We sat down with Pakistani-born writer and director, Sadia Saeed. Known for her sharp wit, Sadia’s latest movie stars hit comedian Shazia Mirza and centres around protagonist Arifa who reaches a crisis in her life when the escalation of her feelings for intriguing but capricious ‘professional’ gamer, Riccardo De Luca, coincides with the sudden reappearance of her estranged father.
Tell us about the film
Arifa is essentially about a father daughter relationship and a young woman who, estranged from her father and being a young Pakistani woman, finds complications when she meets a stranger in a café. The story parallels her and her father and the relationship with this man. It’s a comedy drama that’s more subtle with its humour.
Would you say it relates to the Asian audience quite well?
It’s representative of Asian audiences. I’m from a Pakistani background and I’ve drawn a lot from my personal experiences. When you write something a lot of people tend to see themselves in their writing. I’ve written from an immigrants point of view and I think it will be relatable for diverse audience.
Did you find it difficult to get Arifa off the ground?
Yes, it was very difficult and I had to do it independently in the end. You hear a lot about people promoting diversity, but it’s still so hard to get your foot in the door regardless of where you’re coming from. Now that it’s made, I’m getting a lot of interest.
Do you think the diversity element is particularly helpful, given it’s such a hot topic?
Yes, absolutely it’s a hot topic. There’s so much debate around it, people saying it shouldn’t be happening, that people shouldn’t have special treatment. There’s a lot of debate around politic correctness. It’s interesting times. Arifa should resonate particularly with young men and women from Asian backgrounds. It’s ultimately an immigrant story about someone who came from Pakistan, someone who was in a leadership position and is now struggling like a fish out of water.
Considering it’s a comedy, was it hard balancing the seriousness and lightness?
It’s a dark comedy and can be quite polarising. But I think you have to laugh at your own situations otherwise you go crazy. Some things can be quite traumatic at the time then years later it becomes funny.
That’s another way the film is breaking boundaries. It’s a comedy directed by an Asian woman starring an Asian female comedian- Asian women are seen as especially funny.
No, that why Shazia Mirza is such a fantastic role model in a way. To tell the truth I tried stand up comedy and it’s the most difficult things I’ve ever done so I really admire Shazia for what she’s doing. I’ve also written a play that was performed by Kali Theatre Company, called The Deported. It was more slapstick, more farce. Arifa is more subtle with more heart and intellect.
What would you say is the main message of the movie?
Forgiveness, understanding and kindness. There’s a lot of anger in the film and we’ve demonstrated it in a funny way so there’s humour and anger rolled into one, but when you watch it, you’ll realise that getting angry or doubtful or suspicious doesn’t solve the situation. There’s a lot of uncomfortable moments where you’ll laugh because of how uncomfortable it is. I’m a big admirer of artistic or art house films such as those in India that don’t get as much of a voice as Bollywood gets. We have a kickstarter running and there are so many projects going on because people don’t want to work in the mainstream companies where the focus is on celebrities and there’s not much heart, they don’t engage as much. We have less than 24 days to pick up funds on our Kickstarter to help promote Arifa.
What advice would you give other upcoming Asian females in art industry?
Write and read things you can work with, don’t be afraid to get in touch with people you don’t know whether it’s through social media or websites or emails. I’m willing to engage with people to discuss ideas and collaborate and I had a really difficult time casting this film because I couldn’t find the right person to play the lead role so I think women need to be more brave. People talk about arranged marriages etc but there are more subtle ways we’re held back from being free. There needs to be more collaborations between women. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for advice, help, collaborations. Don’t be afraid of rejections, you’ll face lots of rejection but keep pushing on
What’s Shazia like to work with?
Unlike her stage persona, she’s very focused. She’s just really great and reliable, rehearsals are always fun. I would definitely work with her again.
Where are you hoping Arifa will take you?
We’re submitting it to numerous festivals and we’ve got a good response from high profile festivals in America. After these screenings it should make the next movie easier to make, with more support from the industry.
What has the experience of Arifa been like for you?
There’s been a lot of blood sweat and tears. One the first day on set we had a very tight schedule and by the end of the day, I was in tears. You can’t imagine when people are working for three weeks in a very hectic and fast spaced environment. There’s people getting angry and frustrated, going wrong. We managed to finish and we used some of the most fantastic equipment. We used a camera lens that provides the most beautiful look. It looks a lot bigger budget than it is.
Is this your first feature film?
It is. It has a lot of sentimental value. The name Arifa is my mother’s name so it holds a special place in my heart. I look at the film like my first child.
What do you have planned for the future?
I tend to make films that are quite close to me personally. I’ve been working on Arifa for four years and the only reason I was able to work on it so long was because it was so close to my heart. The relationship between a father and daughter is such an important and intriguing one that has many ups and downs. I’m looking for my next topic that will keep me motivated for another four years.