Profile: Jamshed Mahmood

Making a living in Pakistan has not been easy for Jamshed Mahmood (better known as Jami) since he completed his Bachelors in Narrative Film and Screen Writing in 1996 from a college in Pasadena, California. From a country flooded with creative juices, he came back to one where the film industry is a drop in the ocean and money is only to be made in advertising. Toeing the line, Jami started making television commercials, but soon discovered that music videos offered him more freedom to practice his craft. Essentially a free bird, Jami took to making videos like a duck to water, honing his art to make that film he dreams about. This is his story.

In 1997 Bilal Maqsood took Jami on as assistant director for Vital Signs' "Maula" video and gave him enough confidence to venture out on his own. So, Jami directed "Rakh Aas" for Karavan. It was a rocking video that looked like it was done on a shoestring budget and the shoestring snapped. However, its theme of a boy running from a crowd with juxtaposed images of a shrine was applied by Asim Reza for Junoon's more sophisticated, big-budget "Sayonee" video. During this time, Jami also directed "Pepsi GeneratioNext" roadshow segment called "Next Stop". Though a small segment, it allowed Jami to explore people in their natural environment. This exploration continues to date and has become his trademark.

In 1998 he made the music video he refers to as his Citizen Kane. This was the groundbreaking "Pal Do Pal" by Najam that made Jami famous within the industry if not nationwide. It was the first video made on 35mm and happened purely by default. The video was to be shot on a Digital Beta camera, but the cost of hiring one was too great. Jami opted for an old 35 mm and then went around looking for lenses for all the different moods that are encapsuled in the video that is spectaculary grand in scale and its execution is a rare mix of narrative sophistication and raw emotion.

Jami has his own team of people that creates a concept, and the theme of "Pal Do Pal" is that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Iraj is spurned by her lover after he ruptures her maidenhead. She loses her head and in a fit of insanity, lunges out and kills him. Then she is seen with his heart in her hand with its blood dripping over her face. Nothing like this had ever been made in Pakistan or in India, but as is the case with anything groundbreaking in this country, it was swept under the carpet.

The video was banned along with the song. The lyrics had to be rewritten because of censor problems and Jami decided to shoot it again for PTV. Though the budget was two and a half lakhs, the total cost of making the video came to eight and a half lakhs because of the problems that ensued . It remained banned for a year but it made its impact. Anything made with passion ultimately does.

"Pal Do Pal" generated interest within the industry. Nadeem Mandviwalla saw it and approached Jami for a film he is still working on. MTV picked it up in 1999 and it was such a rage, it is being aired to date. CNN also picked up on the video in 2000 and chose it for a program, to discuss the music videos being made in this region.

For his next video Jami teamed up with Imran Babar, who shot the excellent "Uss Paar" video for Exile. It was Hadiqa Kiyani's World Cup offering "Inteha-e-Shauq". She looked quite impressive in a Gothic billowing black gown as did Nizar Lalani, the only distinguished looking man with long hair, who was shown playing the piano. However, again it was the images of kids looking for a place to play cricket in a run-down mohallah with dirty streets that caught the eye via the heart. The concept was the strongest seen in any World Cup song. This is how our cricket stars play and it is the extent of their passion that hones their talent, not a qualified coach in a well-kept cricket ground. Jami and Imran Babar's sepia toned reality was right on target.

Jami then proceeded to work on Najam's "Amar Kahani", a mediocre effort compared to the astounding "Pal Do Pal" video. By this time Jami discovered that the only way to get money is through sponsors. So he made a Honda music video to a song by Ali Noor that can be seen featured Aaminah Haq on a Honda City in every shot. Despite it being an out and out commercial, Jami is proud of it. As long as his clients give him a broad concept and let him out on a long leash, he is happy. If advertising allows him to do what he wants, so be it. From a radical who said he would never make ads, Jami is now a self-proclaimed hypocrite. However, whoever said that complete freedom cannot exist as long as people work to feed themselves would say he is doing just fine.

In March 2000, Jami went to New York where he mixed and dubbed Jamil Dehlvi's "Jinnah" in Urdu. He worked with the team that did the sound for the Bruce Willis starrer "Sixth Sense". He returned to be told by Bilal Maqsood that there was equipment waiting for them in Gwadar and that Jami had to make the video for the Strings song "Duur". There was no concept but Jami went along and shot the Strings driving a jeep through Balochistan, discovering people and life on their way. A strong believer in the simple-is-beautiful school of thought, he has become a master at weaving something out of nothing.

Interference gets Jami's goat though. He can work with people who know what they are doing but can't suffer fools gladly. That is why Fakhir's video of "Terey Bina Dil Na Lage" is one of the biggest mistakes of his career. Sponsored by a big biscuit manufacturer who insisted on spelling everything out for him, the video looks like a half-hearted effort.

Jami is not from the MTV school of thought where the scenario takes place in slow motion or zooms by in fast forward. Let Jami take over and what you will get will be reality elevated to art. That is why he can work with sponsors as long as they don't rub him the wrong way. That is exactly what the sponsors did to him. First they cut down the budget and then proceeded to insist that the video follow the Pied Piper lines that have long been synonymous with their brand. They wanted the magical door when the music started playing and they wanted it to close when the music ended. Under contractual duress Jami did the video, but he hated what he did and the result shows in the final product.

Jami can spew venom about undesirable clients but that is a direct consequence of his work ethic. He has compromised, he admits it is only to earn a living, but against his beliefs and considers himself to be in the position to create his own concepts and demand complete trust from his clients. His ambition remains to make films and he is working on a script of Saadat Hasan Manto's "100 watt ka bulb" with old friend and associate, film editor Maheen Zia.

It remains to be seen if Jami's will is strong enough to conquer destiny.

Muniba Kamal
February, 2001
The News International, Pakistan