Aitebaar:Signed, sealed and delivered

Saqib Malik spills all on his latest creative venture, the video of the Zeb and Haniya song, “Aitebaar”.’

Six months ago, in a previous interview (Genius in waiting?; November 10, 2007) Saqib Malik had said: “I am in the thought-process of a video right now for Zeb and Haniya. I love their music. I think they’ve got a fresh sound — it’s very modern, paired down, very cool and it just comes through very directly. I’m very excited. And I think it’s going to be different than my other videos because I want it to be something straight up and simple. It’s not going to be an elaborate setup.”

He has delivered on his promise. Saqib is back in the circuit after having completed the music video for Zeb and Haniya’s Aitebaar. Slated for a release on local television soon, it sees contribution by Tariq Amin on hair, make-up and styling, wardrobe by Deepak Perwani and Omar Rahim on choreography.

Every director has a quality that makes him stand apart from the rest, the defining characteristics of his work. When it comes to Saqib Malik, it can be said that his defining characteristic would be the concepts for his music videos. His video for Rushk’s Behti Naar was conceptually brilliant but rendered in a somewhat grainy, home-produced manner.

Moreover, it explored different facets of our society and selves: Internal conflicts, oppression leading to rebellion, women empowerment, male submission and sexuality. Then came Fuzon’s Khamaj, a visual delight that explored an unspoken, unfulfilled love between a director and his star. With Ali Azmat’s Na Re Na the interpretations are simply never-ending.

We are back at this avant-garde director’s Karachi apartment, and after having previewed the video it’s quite clear that despite the simplicity of set and design, the Aitebaar project explores yet another facet of love — reconciliation at the end of it all. Beautifully choreographed by Omar Rahim, who is joined in by Joshindar Chaggar (otherwise known more for her Bollywood dance lessons), we see the duo moving from room to room engaged in a dialogue within their dancing.

Shot at Saqib’s old family home, the movement of the dancers is perfectly synchronised and appears to almost tease the viewers. The camera switches from capturing them moving within a single frame, ala Stanley Kubrick, to showing a visual perspective of the other from the subjects’ point-of-view (in a similar manner to how the Herb Ritts video of Ain’t it Funny by Jennifer Lopez was shot). The band, like the clichéd voices-in-the-protagonist’s-head, fades in and out.

“After the film (Ajnabi Shehr Mein) didn’t take off there was a big void, and I wanted to do something interesting,” relates Saqib about how he initially came to hear Zeb and Haniya’s music. “Umar Amanullah played it for me one day and I instantly fell in love with it. I told him I wanted to meet these girls. I kept hearing the song over and over…. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it.

“I met them a couple of months ago and it was then that I understood their aura, the way they are and how they communicate, their body language, and what they are as musicians and as people,” he adds.

The fact that this is Zeb and Haniya’s first music video was taken well into consideration. “They’re going to launch themselves with this video, so there has got to be an image for them. They are divas in their own right — they’ve got great voices, they’re very intelligent and they sing from the heart.”

About the concept of the video, Saqib says, “After I met Zeb and Haniya, they told me that Aitebaar is about a relationship ending in a very mature way. Here is somebody who is reconciled to the fact that it’s over and they’re at peace with themselves. They can now think back in retrospect and deal with it in a very different way.”

The music video was shot at Saqib’s ‘heritage’ house. “I use it for shoots and it’s empty. I always believe that location has a huge role to play in the soul of any video that you’re doing. The entire idea for Khamaj came one day when I was at Eastern Studios. I looked around the place that was so full of history and I constructed the idea from that. Of course, the real inspiration came from Guru Dutt. For Na Re Na, it came from the haveli and the same is the case with Zeb and Haniya’s Aitebaar video.”

One of the things that sets the video apart from the rest of Saqib’s work so far is that it is almost entirely composed of dance. Choreographed by Omar Rahim who also choreographed the fifth LSA and worked on the choreography for the Hollywood production, The Guru, how did Saqib manage to rope him in?

“I’d wanted to work with Omar Rahim. In fact, he was supposed to be the choreographer for Ajnabi Shehr Mein which never happened. Then I wanted him to be involved with Ali Zafar’s Dekha video and that didn’t work out either. So I just called him up and he said he’d love to do Aitebaar.” Considering that Omar would need a partner in the video, Saqib assured him that he had the perfect person in mind: Joshindar Chaggar. “I had met Josh (Joshindar) a couple of times before and I thought ‘she’s such a spirited person…sweet and yet so strong’.”

But considering her background and inclination towards Bollywood-inspired choreography, how did he manage to tame her down? “I saw something in her. She’s got a great, very expressive face and technically she knows how to dance. Omar interpreted my idea into dance and both he and Josh slogged it out. I gave them the house to practise in and for two weeks they were at it. We would meet after every two days to see what they’d rehearsed…it all went off quite smoothly.”

Since the set, design and artwork of the video is extremely simple and considering that Saqib wanted ‘mood’ lighting, that in itself became an issue. “It was a very tough job because it’s all mood lighting. I didn’t want flat light; I wanted the glimpses of light to highlight the emotions. When you do that it’s very difficult to hide lights. So we had to find all kinds of corners to hide them in. At the same time I suggested that we make Josh a photographer and if you really study it, there are paintings, pictures, cameras, and there is light all over.”

Choreographers in the past have complained that inadequate editing of their filmed dance sequences often ruins the sequence of the story that they are trying to relate through dance and/or the music does not end up being perfectly synchronised with the movement. Keeping that in mind, I ask Saqib how he dealt with the editing of the video. “We planned it out. There was a lot of work that went into that. I decided what parts we were going to have for the singing. We shot the whole dance in real time. I filmed with several cameras and from several angles. Of course when I was editing there were certain moves that were redundant or didn’t work, so they were edited.”

Coming to Zeb and Haniya’s appearances in the video, they seem to be the voices that haunt the protagonist as she dances her way through different memories in different places in the house. “Now I know these two can’t act to save their lives. But what they do brilliantly is sing, and they really get involved with that. They have a style of their own where they really don’t communicate with each other, and yet there is synergy between them.

“I wanted them in there, to be the voice of the dancer’s subconscious or what’s going on in her mind. So really, in a way, Zeb and Haniya are narrating the story.”

As a nation we are not used to interpreting dance, or any art form for that matter that is not literally spelt out. Considering the metaphorical nature of how Aitebaar was filmed, does Saqib think people will be able to figure it out? “I think people are really smart. and I think people also expect something a little obtuse from me. When they see something that isn’t so clear and upfront, they want to see it again and again, and they want to put their minds to it and figure it out. To this day people are obsessed with trying to figure out Na Re Na.”

How much has he had to compromise on this video? “In retrospect, there are certain things I would have liked to do, things I’d have liked to make clearer now that it’s all put together. But I don’t think I’ve compromised much. I had a free hand to do what I wanted to. I had five days which is a real luxury in this field and I had the best team in the world. What more could I ask for?,” he asks.

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