We call ourselves an army brat because of his father’s career and various postings around the country, but for Awais, the highlight of being an army brat was experiencing various landscapes that are become his best friend. It is therefore not surprising that his music videos often use the landscape as a strong element. A case in point is ‘Hmmhis latest music video for Faris Shafi (ft. Talal Qureshi), where all you see is greenery and a windowsill where Faris is standing.
We will come back to his equation with certain artists, but our conversation begins with the magnificent shot Kamli, directed by Sarmad Khoosa; a complex and unavoidable production.
Awais laughs when I ask him how he managed to do such a good job with it. Kamli being his first feature film, and so begins our conversation…
‘I was chasing the days of fear/Chasing a dream before it was gone’ – ‘The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)’ by U2
Coming from a family that moved regularly in the interior of the country, he fell so much in love with the landscape that it plays a part in his work. But the official diploma is not the only educational tool he has used. A great tool was to watch movies even if it meant being scolded at home. During the interview, he talks about Stanley Kubrick and other masters of cinema and how he learned by watching them.
Having directed at least one short film and being the director of photography for others, he has also worked with Kashmir (music group), Bayaan, Shamoon Ismail, Ali Sethi as well as several music videos for Faris Shafi and Meesha Shafi.
When it comes to music video artists like Faris and Meesha, Awais has worked with them many times as a director – besides being DOP and editor – more than others. This means that Awais played several roles in the field. But how then to compartmentalize the different roles in a music video.
“Visual storytelling is what appeals to me the most. I would travel up north and many other places across the country and let the visuals tell the story. [I couldn’t be happier] When I found out there was a degree for film and all the things I loved to do, including photography, were part of the degree.
But taking us back further, Awais explains, “I was listening to music, watching movies, using my dad’s phone to take dozens of photos and edit photos. It made me realize how much I could bring a story to life through the visual medium. Shooting and grading and directing are different, but editing is a whole different ballgame and I learned that early on, as well as understanding that editing is a DOP’s job.
“In my mind, shooting a scene means it requires a certain space, for example, in Faris’ new song ‘Hmm. Putting it together with filming, in my mind, and how I would join it as an editor.
Speaking of music videos, Awais notes that Faris Shafi and Meesha Shafi, artists he has worked with on several occasions, have always understood his sensibility. “My equation with them and several music videos is that they give you space and try to figure out what I want to do in relation to other artists. In Ali Sethi’s clip, ‘Chandni Raat’, for example, various other roles are played by different individuals. So I was director and cinematographer. When I work with a third person, I have a job. But with some artists, I’m given other roles like editing or color grading and after seeing the results, I’m appreciated for that.
He talks about Faris Shafi and Meesha Shafi.
Playing multiple roles also makes Awais feel like he’s not repeating the same thing, like room for editing or color grading.
“’Chandni Raat’ because Ali Sethi was something I
co-directed with Sarmad Khoosat… It carries an element of hope, with two strangers helping each other.
In the clip of ‘Lafz’, Faris Shafi carries a huge heart; the rap complementing the visuals. However, this remains a surprise. Describing the idea, Awais says, “People often tell me how the tone of the music video and Faris’s verses are so different. But I had heard the song before and spoken to Faris, and to me the voice was heartbreaking. When I asked him, he told me it was about a heartbroken man carrying his broken heart. I thought those were the visuals the song needed rather than doing anything else with them. He sits down at some point because it’s a huge heart.
What has been established is that Awais’ work with Faris Shafi and Meesha Shafi is visually strong and does justice to their varied musical sense.
“It can often happen that you have a strong idea, but when you try to execute it, it’s when you think about it and ask yourself questions. For me, it’s just about what comes intuitively. A short film idea I pitched for my thesis was rejected (NCA, Lahore) but to me it felt like it was the movie to be made. the impression that this film brought me to this level…”
For Awais, it’s not just about ideas but also about emotions. When you overthink something, its value can change. You might end up dropping it completely. He thinks intuitive ideas should be pursued.
Awais is clear that if it is a music video, a short film, a feature film like Kamli or whatever in the field, you need to connect to it. “Short films, music videos or feature films, if I don’t feel a connection, I don’t do it even at the request of others who don’t grasp this connection which is very important to me. It’s hard to say no and you wonder how to do it without offending someone.
‘I wanted to be somewhere near me/Your voice was all I heard’ by U2
Besides the multitude of music videos and a few short films, Awais Gohar made his debut as a cinematographer for Sarmad Khoosat’s critically acclaimed feature film. Kamli, earlier this year.
The film’s visuals are so strong that if you watch it as a silent film, it will still leave you cinematically speechless. There are actually times in the film where the dialogue isn’t spoken, but the story is told through the visuals.
Kamli is a difficult movie to shoot due to its complex nature and nuanced characters, to be basic.
“The idea was to tell the story, not to take shots that don’t fit the story. What does the plan tell you, and if it doesn’t tell you, it’s irrelevant. Deep inside me, I carried this idea that in a feature film, each shot must say something and if it doesn’t say anything, it’s useless. Sarmad is clear about what he didn’t want to do. It brings vision and an ability to trust and collaborate with those who are part of the film, on and off camera.
As an example, Awais Gohar explains that Sania Saeed’s character has a disability, so the cinematography and her character must be in sync or it upsets the balance.
“What I liked was how Sarmad was ready to listen to others. I would say this scene shouldn’t be stopped because it will cut through the emotion. And he was saying yes and allowing it. The director of the film and the cinematographer of the film must be synchronized. This is crucial in the process of making a film. When Sania dad asked about acting, she pointed out how important it is not just the acting but the relationship with the camera. We would often discuss how to shoot each scene and discuss it as a unit that only had one vision.
Like our conversation from ‘Hot Mango Chutney Sauce’ (where bikers got hit with mangoes because catcalling women is a favorite pastime for men) to the art and science of by Kamli Faris Shafi’s visual beauty and multiple music videos are coming to an end, it’s important to remember that today’s music videos can and have become filmmakers of the present. Learning about Awais Gohar, it’s obvious that the time can’t come soon enough. But when it does, Awais Gohar plans to go all out.