Thursday, 27 September 2007


IN A BUSTLING restaurant in Manchester’s heaving city centre, I sit across from him. Unshaven, crowned with his trademark baseball cap he shifts uncomfortably in his chair. Uneasy with the glitz and public persona that comes with being an award-winning filmmaker he fidgets with his napkin.

“I love cinema and the art of telling a story visually,” he says with downcast eyes.

“I think it’s one of the best mediums where visually, musically and cinematically you can express your feelings and emotions to a wider audience.”

This is Aneel Ahmad, Manchester-based film-maker recognised by industry stalwarts such as Sir Ridley Scott, Mike Leigh and veteran Merchant Ivory Productions.

“Cinema is easier to digest, and as a director you can use that power to do amazing things.”

The 31-year-old director has just returned from a research project in Pakistan for his current project, ‘Boot Polish’.

“It’s set in the 1920’s British Raj,” he explains between sips of coffee.

“It’s a romantic, emotional story about two people; a kid who cleans shoes and a courtesan.”

Aneel, who received funding from the UK Film Council and North West Vision, won the UNICEF UK Grand Prix Award in Sheffield this year for Waiting For Sunrise; a gritty yet touching short film about children on the streets of Lahore. His award success has attracted comment and praise from the British film industry, with Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven director, Ridley Scott calling his film an “extremely powerful” and “professionally executed documentary”.

But Aneel is not alone – award winning producers Eleanor Ford and Kelly Broad share his pains. Broad, who has her own company Memory Box and won a BAFTA with her 2005 short The Banker, met Aneel in London and immediately began to discuss his current script.

“Boot Polish really taps into the idea that a British film can be so many things,” she says.

“It’s been written here in the UK, it will be filmed entirely on-location in Pakistan and post-produced here. The story is a universal one; it shows that people everywhere are the same and we face the same struggles each day – just in different ways.”

Eleanor Ford on the other hand, who was awarded a Grand Jury Special Mention for her film The Internet Bride at the Exposures Film Festival had the opportunity to travel to Pakistan with Aneel.

“Before I went people here were concerned about possible dangers,” she says.

“Instead I found it a very peaceful, friendly and fascinating place to be and really look forward to going back. I have been telling lots of people here to visit!”

Though Aneel claims to be influenced by an army of filmmakers from the aforementioned Scott, Leigh and Merchant Ivory to Sir Alan Parker, David Lynch, Mira Nair and Satyajit Ray, he admits that Stanley Kubrick is his all-time favourite.

“I’m influenced by how they tell their stories on screen,” he adds. “They’re like explorers, trying new ways to involve the audience in the story and Kubrick’s as crazy and as passionate as I am when making films.”

Both Boot Polish and Waiting For Sunrise addressed demanding topics affecting the impoverished and downtrodden of Pakistan. However when asked about whether or not he should be addressing those closer to home, it seems Chance, played a vital role.

“Its just kind of worked out that way,” he says.

“I guess my scripts have taken me to the Asian continent, but I got feedback from UK directors advising me that this should be my next film.”

He goes on to describe Pakistan as a “hot bed of talent” that has remained “under exposed” for too long.

“Pakistan can now sustain a better film industry and I’m hoping I can be a small part of this,” he adds.

On becoming the voice of the non-resident Pakistani he throws his head back and lets out a boisterous laugh.

“I guess I kind of am! But it’s important for Pakistani's to break into the industry and be given more opportunities. But it’s not a conscious effort. I am British, born in England and I’m proud to be English.”

With features penned and plans to work with a number of writers and musicians including Sohail Salamat of Bakhsi Javed Salamat Qawaal, the future seems bright for all those in the Aneel Ahmad conga.

“Sohail has scored all the music for Boot Polish and he is going to be the next big thing in music. My producers have worked hard behind the scenes, even though they don’t know a great deal about Pakistan. It goes to show their enthusiasm to make films.”

Gesturing to the waiter for the bill, he manages a wry wink under the brim of his cap. He smiles and says: “Inshallah my only goal is to continue making films.”

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful film and Director. Congratulations on your success