Sam Masud – My Pure Land’s Storyteller
I came across the trailer of My Pure Land online by chance while skimming through my Twitter timeline, and I for one can’t wait to watch it. The movie is being pitched as a modern day feminist Western set in Pakistan and is a debut project of its writer and director Sarmad Masud aka Sam Masud. My Voice Unheard talked to Sam about My Pure Land and his passion for film making.
Sam, is a proud British Pakistani, born in Bradford and currently living in London. He studied film at The Hull School of Art & Design, University of Lincolnshire & Humberside. The only one in his class to graduate with a First, he went on to do whatever work came his way in the film industry to fine tune his craft.
Hailing from a Pakistani family and brother to four sisters, one is likely to stereotype that opting for the arts as his profession is something that was met with resistance. In Sam’s case the reality was the complete opposite.
“My parents were, are and I suspect always will be very supportive of what I do. Maybe my parents hoped this was a phase I would grow out of, but it is yet to happen! And this film is incredibly personal for me and them; a number of my friends and family put their own money into this film, the house we used as our main location was actually built by my Grandfather, a poem written by my dad is actually in the film and sung by Sanam Marvi, my wife is the Production Designer… I could go on but I think you get the idea. In a way this film is a small attempt by me to try and pay them all back and thank them for all their support over the years.”
Talking about his decision to opt for a profession in film, Sam shared that it wasn’t until he went to University. He had applied to a course that covered Graphic Design & Film and TV Design. At the time of his interview the Film tutor told him that they were separating the courses, so he had to opt for one option. As the tutor needed a certain number of people on his course to run it, but when he looked Sam in the eye and said “I think you are a film man”, Sam felt that this guy gets him and he needs to do that course. What was a statement to keep a course afloat indeed ended up giving birth to a ‘film man’.
Responding to what the essence of film making for him, Sam said; truth is important.
“I need to believe what I see and that is often achieved through performance. John Wayne once said “Hit your mark, look the other person in the eye and tell the truth.” Essentially for me it boils down to that, whether you are playing a cowboy, a doctor or an astronaut, I need to believe what you’re saying. The film and the story are what matters most, not my ego or anyone else’s ego, it should always come down to what is crucial and necessary for the film. Me wanting to do a fancy crane/drone shot or an actor wanting to cry in a scene might be great for our egos but does the film need it and how does it help us tell our story?”
Adding on to the kind of stories he wants to tell through the medium of film, Sam stated that he is interested in characters, in people and reinstated that the story is king. He wants to make films which are entertaining, engaging, exciting and perhaps even educational or shining a light on a subject or part of society very rarely represented on screen. “Often it simply comes down to a little flutter in your tummy and a chime in your heart, that’s when you know this is a story you want to tell. “
So how did he come across the story of Nazo Dharejo, the local legend of Sindh on whom My Pure Land is based on?
In the digital age that we live in, it should not come as a surprise that he came across the story online via the Tribune article! While digging up on it further he ended by being connected to Nazo and her family via phone and was then directed towards the news report by Mumtaz Bhukari. The family has been incredibly supportive of the project.
“Initially I engaged with the story on a personal and human level, the bravery and courage of this girl and her family amazed me, after that point I guess the mischievous filmmaker part of my brain hijacked the story and went to work.”
The film is being pitched as a feminist film but was this a theme that brought Sam to this story in the first place?
According to him this was indeed the case however he is not sure if the term was used on the set. In his opinion it isn’t a bad thing to be having the feminism debate in Pakistan. The lead character of this film is a female who is virtually in every scene, is wearing no make-up, no dupatta in sight and never has to sing a song to convey her emotions.
Discussing the casting of his film, Sam started with the hero of his film, Suhaee Abro, who plays Nazo. She recently shared with him that she felt playing this role helped her hugely on a personal level. “She carries this film from the first frame to the last, I can’t understand why she isn’t currently the face of Pakistani cinema.”
“We approached theatre companies, colleges, universities and had numerous open call sessions and I think all in all I auditioned over 300 people. Tanveer Bhai, who is amazing in the film and we cast for the role of the father is actually a teacher who I believe only acts part time. There was an element of street casting as well. If I saw someone while we were out on location shooting, who I thought was interesting, I’d bring them into the shot and give them a line. I remember for the scenes in the jail, we had two sets which my wife had designed and built from scratch in a studio in Pakistan, I decided to cast some of the actual labourers as prisoners because they had the right look. Casting wise and in terms of performances in the final film, I am very happy with the end result.”
Breaking the norm of the practice among international film makers who shoot Pakistani based stories in the neighboring countries, despite being told to stick to the pattern for security reasons, Sam insisted that the film be shot in the country. From where he sees it, this land is what all Pakistani diaspora around the world are nostalgic about, that is what they miss and hold dear to their hearts. The crux of the film is about fighting over land, zameen. In the film the father says, “this land is worth a lot more than honour.”
“There is no way I could have shot this anywhere else. It was incredibly important to me to have Pakistani’s and Pakistan in front, behind and under our feet when we made this film.”
So what does he hope would be the take away of the audience from this story?
“Specifically for a Pakistani audience, this film might challenge you as a viewer, but I hope you can be proud of it and claim it as your own. I wanted to make an exciting, engaging and entertaining film which shines a light on a part of the world which is very rarely accurately represented on screen.”
Talking about Pakistani cinema, Sam shared that he has seen Jami’s work and think he’s a very smart and opinionated individual, he considers Nabeel Qureshi to have a good eye. On the documentary front he really liked These Birds Walk and follows Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy work who in his words, “is telling the stories which need to be told.” There are two more Pakistani stories in Sam’s store that will bring him back to the pure land.
My Pure Land will premier in the UK on 15 September. The team is still in talks to bring it to Pakistani screens and will announce it as soon as something is finalized. This one has to come to our screens, period!
Interview & Written by Fatima Arif