‘Through luck or something,’ Pakistani film lands Venice Film Festival premiere

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Abdullah Malik (Shani) and Alina Khan (Alina) in a still from ‘Darling.’ The lead actors are starring in Saim Sadiq's debut short film which premiers at the 86th Venice Film Festival in September this year. Photo taken December 26th, 2018. (Photo courtesy Mo Azim)
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Director Saim Sadiq and Assistant Director Sana Jafri at the playback monitors behind the scenes of ‘Darling' on December 26th, 2018. (Photo courtesy Jaffer Raza Jafri)
Updated 28 July 2019

‘Through luck or something,’ Pakistani film lands Venice Film Festival premiere

  • Darling is the first Pakistani film ever to get a screening at one of the world’s ‘big three’ film festivals
  • This year’s Venice Film Festival will run from August 28 to September 7

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani filmmaker Saim Sadiq’s said on Saturday it was by “luck or something” that his film ‘Darling’ has landed a world premiere at the 86th Venice Film Festival this year, making it the first Pakistani film in history to get a “big three” screening.
The big three refers to the largest and most prestigious film festivals in the world in Berlin, Cannes and Venice, which is the oldest of the three.
But Sadiq, 28, whose masterpiece addresses taboo questions of gender in the Muslim majority country of 208 million people, said he had no idea his film would be accepted.
“I sent it in during the open submission call with zero expectations that it would be chosen,” Sadiq told Arab News on Saturday by telephone. “Through luck or something, we got in.”
Darling, set in a dance theater in Pakistan’s romantic, eastern city of Lahore, follows the story of a young boy named Shani, played by Abdullah Malik, and a transgender girl named Alina, played by Alina Khan, a trans female actor. This is Khan’s first ever on-screen role.
“The film follows the journey of these two people, exploring their relationship, questions of identity, and dance,” Sadiq said.
With a total run time of 16 minutes, Darling will show in the film festival’s new Orizzonti section, a competition of short films submitted from around the world. It is the micro version of Sadiq’s upcoming feature-length film “Gulabi,” which is currently in the funding stages of production.
After studying anthropology at the Lahore University of Management Sciences in Lahore, Sadiq said he decided to follow his passion for film, and went on to graduate in film studies from New York’s prestigious Columbia University.
His decision to pursue film-making came as a shock for his “very normal, very conservative” Pakistani family, he said, which follows a long line of traditional army careers. 
“I remember when I told my parents about wanting to be a filmmaker, it was shocking for them,” Sadiq said. “Nobody does film especially from the family background I come from... so there was a big departure, a big leap of faith.”
“Nice Talking to You,” a 2018 short film by Sadiq, was an official selection at South by Southwest this year and Palm Springs International Shortfest 2019. Last year, he won Vimeo’s Best Director award at the Columbia University Film Festival.
“I was born and brought up (in Pakistan), and I am completely infatuated with our country,” Sadiq said. “I don’t want to portray Pakistan in a bad way or a good way... just trying to show a true image of Pakistan which is a mix of everything.”
In the future, Sadiq said he hopes to tell more Pakistani stories in a still fledgling industry.
“I think the industry is so new it can be an almost childlike space where we are deciding what to make of it,” he said. “Films do not have to be particularly mainstream or very commercial. Small indie or art-house films have a market and an audience.”
“The premiere and the honor of showing our film at the Venice Film Festival gives me hope that people who are trying to do something different can see it pay off,” he said.
This year’s Venice Film Festival will run from August 28 to September 7.


Tuned in: Pakistani twins ride the wave of Ertugrul’s success with local soundtrack

Updated 26 May 2020

Tuned in: Pakistani twins ride the wave of Ertugrul’s success with local soundtrack

  • Musician brothers say reaction to the cover version has been a ‘breakthrough’ experience
  • Work gets millions of views, retweets by Turkish deputy minister, global bloggers

KARACHI: It’s got a ring to it.
Or so say fans and followers of 26-year-old Pakistani musician brothers, Leo Twins, after the duo created a cover version of Turkish drama Diriliş: Ertuğrul’s original soundtrack.
“We were actually asked by our fans to create a cover version of the original soundtrack in the comments section of our channel. So, it’s an amazing feeling to know that it’s being loved so much,” Sharoon Leo, one of the twins, said during an exclusive interview with Arab News.
It’s the cover track which accompanies the roll credits for Ertugrul Ghazi, the Urdu-dubbed version of the drama series which is based on the history of the Muslim Oghuz Turks from the 13th century, and was released on state-run PTV on April 25 after Prime Minister Imran Khan said it would “help the youth learn about Islamic values and history.”
Since being released on video-sharing platform Youtube three weeks ago, the soundtrack has already garnered 5.1 million views.
Sharoon told Arab News that while recreating the cover was a challenge – owing to the popularity of the OST conceptualized by Jenerik Müziği – they’ve tried to retain its “Middle-Eastern feel” as much as possible.
“We always try to do our covers differently from the originals,” Sharoon said talking about their cover versions of HBO’s popular series, Game of Thrones, and Pakistani drama Mere Pass Tum Ho.
“There was an instrument in the original track which we thought could best be replaced with the rubab. We also enhanced the violin, which was not very obvious initially,” he explained.

A screengrab from the music video of the track 'Hum Zalmi' featuring Leo Twins.

While Sharoon plays the violin and cello, his twin, Haroon works with other instruments such as the guitar, rubab, tabla, piano, cajon, ukulele, mandolin, darbuka, and more.
Together, they set up Leo Twins, a namesake of their zodiac sign, in their birthplace of Rawalpindi in 2012.
Sharoon credits their success to their “real teacher in music,” Ustad Idrees Ahmed Khan, explaining how a simple gesture of kindness on his part set the tone for their triumphant rise.
“One day, we saw a guitar and violin at a shop, but did not have enough money to buy them. So, we sold our new mobiles and paid for the instruments. Ustaad Idrees Ahmed Khan, who used to give music lessons at the shop, was observing us the whole time, and asked if we would like to learn music from him for free. He said it was because he saw a passion in us for music, which was rare those days, especially in our generation,” Sharoon said.
That was eight years ago, and while they’ve had several hits and misses through the years, they got their first big break in 2015, after featuring alongside music giants, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Atif Aslam, as part of their team on Nescafe Basement’s Season 3.
However, nothing compares to the accolades they’ve received for the Ertugrul cover, Sharoon said, with the soundtrack being retweeted by Turkish Deputy Minister Ali Shaheen and several other bloggers in Turkey.
“It has attracted a very different audience. We have been doing covers to pay tribute to our legendary artists for several years now and could only gather 45,000 subscribers. Still, after we uploaded the Ertugrul Ghazi soundtrack, the number of subscribers has crossed 243K. This soundtrack has given us a new breakthrough,” he said.