Pakistan lifted a two-week ban on Facebook May 31 after the social networking site carried what was deemed a blasphemous competition, Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!, on one of its pages.
While the return of Facebook will come as a relief to the country’s Internet-savvy population, it resonates deeper for helmer Hammad Khan, whose first feature, “Slackistan,” rose, he says, from the birth of the Facebook generation in Pakistan.
“The film literally could not have been made without Facebook,” he says. “Everything from casting, pre-production, private cast and crew discussions and word-of-mouth about the film was supported by this and other social networking sites.”
The coming-of-age tale, which Khan describes as a “Pakistani mumblecore” pic — arguably the first of its kind — is the fruit of two years of labor. Khan’s goal is to to make low-budget, quality Pakistani films aimed at international auds.
“Slackistan” could be described as the indigenous answer to “Dazed and Confused” or, as Khan jokes, “Desi and Confused,” referring to the Hindi word for indigenous.
The $100,000 character-driven pic, which Khan wrote, directed and edited, is set in Islamabad, or “Isloo,” and follows five twentysomething friends searching for their paths in life while bumming around rich neighborhoods in what he describes as “the waiting room of life.”
Khan, a native of Islamabad, was forced to move to the U.K. when he was 3 after his father, a political activist adviser and friend to Benazir Bhutto, was exiled during the pro-democratic movement in the 1980s. He moved back to Islamabad when he was 13, then back to London at 17 and has since flitted between the two countries. It’s this duality that has driven him to make Pakistani-based films with Western sensibilities.
“It was really important to set the film in Islamabad because not only have I lived there, but also it’s a place that not a lot of people know about,” says Khan. “People seem to only really know about Lahore or Karachi or regions that the news reports on negatively but Pakistan’s capital is a small, neat, clean town that looks just like smalltown America. I want people to see that the issues that face youngsters in the U.S. and Europe also translate to the younger generation in Pakistan.”
While Khan hopes the film will resonate with Eastern and Western auds, he’s made sure to keep the pic’s flavor distinctly Pakistani: the crew and cast all have Pakistani roots, it was shot entirely in Islamabad and even the music features rock bands from the country.
A 15-minute promo was screened at the Cannes Market this year, and it’s generating interest from festivals. “People couldn’t believe that even most of the music was from real bands in Pakistan,” he says. “It just goes to show how much people don’t know about the place.”
The pic’s trailer, which has received 76,000 hits on YouTube, has gotten mixed reviews in Islamabad but Khan isn’t worried.
“People are polarized in Pakistan,” he says. “They’ll either cling to the film or say ‘how dare you.’ Right now, for me, the ultimate achievement is to satisfy both the East and the West.”