Let’s face it, not a lot of producers and directors are completely candid when it comes to their work or the struggles they face. But our conversation with Rafay Rashdi will end up changing your perspective about what really goes on behind the scenes. The producer, whose upcoming web-series Baadshah Begum is already making waves everywhere, thoroughly talked about what it’s like to be an independent producer in the industry, and why there’s a need for content to evolve.
An independent producer’s affliction
According to Rashdi, being an independent producer in today’s market is no easy feat, especially when media giants out there miss no chances of ridiculing a newcomer.
“As an independent producer, it becomes a little difficult to survive in the market, because you are competing with giants and networks who have established in the industry. And all respect to them, but when a couple of people who try to start off something like web-series, they sometimes indirectly pose as a threat to a running business model for other people,” he said.
“The idea is not to target anyone’s business, but we have to evolve as an industry. Throughout the world, web-series have emerged as something to evolve to, because now we have digital films going on digital platforms. So, it’s something to ponder over, from the Pakistani media industry’s point of view,” he added.
Further delving into how an independent producer gets treated these days, Rashdi shed light on how the attitude of veterans severely affects the overall development of the content, regardless of the quality.
“An independent producer is constantly told that what he’s doing is not right, not going to survive, and is going to be ridiculed. [He is continuously told that] his approaches are not up the mark, and he will probably fizzle out in the market. His concept and approach are mocked. Constantly belittled and not taken seriously. And probably attempted to be completely eliminated from the market,” he said.
According to Rashdi, independent producers from the film’s market have barely made it back, while being backed by a network. Whereas the real ones are facing tough times, as big-shot producers keep an eye on who’s casting who, and even tend to whisk them away in certain circumstances.
“There will be someone – institutions or individuals – who will target the same actors [independent producers] are going for and will offer higher prices in the same time range you want to shoot. So, it makes you wonder as to what their intentions are. And if the same cast one is going for, why haven’t they always thought of casting them themselves? I mean, they have a brain and a legacy, why do they have to wait for an independent producer to make that move themselves?” he questioned.
“We are looking up to our seniors for advice and ideas to grow together. But unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. The leg-pulling or putting a newcomer down is very common here. It is not easy to survive in any field of work. So, it is up to the person himself how he wants to go forward. I feel for the independent producers who might not have access to lots of resources, tactical facilities, individuals, institutions, and the access that they have might not be completely [reliable],” he commented.
The need for the evolution of content
Moving on, Rashdi also talked about how much the current content needs to evolve, as the world is already reaching new heights every day in the field of media and entertainment.
“We are severely lacking in content, [when] the international market and the world [as a whole] has evolved. For example, Game of Thrones is the most watched series of all time which deals with the fantasy kingdom with dragons. And we are dealing with saas bahu kitchen content,” he laughed. “I mean, we need to move forward. It is up to the producer to educate and grow their audience. If you keep dumbing down your audience, they will never get educated,” he added.
To elucidate it more, Rashdi mentioned the tale of the landlord who wouldn’t let his farmers get educated, for the fear of them turning out to be smarter than him, and to avoid any further questions or queries by them.
“The same way, these producers and high-profile networks and their owners have a responsibility that what you’re feeding to the people has to evolve. Whatever they see is reflected upon them. You can’t keep feeding them garbage and expect some growth. We need to show our women being powerful, rather than always being suppressed. You need to have strong women models to come out. You look at every poster, and you see a bruised woman’s face. What are we trying to subject?” he said.
The producer also mentioned Laal Kabootar, which managed to be a success despite not originating for a big banner. “Laal Kabootar was a fantastic film. It had an independent appeal and module. It did not come from a massive producer, someone took a gamble for the first time, the team was young and energetic, it was full of energy. And it survived. We need to motivate these young independent producers to come forth with more content,” he said.
Learning from past mistakes
Rashdi also took into account his previous project, film Thora Jee Le, which failed to do well in all aspects, as he revealed he won’t be taking over the director’s seat for Baadshah Begum. Apparently, a jack of all trades approach did not do well for the previous film, and the producer plans to not repeat the same mistakes.
“As I am coming from a huge failure, I have learnt from my mistakes, and I want to evolve. I am not even going to aim to direct Baadshah Begum. I want to pass off the mantle to someone else who can probably understand the concept of web-series,” he said, stressing on making Baadshah Begum a model web-series emerging from Pakistan.
“My plan right now is to ensure that past unsuccessful experiences are not repeated. We have not transgressed or progressed into the reading session as yet. But once the director is on board, he will direct the content. One of the mistakes I made last time was being the director, the writer, producer, and everyone,” he added, while mentioning how the content should have been vetted by experienced professionals in the industry.
“I never came from a technical background. I learned, evolved and I want to grow. So, I can look up to my seniors and probably say that if you see me (an independent producer) as a threat to your market, why don’t you let him compete and fall and fail multiple times so he should learn. But, if they do not let you come forward, then these are just insecurities talking,” he further added.
From what we all know so far, a lot of hype that surrounds the project is firstly because of its ensemble cast, and secondly because the concept of web-series is still pretty fresh for Pakistani audience. However, it feels that the series is more than just the involvement of Iman Ali, Faysal Qureshi, Imran Ashraf, Gohar Rasheed, and Mohsin Abbas Haider.
“Baadshah Begum deals with sibling rivalry over inheritance, gender class issues, male dominance, racial class differences, women empowerment and other similar subjects that we will reveal. But, there is an underlying theme because as a filmmaker, I feel it is important to highlight these things. We have always been successful and popular in subjecting our content on television through drama,” he said.
“It is not easy, but I am trying to make Baadshah Begum into a model which can be viewed and executed properly. I do not know which portal it is going to end up on, nor which institution is going to showcase it. I am making it because it has to be made. I am making it because lots of good artists are being connected to it, there is a sense of good content and I hope for the best,” he added.
Web-series replacing cable TV
Surely, branching into a territory which is alien to Pakistan’s entertainment industry as yet must have its risks, but Rashdi is convinced that web-series have fully taken over visual media. And similarly, it is crucial for others as well to consider transitioning into this medium.
“We need to get into [web-series] right now before it gets obsolete. Everywhere out there, basic cable internationally has finished. It is all about international networks online. We (on educated portals) are only talking about digital content, and our local content is not being discussed. Our youth does not watch the local content being aired on television. It is completely for some very small segment of the market, which is not meant to grow. It is up to the producers who are making a big mistake right now not to push it. If you keep on doing that, it is their fault that the generation is not evolving,” he stressed.
Evidently, the producer has high hopes and plans to bring a positive change in the content offered by Pakistan’s entertainment industry. “The main purpose of making this web-series is that the industry expands, and the concept of web-series unravels in Pakistan,” he said.
This has heightened our expectations for Baadshah Begum, and knowing it offers so much more than typically overdone tropes, the excitement is out of bounds.