Adnan Malik Talks About His Profession, Upcoming Projects & Coke Studio [Interview]

July 5, 2012

By Hasan Faridi

Adnan Malik may not always be in the limelight, but he’s definitely one of the people who brings things into the light. He is the director of AMP, a Video Producer at Pakistan’s renowned music platform Coke Studio, a television host/model and an Asia Society Young Leader of the World.

I got the chance to interview him and ask him about his profession, his work at Coke Studio, and his current (and upcoming) projects.

1. So Adnan, can you give us a introduction about yourself?

I’m a Karachi based slashie: filmmaker/model/actor, and am the director of a boutique production company called ‘AMP’.

If I had to strip myself down to the core and use one word to define myself, it would be “communicator”. Some people are pre-destined to be artists, some are healers, some are businessmen, some are engineers, but me, I am a communicator. Its what gives me strength and purpose in this life.

I am particularly passionate about popular culture and the role it has to play in shaping identities. Countries like the US, the UK, India, Japan and even Iran are distinctly recognized by their popular culture. We have always struggled to identify who we are and I think popular culture has a very important role to play in shaping our identities. Hence, I try and work on projects that are directly involved in identity building.

2. How long have you been in the entertainment industry now?

I was always destined to enter this field. I interned at Miramax and Ridley Scott America while I was in the US, worked on a documentary called ‘Why We Fight’ on the rise of the military industrial complex, that one best American Documentary at Sundance. I even had a t-shirt company called ‘Urban Turban’ in NYC. Technically I have been shape shifting in the industry in Pakistan since 2005, when I moved back from New York. I started off making documentaries (Bijli, which won Best Short Film at the Kara film festival, Delhi Digital Film Festival, and was a finalist at the Student Academy Awards in the US/ ‘Bhuli Hui Hoon Dastaan’ which is the first feature length documentary on the demise of Pakistani cinema culture, and is part of curriculums in TV & film universities across the country), then got sidetracked into modeling and VJ-ing and over the last 3 years have gotten involved with commercials, music videos and of course, Coke Studio. I opened my boutique production house, AMP this year as well.

3. You’re recently been the Video Producer at Coke Studio, how has it been like?

Working on Coke Studio has been a phenomenal learning experience for me. This is my fourth year on the project, and it just keeps getting better! I remember when I saw the first season on TV 4 years ago, I thought to myself that CS was exactly the kind of thing I wanted o be involved with. It was a calling. I felt very deeply about it when I saw and heard it and I was also at a crossroads in my life, and the gorgeous sound, cutting edge sensibility, and visual experience all appealed to my aesthetic. I had set the intention to work on it, and low and behold, a few weeks later I got a phone call from a friend, Anisa Shaikh, who asked me if I would be interested in working on the project as the Behind the Scenes Producer, and I jumped on the idea!

I believe everything happens for a reason, and I know that Rohail and Umber were hesitant to hire me, but I kept knocking at their door and finally they got me on board. Right after I also joined Zeeshan Parwez as assistant video producer. There was a very small team initially. I remember post-production used to be Rohail, Umber and myself. It was very in-house and small and it’s grown organically and beautifully.

The best part of working on Coke Studio is the organizational/musical/spiritual knowledge that Rohail brings to the project.

It’s a fantastic project. Probably the best one I have worked on in Pakistan. Its got very pure energy. Working on the project has given me a healthy dose of technological savvy and spiritual satisfaction.

4. Whilst working there, have you worked closely with the performers and in-house band too?

Absolutely, especially my first two years when I used to do the behind the scenes. The Coke Studio process starts almost 5 months before the actual recording as the artists come in and develop ideas with Rohail, who then re-imagines the music, offers it up to the house band for them to develop it and then everyone comes together at the final recordings. So following that process allows me to get to know both the music and the artists pretty well. Kamal Khan, a very talented young filmmaker, who came in as my assistant 3 years ago, has been heading the BTS department for the last 2 years now and also assisted me in video production this year. Adrian Permal has also been a great addition to the BTS team, along with our excellent editor, Bilal Habib.

5. Surely, working behind the scenes would have gave you a great insight to what happens at Coke Studio, how is everyone behind the scenes?

The most noticeable aspect in the earlier years was how we would expect larger than life artists to come in and be more demanding and difficult, but this has never been the case. Coke Studio has really evolved, and with the care the CS team takes of everyone it makes you realize that if you give respect to people in Pakistan, they will treat you with respect also. Coke Studio has its own very special energy, and its amazing to see all kinds of varied artists coming on to the platform and being embraced by it. People lose ego when they come in and truly become one with the platform. Its really magical. Working on Coke Studio has by far been one of the greatest experiences of my life.

6. What have been your highlights at Coke Studio?

– Over the four years there have been dozens of special moments. The first real highlight for me was the trust that Rohail put in me to develop the ‘look’ of both the bts and the videos. He has been very supportive and encouraging of my aesthetic choices.

– When I came into CS I was very focused on storytelling and visual aesthetics, but under Rohail’s (and Zeeshan Parwez’s) guidance I really developed a strong technical know-how and strong organizational abilities.

– Seeing the Noori song ‘Saari Raat’ develop in the 2nd season was also a pleasure. The excitement from the moment they sent the song to its gorgeous and complex evolution, it’s a great template for how most CS songs work.

– One of the things Rohail and Umber instilled in is was developing a ‘familial’ feel in the team. Everyone who comes in and works with us feels like an extension of our family.

– Some of my favorite moments at CS have been spending time late into the night debating and developing ideas with Rohail. I have learnt a lot about myself and the world around me by spending time at CS. There is a philosophy behind everything we do there, even if the audience sees it or not.

– The Meesha and Arif Lohar collaboration from season 3 was also a fantastic highlight of my time at CS. The moment we had Arif’s jovial personality in our studios singing ‘Dum Gutkoo’ all of us were smiling ear to ear. And then when Meesha came in later to work on it with her sensuous and earthy voice, all of us knew that this was going to be something special. However, we didn’t know it was going to turn out to be the kind of hit it did! I remember hearing that song playing everywhere from Baba Bulleh Shah to high end gyms in defense. The song really transcended class and ethnic barriers, it really united us as a nation.

– The actual shoot days have always been a real high and probably the real high point for me! This year I had Kamal assist me and we had a really organic chemistry. The last 3 years I worked with Zeeshan who has a fantastic sense of humor and would have me rolling on the floor laughing. It’s a really intense period where we are controlling more than 10 cameras according to preplanned positions based on the trajectory of a song. The pressure is high because we don’t want to miss a musical part! Its electric in the video control room, and I know I keep dreaming about camera positions and job shots long after I have finished shooting the season! It’s that intense!

– Also getting to know such legends as Abida Parveen, Ata Ulla Essa Khelvi, Akhtar Chanal, Tina Sani, and Naseeruddin Sami on a personal level and having the opportunity to see what makes greatness tick first hand has been a great privilege.

7. In Coke Studio’s Season 2, you were the Assistant Video Producer & Behind the Scenes Producer, later on you became a Video Producer in later Seasons, how does the accomplishment feel like?

It’s a real honor and a privilege to have developed my craft through the CS platform. I am really grateful to the brand and of course Rohail and Umber for keeping the faith.

8. Where do you find Coke Studio in say, a years time?

Well, there are lots of plans and ideas percolating. Lets see what happens!!

9. As well as video producing at Coke Studio, have you been involved in other projects as well?

I have my own small boutique production company called AMP (http://www.amp.com.pk) and I am constantly working on various projects from commercials to music videos to documentaries. We just finished up with the Levi’s campaign featuring seven talented young Pakistanis, called ‘Pakistan’s Go Forth Generation’. I am currently in post-production for a pretty outrageous music video that I want to release after Ramadan! Stay tuned for that!

10. From experience (and you being the Asia Society Young Leader of the World), do you think there’s a great opportunity for video production in Pakistan? Great opportunities for say, the Pakistani youth?

Absolutely, there has been a real boom in the last 7-8 years due to cable channels, which has concurrently led to an increase in the number of schools and colleges that offer film/television and new media courses. It has become an acceptable vocational field and parents are even supportive of their children getting involved in the media. And now there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel as far as our film industry goes as well, with over a dozen films in production and the opening of new cinemas. The future is bright for Pakistani media!

Also, because of the Internet and developments in digital media (DSLRS, home editing systems, cheaper sound recording software), there is a new unmediated outlet to showcase your work. A creative person no longer has to go through various channels to have their work shown. We can directly upload our work to YouTube or vimeo and get recognized. This was what the Levi’s campaign that AMP is the agency for was about over the last 2 years. The featured artists like Bilal Khan, Usman Riaz, and Zoe Viccaji etc. have all gained recognition through the Internet.

11. Can people make an easy living from video production?

I believe that you can make money from whatever you love to do, as long as making money is not your focus! If you are passionate and true to yourself and your belief system, you can be successful.

12. And finally, have you got any interesting plans coming up?

My career is linked with Pakistan. It is just who I am – all my hopes, all my stories, and all my interests are linked to this country. I believe there is no better way to share my very rich, untold heritage on the international stage, than through the moving image. As a Pakistani filmmaker and a director, I hope to become an ambassador between my culture and the world.

Thank you very much for the interview.