of making the film altogether.
My team has spent much of the last months investing all of their time in the script, as this permission was the only thing standing between us and a finished product. We gave it all we had. However, this final rejection by ISPR and their restriction for us to apply for this film again, unfortunately appears to be the sensible end of the road for this film. This is where we have to stop, at least for the time being.
I understand that this comes as not good news for the fans, I hope they will understand that we tried our very best. We did not spare any opportunity and my team members sacrificed a lot. This film will have its time. Anyone who feels down or sad should not, none of us do. Our objective is not just one film, it is a series of good films, it is to become good Pakistani film makers. There is so much we have learned and we are excited about all our films ahead of us. Our team is full of energetic individuals. Their passion is to to make great Pakistani films, not become experts in dealing with ISPR. My passion is to address the content quality issues with the Pakistani film industry, and I have written about it’s history earlier. We are simply shifting our focus back to making great films, minus the bureaucracy. We have already started work on different concepts, experienced and wiser. We are stronger filmmakers today in every way, than we ever were. I want to thank every single one of my team members. You exceeded all my expectations and I am proud of every one of you. You are not just talented filmmakers but extra ordinary individuals.
They can kill our films, they can’t kill our spirit.
We’re just getting started!
P.S: To all the supporters, Thank you so much! I am almost done returning all of the funds received for this film back to all the respective donors. I appreciate your warm support!