Instep Interview: Hammad Khan, Director Slackistan

Slackistan: A new look at Islamabad,

indie music and individuality
Instep Today speaks to Hammad Khan,
the director of the upcoming film Slackistan

Saba Imtiaz

Slackistan-1The Slackistan trailer has been discussed and dissected widely. The story of young adults trying to discover themselves in a rapidly changing Islamabad has garnered a lot of interest in Pakistan and abroad. Directed by the London-based Pakistani filmmaker Hammad Khan, Slackistan may just be the most relevant film for young people who find themselves searching for their identity in the socio-political climate.  Instep Today speaks with the filmmaker…

Instep Today: What was the concept behind Slackistan?

Hammad Khan: The concept was quite personal. In some ways, it’s an autobiographical film with my collective experiences of living in Islamabad in my early ’20s. And it is a reaction to the kind of media messages that are coming out of Pakistan – we know that it’s not the whole picture of Pakistan. So it’s also meant to subvert the preconceptions of Pakistan.

Instep Today: How did the idea come about?

HK: Very casually. My wife Shandana Ayub (who co-wrote and produced it with Hammad) and I were just sitting around at home and we started thinking, if we were to make a film about Islamabad, what would be all the things we would include. It was just a joke really, we made a list of things…but there was no master plan! I had other projects which were far more serious, and I bailed on the idea, much to her displeasure. But last December we went on a family trip to Islamabad, and just looking at everything, the other script didn’t feel as urgent. This was more relevant and important.

Instep Today: Do you think Slackistan will fall into the trap of clichés that stories about Pakistan often do?

HK:  I don’t know. As it is, it’s a segment of Islamabad, so in that way it’s already a counter-cultural film. And it’s truthful to the lives we’ve portrayed; the experiences of 20-somethings living in the comfort zone of Islamabad. What kind of day would they have? The actors are actually playing versions of themselves. The main protagonist Hasan (Shahbaz Hamid Shigri) is actually a young filmmaker and that’s what he plays in Slackistan. In the film, the female lead Aisha (Aisha Akhtar) is aspiring to go to the US and in reality, she’s studying in the US right now. So various things happened organically. I just told them to be as you are, invest your personality into it. So in some ways it is a documentary. And if there are any clichés, that’s because they’re true!

Instep Today: Let’s talk about the music. You’ve picked a number of indie bands for the soundtrack… (Slackistan features music by The Kominas, Mole and Adil Omar)

Slackistan_Hammad-ShandanaHK: I’m a huge music fan. I always conceive ideas and am inspired through music when I’m working. So it was important that since it was to be a counter-cultural film, it didn’t have to have necessarily mainstream Pakistani music but music that was more representative of the film’s spirit. So the (featured) bands are either underground bands or breaking through, they’re fresh and punk and westernized. In that way it’s an American film. And there’s a plethora of underground bands here…I’m excited by that.

Instep Today: What’s the plan for releasing the film, is it going to be a cinema release or through festivals etc?

HK: The usual route…we’re looking at a high profile festival premiere and the answer really is… “watch this space!”

There’s an audience for it in Pakistan, but it’s not a typical film. So we’re looking at untypical venues, showing it in colleges and schools etc. We have submitted it to the Censor Board though, so let’s see.

Instep Today: It’s a clichéd question, but thoughts on the state of filmmaking in Pakistan?

HK: More than the state of filmmaking, it’s really the lack of any filmmaking happening. Right now, making a film is literally about as cheap as buying a car. The amount of stories, ideas and more importantly – reasons –  are endless. It’s become a mission for me to try and figure this out, why filmmaking hasn’t been used a form of expression in Pakistan. We’ve taken to fashion and music but why is filmmaking such an alien concept?

So the state is quite bleak…but one hopes that films like mine are little steps and that other people are inspired to make films.

Instep Today: When can we expect Slackistan to be released?

HK: Hopefully by January or February 2010. We’re very close to completion and aim to have it done a 100 per cent by the end of the year. And the core audience for the film is not just within Pakistan, but around the world for expats and South Asians who will connect with and understand the urban experience.

The buzz about Slackistan

On blogs:

“Never knew Pakistan cinema was worth the name, but this is out of this world.”

≠– Comment posted on Chapati Mystery (

On Twitter:

“Might be quite a nifty lil film to watch.”

“This is not CNN’s Pakistan.”

On YouTube:

(where the trailer has been viewed over 10,000 times)

“Luv it… this may help built a soft image of Pakistan.. we need things like these to change peoples perception about our country… Pakistan is not just about suicide bombers and Taliban… there is more to it… and this just shows another side that people in the west don’t know exist… way to go… keep it up…”

Source: Instep Today