Metro feature: Slackistan offers a glimpse into young people in Pakistan

The average person's view of Pakistan is likely to feature a few of the following words - floods, terrorism, bombs, and corrupt cricketers. However these aren't the whole story, there are people getting on with their day to day lives and young people doing what young people do the world over.

Slackistan, an independent movie, provides a glimpse into the rich-kid slackers of Islamabad: I won't go into too much detail as this feature, for Metro newspaper of Nov 30, does. If you like the piece, I'd strongly suggest watching and supporting Slackistan - it's really worth watching.

A slacker’s guide to Islamabad

Hip new movie Slackistan is shedding a very different light on the lives of Pakistan’s youth.

Eating hamburgers, drinking coffee, smoking Marlboros, textual intercourse, Facebook flirting: these are some of the things privileged kids in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, do to kill time (or ‘time-pass’ as Islooites – people from Islamabad – say).

The surprising lives of early twentysomething graduates pondering what to do next in a country making headlines for all the wrong reasons is the focus of a new film called Slackistan.

Much like Slumdog Millionaire and This is England, first-time actors have been cast in a film that feels more like a documentary. It’s also a tribute to where director Hammad Khan grew up. Islamabad is dubbed ‘the city that always sleeps’ and this humdrum normality is a world away from the Pakistan of the news.
Slackistan director Hammad Khan Slackistan director Hammad Khan

Religious extremism, terrorism and bombs are the motifs of Pakistan’s failed state image, and this year’s devastating floods and spot-fixing allegations against several international cricketers have kicked the country while it’s down. But Hammad sticks to what he knows – the neat, green Islamabad of his adolescence. ‘The idea came through talking to my co-writer, co-producer and wife, Shandana Ayub,’ he says. ‘We know Islamabad and wanted to make a film about the city we love.’

The word ‘normal’ keeps cropping up in conversation with Hammad and 21-year-old Aisha Akhtar (who plays Aisha, best friend of Slackistan’s main protagonist, Hasan). ‘It’s far more normal than you imagine,’ says Hammad, 35, now based in London. ‘Fear of the unknown plus sensationalism makes for a warped image. Life in Islamabad is diverse and follows the nine-to-five lifestyle. It’s a thriving city and there aren’t bombings every day.’

The film’s soundtrack is also a world away from what you might expect. Hip hop, indie, rock and punk all feature. ‘I picked young artists from the underground scene. I was able to feature someone such as Adil Omar, a 19-year-old rapper from the city,’ says Hammad. ‘It blows my mind how this happens with no music industry infrastructure.’

The movie had a mixed reception in Pakistan, with concerns that the film doesn’t actually represent real life and paints a negative picture of the country. Akhtar adds: ‘People are offended by the word “slacker”. They’re saying, we finally get a film about so-called normal lives in Pakistan and you show rich kids doing nothing.’

Hammad says: ‘There is the universality of finding yourself in your twenties but in Pakistan it’s intensified. There’s a burden and uncertain future. Rather than do nothing, my idea is take a small step. If you want to be a filmmaker or an activist, take the resolution.’

Both Hammad and Akhtar have seen young Pakistanis, privileged or not, take these small steps. ‘Since the floods, people involved in the movie have set up NGOs and charities to help,’ says Hammad. ‘The slackers have become “slacktivists” and that’s so positive.’

Akhtar hopes the movie will stimulate a cultural youth movement. ‘In Islamabad, everyone wants to be a filmmaker,’ she says. ‘Cameras are cheap and every second person is making a film. I’ve heard about a slacker-style film in Lahore and in Karachi. It’s started something.’

Both Akhtar and Shahbaz Shigri (who plays lead Hasan) have had their lives changed by the movie. Shigri, an aspiring filmmaker, has made a video for Islamic punk band The Kominas. Akhtar has switched from a political science degree to creative writing and is penning screenplays. She is far more positive and dynamic than her listless character in the film – and upbeat on Pakistan’s future.

‘My mum works as the head of an educational foundation,’ she says. ‘I hang out at her office and she interviews thousands of students from all over the country who are not elite, privileged kids. And people from remote villages, who you don’t think have a chance, are off doing PhDs in America through grants. They’re extraordinary people and they deserve it. It makes me hopeful. I have hope for my country – at least as far as young people are concerned.’

Slackistan is out now. www.slackistanthemovie.com