Films

Will Carma be able to steer Pakistani cinema in a new direction?

Written by Omair Alavi

The cast and crew of Carma are hopeful that the film will provide a new direction for Pakistani filmmakers

Move over the Fast and Furious franchise, forget Gone in Sixty Seconds, Pakistan’s very own new-age thriller with a car chase to be proud of is here to stay. Directed by Kashan Admani, and featuring Osama Tahir, Zhalay Sarhadi and Navin Waqar in the central character, and Adnan Siddiqui in a pivotal role, Carma is all set for a release on  2nd  September. It might not fall into the rom-com genre, or drama but is an all-out suspense thriller that takes place predominantly in a moving car. Now that’s something that hasn’t been tried much in Hollywood, and if Carma can pull it off successfully, then future filmmakers in Pakistan will use it as a test case and come up with films that tell stories that the audience needs to see in this part of the world.

What is Carma and why it should be taken seriously!

Carma is a modern-day thriller set in Pakistan where most of the story takes place inside a car. It is heavily inspired by the works of Hollywood director Quentin Tarantino, who directed Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and the Kill Bill series. It has an ensemble cast featuring actors who should be in films, like Osama Tahir, Navin Waqar, Zhalay Sarhadi, Umer Aalam, Vajdaan Shah, and even British singer and songwriter Lili Caseley. It is Kashan Admani’s first film as a director and he produced it with his friend Fawad Hai, who also penned the script.

The story of the film seems to revolve around a kidnapping where Zhalay Sarhadi stands out as the antagonist who is calling the shots while Osama Tahir’s character sits behind the driver, handcuffed and tortured. Kashan Admani seems to have brought all his experience as a music producer and used it in the film, because not only does it give a Tarantino vibe, but it also makes upcoming filmmakers believe that they can execute a thriller if they are given the chance. BOLD met the cast and crew of the film and asked them about their experience of working in the Tarantino-esque flick which has a car chase, a Matrix-style bullet shot, and an excellent background score, besides brilliant performances from the cast, to make it easily the first new-age Pakistani thriller.

Kashan Admani – Our car chase is our ‘item number’

The man behind Carma Kashan Admani has been around for over two decades primarily as a music producer and has even directed a handful of music videos, documentaries and commercials. He believes that the idea of Carma came from our surroundings because in Karachi there was a time when such incidents were routine happenings.

‘We tried to use that part of our lives and brought it on screen so that people would be able to relate to the film. Being a Quentin Tarantino fan, I tried to execute the shoot in the style of the great Hollywood director and it would be great if the audience is able to enjoy the film, which is likely to be the first-ever film of its kind in Pakistan.’

On turning into a first-time film director, Kashan said that it was his decision to change the way he was pursuing his dreams because his career had sort of become stagnant for him. He thanks his co-producer and writer Fawad Hai for his support as well as his cast who agreed to audition for their roles, at a time when most actors believe it’s beneath their stature to appear in an audition.

‘Had Carma been a purely commercial film, we might have gone for sellable actors, and done everything by the ‘commercial’ book, but since it was an unconventional passion project, we explained to the actors about the importance of the audition and many, including Navin Waqar, were very happy to go ahead and audition.’

He explained that the film primarily revolves around four characters in a car and had they selected an actor who didn’t share the same chemistry with the co-stars, it would have had a disastrous effect. Thankfully, according to Kashan, the actors who eventually were part of the film cooperated with him and gave the project their best, which the audience will see in the cinemas.

While talking about the lack of an item number, Kashan said that the ‘Car Chase’ in the film is his ‘item number’. ‘It would have been easy for me to get sponsors for the film, and incorporate them in the shoot but we chose to avoid that and the item number thingy. Not only would it have diverted the audience’s attention but also it would have seemed as if we wanted to make money out of the project. The sponsors we have with us at the moment came on board after the film was shot, and that’s why there is nothing commercial in the film, and that includes an item number. You can say that our Car Chase is our item number because it is something that will attract the audience, and if they like it, make them watch the film again.’

Carma is not just a passion project but has all the ingredients to be a trendsetter if it manages to attract the audience. ‘We haven’t dubbed the film and it’s predominantly in sync sound, giving the audience what they actually want to see in a film. The film’s budget is 3 crore rupees that have been generated by friends and family, and will make the upcoming filmmakers realize that they can do it if they don’t find a producer.’

According to Kashan, making Carma on a budget under 3 crores was possible because they had their own camera, and their sound, editing, and post-production were done in-house, in Pakistan. ‘The whole turnkey production facility was in-house and we were able to save the cost that would have doubled the budget. I am also glad to announce that some of the Hollywood folks have also seen our film and liked it, and they might be taking our films to VoD (Video on Demand) and to Streaming services once it completes its run in Pakistan.’

Carma

Kashan feels that his film is perfect for a GCC release and in the coming days it might become a possibility, and if it does it will be nothing short of a pat on the back for first-time filmmakers like them. He is confident that the Car Chase shot in the film will remind the audience of Hollywood films, and even though it isn’t high budget, it’s something he wanted to try in his film.

‘It would have looked awkward had Carma, a film revolving around a carjacking didn’t have a car chase, and when an opportunity arose while the film was being scripted, we managed to grab it. However, our resources were limited and it took the might of our seasoned director of photography Farhan Golden to execute the sequence without the help of Russian arms and the technical equipment that wasn’t available to us. In fact, when he did share the BTS images on an international forum, most of the cameramen termed him insane for even attempting to do a stunt like that. He executed all the shots we needed using a desi juggar and sat on an extended mount behind a car that I was driving to shoot another car behind us which was being driven by Osama Tahir’s character. One wrong move would have meant that my DOP would have been injured but thankfully, everything went according to plan and we were able to execute something that hasn’t been done before in Pakistan!’

Fawad Hai – Carma is very close to my heart!

Doctor by qualification and Kashan’s friend since school days, Fawad Hai believes that Carma will attract people because the story is very close to his heart. ‘The scenario that I have written in the film is very close to my heart since it happened to me twice. Hence, I was able to add a personal angle into the script which might connect with the audience, especially those who are fans of Quentin Tarantino’s work.’

Fawad explained the reason why some of the dialogues in the trailer are in English. ‘When I wrote the script, it was in English but we then translated it into Urdu, and only left those dialogues in English which would have looked awkward in Urdu. Since Kashan and I are big fans of Quentin Tarantino, we deliberately chose to present the film in the style that has made QT a household name.’

While talking about the Car Chase sequence, Fawad said that the total budget of a Pakistani film is less than the budget of a car chase in Hollywood, but even then, they went ahead to include that in the script. ‘I am glad that people who saw the trailer appreciated that we have at least tried to show something that hasn’t been done before in Pakistan. The car chase will be remembered for a long time and so will the actors who were part of it, since they did an amazing job throughout the film.’

He also said that what began as a small-time kidnapping film went on to become a passion project for him and Kashan, and since he is more of a believer in women empowerment, he went for a female protagonist, which was eventually played by Zhalay Sarhadi.

‘In my eyes, men and women are equal and that’s why when we were creating the antagonist, we chose to make her a female. It is our way of saying that women can do everything men can, but how she becomes a bad person is what the film will explain. We had heard a story about a gang that used to trap and kidnap people using a woman as bait, and we incorporated that her to give it a real touch.’

Fawad is also excited about the fact that his film doesn’t go the usual linear way, and has flashbacks, and flashforwards, giving the audience something to think about while watching the movie. ‘While writing the script, I was intrigued by the non-linear treatment and I am sure the audience would be thrilled to watch it since it leads them to the many subplots that we have included in the main plot. If the film keeps the audience on their toes for its entire run, we would be more than happy, because that’s what we wanted to give to the audience.’

Osama Tahir – I had more questions for the writer and director when they briefed me about Carma!

Osama Tahir is a household name on TV due to his hit serials, including Ruswai, Mushk and Nehar, but the actor began his career with films and is back to the place where it all began with Chalay Thay Saath. In Carma, he is playing the character of the kidnapped rich man but his character has more shades which will be revealed to the public during the film.

‘Although I was offered films during the pandemic, I refused to act in one where there wasn’t a script. When Kashan Admani briefed me about Carma I was blown away and instantly gave the audition for the character I am playing. Not only was I able to play something different here but also was able to ‘partly’ drive a car at express speed, with a stuntman doing the rest of the job.’

Osama discloses that when he read the script for the first time, he was very excited but his excitement is different from other actors because he likes to ask questions.

‘The brief I got for the audition was basic but the script made me excited, and question the writer and director because that’s what I do when I care about something. I can’t say much about the film because it might reveal spoilers but I can assure you that people would like the film because it was made from the heart.’

Osama Tahir also adds that from the promotions to the shooting style, everything has been done in an innovative way, and the whole cast is excited to be a part of something path-breaking. He even told Kashan and Fawad that they should make more films and cast him in them because he had a great time working with them.

Navin Waqar – I always wanted to debut with a film that was different

Navin Waqar began her career as a Video Jockey and became a household name with Humsafar in 2011, playing a vamp opposite Mahira Khan. Since then, her co-stars Mahira and Fawad Khan have done films in Pakistan and India but Navin hasn’t ventured into films, until now. She believes that she was waiting for the right character and when she got to know about Carma, she instantly went ahead and auditioned for the lead character.

‘It was a great experience working in Carma mainly because it is a different kind of film that we have seen so far in Pakistan. Yes, it’s my debut but I am glad that I got to be a part of it since I am pretty sure that it will turn out to be a memorable film.’

The actress lamented about the scope of characters on TV and said that she wanted to make that transition to the big screen with something that represented strong women, and Carma gives her the chance to prove that women can be strong as well. ‘My character in the film is on another level and I am not Miss Goody Two Shoes as the trailer presents. I play someone who doesn’t forgive or forget her enemies and it’s impossible to escape her wrath. Like all the other characters in the film, my character also has a back story here and I consider myself lucky that both my first drama (Humsafar) and my first film (Carma) have taught me a lot.’

Carma
Carma

When asked how she felt about the script, she said that her initial reaction was ‘Wow, that’s ambitious’, because she hadn’t seen or heard anything like it before. ‘I sort of knew that Carma would be different because they asked me to give an audition for the role, which was not the usual practice. The script that I got after passing the audition was impressive and would captivate the audience in such a way that they wouldn’t be distracted for even two seconds.’

Navin also feels that the audience would love the way the central characters are shown to be connected together in the film, and although she had apprehensions at first regarding the execution, once the film began shooting, she knew that her character, the story, and the film was in the right hands. She believes that the success of Carma will pave the way for a new genre in Pakistan that will give the audience a chance to move away from comedy, romance, tragedy, and dramedy that dominate the box office.

We don’t usually get to play characters like Sasha on screen! – Zhalay Sarhadi

Last but not least, the film has a female antagonist who masterminds the kidnapping and looks menacing in the trailer. No one could have played that better than Zhalay Sarhadi who uses all her experience to breathe life into a character that hasn’t been presented in Pakistani cinema before. When asked about this sudden change, she said that she was tired of playing typical characters on TV and when Carma came her way, she didn’t let it go.

‘My experience in Carma has been nothing short of amazing. I was one of the few people in the film who had already worked with Kashan so I knew that whatever he had in mind would come up brilliantly. The way the story and my character were written, was right up my alley because I love this genre and prefer crime thrillers over rom-com or drama any day. Since the film also featured my friend Osama Tahir, I went ahead and played Sasha who is the main villain in the story.’

Zhalay Sarhadi feels that it was the right time for her to explore her skills as an actor, and Carma gave her that chance. ‘I have been doing dramas for a long time and since we don’t get cast in different characters, it was becoming repetitive for me. During Carma, which also featured my friend Osama Tahir, I gained new friends like Navin Waqar whom I respect, Umer Aalam, and Paras Masroor who are fabulous actors while I am in awe of Vajdaan Shah who is fabulous to work with. When you have such a great team to work with, and when you have a character that would hardly be written for a woman on TV, then who would not love to work with them.’

Carma
Carma

According to Zhalay, Pakistani actresses are shown in TV dramas as either scheming individuals or as sacrificial goats, and there is no third category for them. Carma gives her that kind of a role that might show women that they can be more than just a pretty face, and she loved playing such a character because not only she was able to challenge her acting skills, but it was also in the negation of how she is.

‘We don’t empower our women in dramas and that results in damsel-in-distress kind of roles which I personally don’t want to play anymore because they seem constipated to me. In Carma, Sasha not only leads a gang of kidnappers but is also on a vengeful streak which the audience would know when they watch the film. The character may have shades of grey but is self-sufficient and independent unlike the characters on our TV. Whatever I had done in Carma was something neither I nor any other actress has done on TV in recent years. I am grateful, humble, and proud of playing this character which might not get moral and ethical significance but will open the doors for more strong women characters.’

Omair Alavi – BOL News

About the author

Omair Alavi