Asim Raza – Following the Heart’s Anthem
The general norm while watching television is to switch channels when we come across commercials, however, we all have made an exception at one point or the other when it’s an Asim Raza directed advert. So how did someone academically trained as an Architectural Engineer till his Masters end up being a top name in the advertising industry?
An only son of a middle class family, Asim grew up with all the traditional norms and expectations that come with this set up. With full focus on his future, his parents wanted to ensure that he has a good educational background. He joined the National College of Arts, Lahore for an undergrad degree in Architecture. However, due to his mother’s health he transferred to Dawood School of Engineering, Karachi’s Architecture department graduating with a BS in Architectural Engineering. Later, he went to the U.K for an MS in Architectural Engineering from Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London.
“I was always fascinated by films and wanted to try my hand in film making. The medium has inspired me in many ways and creatively speaking, it is the most challenging medium as well.”
It was the communication power of cinema and its ability to connect with the audience that intrigued Asim the most. The constant attention that people give to a movie for a set time period in a dark room is unique to this forum alone. Not to mention the creative challenge that instead of intimating him, was a cause of excitement.
This creative thirst for film making kept growing in him and tempted him to experiment with ad films. Luckily, he had friends in advertising who were willing to give him projects which he started doing as a freelancer alongside his studies. Despite not trained in the field he produced quality work and he kept on getting more freelance work and established a name for himself.
After completing his studies he returned to Pakistan and started working with the Karachi based architectural firm Arshad Shahid Abdullah. Simultaneously, he continued doing freelance advertising jobs. Doing two jobs was taking a toll on him and this is when he got a go ahead from his family to pick one full time professional field that he thought was best for him and he opted for his passion and said adios to architecture.
Someone who believes on doing things on his own terms, Asim did not take the conventional route by joining an established advertising industry but took up added entrepreneurial responsibilities. Creating an office out of his front lobby and banking on his freelance days reputation, The Vision Factory was born. Since then the work kept growing in an organic fashion. Asim is very choosy about the projects he takes up compared to others in the field, only taking up work that allows him enough creative space.
“I am very happy that I took it on that way, because today looking back I feel very proud that I started out on my own. Did not take advantage of any investments from anyone and whatever I did I did it on my own.”
The ultimate goal for this advertising genius was always to direct feature films. Taking up ad-films was part of his learning process, to get closer to that dream. He is quite grateful for the learning experience and all that this field contributed towards his growth. Same goes for his experience with directing music videos. In 2013, testing the waters with the telefilm, Behadd was an attempt to see how well he can communicate his story in a sixty minute format instead of his usual sixty second or three minute format.
Working with all these mediums helped give Asim enough confidence that now he is trying his luck with his first feature film, Ho Mann Jahaan. The music of the movie is already out and has created quite a buzz already adding to our expectations. It is a story of three friends (played by Mahira Khan, Sheheryar Munawar and Adeel Hussain) who are passionate about music and the difficulties they face in communicating with their families. The story is written by Asim himself and so are a couple of songs. When asked if jotting down the lyrics was another hidden talent, he shared that it was a chance event. He wanted to incorporate the maximum musical talent in his film and it was on the suggestion of some of the musicians that he started working on the lyrics and ended up in writing complete songs.
Someone who has been an integral part of the advertising industry and has been closely associated with Pakistan’s music industry, we had to take his opinion on what the future has in store for them. Talking about advertising he shared that in his opinion the industry is doing pretty well. However, it has not reached its full potential because of our typical ‘seth’ mentality, which suffocates talent and hampers growth. Unfortunately, this culture is also rampart in non-seth organizations as well. He also emphasized that as a nation we need to start respecting each other as individuals with their unique talents, only then we can touch excellence.
Coming to the decline that Pakistan’s music industry is facing, Asim shared that Pakistani music has its own unique flavor that is recognized and appreciated all across the globe. For multiple factors the industry has suffered a decline but the boom in the film industry is going to help boost the music industry as well. Any discussion on music is incomplete without the mention of the maestro, late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, especially with someone who recorded his last concert. Talking about that event, Asim shared that he got to closely observe the working process of the legend but given that he got to work with an international team, which provided a unique learning experience in the absence of formal institutions where one is taught this craft.
“I actually feel that God has been really kind over the period of my career. Again and again, I have come across such opportunities that not everyone else gets in such a small span of time – that concert was one of those opportunities.”
Adopting any form of art has still a lot of stigma attached to it in our society. Asim’s own case is an example; he got to follow his passion only after he had a “good degree” in hand. When asked how this can be changed, he responded that the situation has already changed a lot from what his generation faced. It is upto people who have succeeded in these fields to set the right precedent and be willing to lend encouragement and even a helping hand to those who want to adopt them as a profession. Being a father of two daughters, he tries to give them that space and encourages them to explore their interests.
“The general impression about us is that we are a narrow minded nation, not willing to accept or listen to new ideas. This is not true at all. We have some of those elements for sure but then there are very broad minded people amongst us as well. So I just hope that people outside Pakistan one day realize that we are as real and liberal and non-liberal as any other part of the world.”
With Asim Raza, entering our film industry our hopes for its revival have further strengthened and we hope that through his work the world gets to see the other side of Pakistan as well.
Interview & Written by Fatima Arif