Director extraordinaire, Sarmad Khoosat has proven his mettle time and again, giving TV some of its most memorable serials in recent times. His debut feature film, ‘Manto’ (2015), where he took on the protagonist’s part as well, paid homage to the life and times of the Indo-Pak writer, Saadat Hassan Manto, post which, Khoosat has dabbled into period plays, theatre and surprisingly, commercial acting endeavors. With his latest cinematic offering, ‘Zindagi Tamasha’, Sarmad is getting back to the roots, exploring his hometown, Lahore.In conversation with Daily Times, Sarmad opened up about his forthcoming feature, which is surprisingly penned in Punjabi. Whilst the ‘Humsafar’ famed director conceptualised the basic premise, debutant, Nirmal Bano, graduate from the NCA has written the script. “It was while we were developing it, I realised it had to be in Punjabi,” Sarmad revealed, “I wanted to keep it authentic, so it’s basically a mix now, how in real-life my parents speak Punjabi, but I’m not very fluent. But predominantly, it’s a Punjabi film.” “There are some stories that are lying somewhere in your mind and heart, and so it developed over the last few years. I associate a lot of music with storytelling, so ‘Zindagi Tamasha Bani’ is a very famous song from an old Pakistani film,” Sarmad added of how the film was conceived and titled. “I wanted to make a film about Lahore; I had a particular setting and character in mind, and this song felt befitting, so I bought its rights and we’re using both, the original and a rendition. This film came out of a lot of personal experiences, and the need to tell the story of city I understand and love.”Though little is known about the story itself, Sarmad shot ‘Zindagi Tamasha’ through November and December last year, borrowing the character of Lahore, the city, in all its glory and the inclement weather. According to him, the film, entirely shot at real-locations in the interior old-city has allowed the “streets, the hustle bustle, frenzy, colors, or the lacks of colors, the season of winter, fog and its exuberant people” to be on their own. Speaking of how he’s been able to capture the essence of Lahore, he maintained, “If you’re native to a certain area and you become a filmmaker, there comes a very touristy side to it, which is very unfair. Walled City has been shot by everyone and it’s not just a backdrop, it’s about the chunk of the city I’ve lived in during my childhood. So it’s about Lahore, by a Lahori, as a character, and it’s people,” Khoosat shared. “Visuals have become very generic with pretty houses, lush green fields, and there’re also preconceived notions, of let’s say how there would be a certain element for romance. This time around, I wanted the city to be. You cannot transform nor art-direct it, but it’s included instead of just decorating a portion of the city.”‘Manto’, which was originally written for TV and distilled to be turned into a film, took a good 3-years from Sarmad, this time around, however, we discover that there was much more clarity with ‘Zindagi Tamasha.’ “This time, it’s simply been designed differently, the production design, the approach and I’d like to believe that as a practitioner, I’ve become slightly more organized and aware of my own style, in a sense that I know the stories I need to tell and find the resources to tell them,” he observed. “There will perhaps be more personal attachment to what I do now, and I hope it’s effective.” This is also evident through the fact that ‘Zindagi Tamasha’ is being helmed by Sarmad’s newly-found, independent home-production, Khoosat Films. “Khoosat Films is the whole idea of freedom. I’m hitting 40 this year and I want to tell stories I’ve always wanted to, if they don’t work, they don’t. Telling a story without dictation by either a producer or a financier, or anybody else’s notion of how a film is made, I have my own notion, it could be right or wrong, but it’s my personal view and I want it to be practiced with freedom,” he noted.Through Khoosat Films, Sarmad has also been nurturing young, raw people who have lesser experienced, yet are like-minded and have a lot to offer. Like Nirmal Bano, Sarmad’s also been developing more screenplays by budding talent and not necessarily industry professionals. Similarly, he’s also working with newer faces. Even though we’re exclusively told that he will indeed make a brief appearance in the movie, Zindagi Tamasha comprises of mostly debutants – Arif Hussain, models, Eman Suleman and Ali Kureshi, along with seasoned artiste, Samiya Mumtaz. “Again there, was no pressure coming from anywhere to take actors from the standard pool, so it was very inspired casting,” Sarmad concluded of how he selected actors for the four leading roles. “Arif, who’s a friend otherwise and plays the protagonist, was in mind from the very beginning, him I was very clear about. And with the kind of intimacy that is required between the director and actor, you have to love them, you have to explore their vulnerabilities and strengths and put them in front of the camera. Samiya, I worked with on a theatre play last year, I hadn’t worked with her before and she seemed like the perfect fit for the role.”He continued, “Eman was in ‘Aakhri Station’ and she doesn’t act much, which is a tragedy because m she’s a brilliant actor and has a beautiful face, but she went through about three rounds of auditions as well, with other people also. Ali, out of the blue I found on Facebook in the ‘Suggested Friends’ category and I knew his was the face in my mind for the character. So he went through a few auditions as well, not from the script, but from some other work and was so very passionate about it. And it’s not just them, there’re a lot of supporting actors too, who you’ve seen in theatre and other digital work.” Published in Daily Times, January 12th 2019.