• 17 Feb - 23 Feb, 2018
  • Mariam Khan
  • Interview

What started as a hobby, turned into a profession for Uzair Zaheer Khan who used to enjoy watching animated movies as a child and continued doing so even as an adult, watching cartoon feature films with his kids. Studying from the Vancouver Film School, he has worked on multiple international projects – a few campaigns which even won awards. His last project, the renowned Urdu animated TV series, Burka Avenger, won accolades. The artistic genius, who has been affiliated with the world of computer graphics is also the man behind Allahyar and The Legend of Markhor (AATLOM). Excerpts:

Animation is your passion. What’s the scope of animation in Pakistan?

Uzair Zaheer Khan: I believe Pakistan does not have an animation industry. The animators here are amazing; they are as good as the international ones, but they lack opportunities. A lot of people are of the view that there is no chance of quality animation in this country. The only reason why the notion is true is that animation is expensive, time-consuming and difficult. Besides, cinema culture has only been newly introduced here, so you cannot spend millions just to make an animated movie here; even if you do make one, there is only a slim chance of getting as good a return. For AATLOM we have tried to match the international quality of animation by spending much less in comparison.

Were you the man behind Burka Avenger?

UZK: Well, I won’t say that. Haroon, the singer, was behind the venture. I was doing a music video for him and was also developing an episode of Quaid Say Baatein during that time. It was then that he had conceived the idea of Burka Avenger. I directed and produced the first season of the series for him.

How different has your experience been working for TV and film?

UZK: The two are very different. As the audience does not have to pay for television content, they do not bother about the quality of animation aired on TV. You cannot compare the quality of animation on TV with the one in movies. There’s a bar for everything – a bar for TV series and another for film, which defines its level of quality. In TV series, work is relatively less whereas there’s more work in movies in order to meet the audience’s expectations.

Does AATLOM borrow inspiration from any international movie?

UZK: People may find some instances that match with other movies but we have come up with an original project. Originality is not as hard to achieve as people think it is. I don’t think you would find similar scenes or similar storyline in any other existing project. It is a completely unique film because we know our hard work would go down the drain if we copy ideas. A lot of times people try comparing Ali Noor’s character to others. They may have similar cropped hair but the face is entirely different. People notice the smallest of things and go like, this is copied from The Lion King or Assassin’s Creed just because we have used an eagle or a snow leopard. I mean, watch the movie before jumping to conclusions. Now I just take it as a compliment instead of an offence, because getting your work compared to international standards is flattering in itself.

Where does our animation industry stand in today’s world?

UZK: I wouldn’t say ours is bad. It’s just that we lack experience because we do not make a lot of animation movies here. We are not spending $300 million on our movies, neither are we spending six years on one project, nor are we picking the best artists from around the world. It’s not like Pixar makes its movies while restricting to just one country. It is a flagship so it picks the best talent from around the world and has a lot of money to spend. If the present animation projects inspire others to follow the league, then that would start an animation industry in our country. The artists would have experience and they would accumulate the know-how of this field, so we can definitely reach that level of quality too.

Here we think if a movie is animated, it is meant for kids. What is your say on that?

UZK: The most successful movies today are the animated ones, earning more money around the world. The reason behind it is that it provides a common ground for kids and grown-ups. Kids aren’t allowed to watch adult movies, while movies for kids are boring for adults. Animated movies bridge the gap in between. Animated film-makers try to attain a balance between the two age groups so as to make the movie as per the grown-ups’ and kids’ liking, and that is what extends the movies’ viewership.

Why are people hesitant of making animated movies here?

UZK: Well, I have made one. Actually, nobody makes a case study of it. If a certain quality product comes into the market and is liked by people so I can’t really see why there is this huge gap in production. I am assuming people like animated movies here, but not as much as the rest of the world. It’s only the parents who take their kids to the movies, otherwise, the adults particularly consider them for children. Also, I think our movie-goers like a different genre of movies, which boast of dance numbers and mirch masala.

Did you seek help from your own kids while drafting the characters?

UZK: Yes, this is what writers usually do. They would base characters on someone they know in real life or people around them which then adds believability to that character. My kid was almost the same age when I was writing Allahyar’s character. Every time I made the character do something, I stopped to think how my own kid would react in that situation. It added a context to my thought process because erecting characters in a cultural vacuum would make the characters seem fake. Similarly, the character of Ali Noor is a terribly bad person and even he is based on someone I had in mind.