I want my films to bring a change within the community: Shahnawaz Zali


To be a film maker one needs to have a tremendous sense of ambition. It goes without saying that this generation has a lot of talent who has that; passion and ambition.

Having said that living in today’s technologically advanced era one can produce quality content regardless of where you are.

One such aspiring Pakistani director and cinematographer Shahnawaz Zali is a 24-year-old graduate of Northwestern University’s Qatar campus. He is currently working in Qatar Foundation as a Creative Media Specialist.

Zali hails from Lahore and has won many awards for his films. His documentary ‘100 Steps-Sau Qadam’ was nominated for the Best film in the Narrative category for the 43rd Student Academy Awards in 2016, which is the ultimate goal for most film makers.

In addition to that, the 24-year-old has another feather to add to his cap; earlier this year Zali was included in Forbes ’30 Under 30′ list of people from sports and entertainment category.

While talking to Pakistan Today about his nomination for the ‘Forbes 30 under 30 Entertainment and Sports List’ Zali said, “Honestly, I never expected this. I remember how I always dreamt of one-day walking on the red carpet for the Oscars and appearing on Forbes, it was all talk at that time in front of my family.”

Shahnawaz talks about the surreal feeling of being featured on the Forbes list, which came to him as a surprise.”My family were all so happy and I was excited not because of being featured on the list, but just hearing my mother being so happy about this, was truly heart-warming,” he said.


He said that from a very young age he wanted to pursue filmmaking, but that one moment that locked the deal was when he appeared in front of a high-production set & camera.

“I was an actor for a feature film called “Kashf – The lifting of the veil” where I played the childhood of the main character,” Zali said while talking about his experience, saying that learning from the director on set was so exciting that he knew this is what he wanted.

While talking about his role model, Shahnawaz said that he loves watching Christopher Nolan’s movies for two reasons; ‘his films make you think and feel at the same time.’

“These unique things are so important for a film because after the film finishes, you can’t stop talking or thinking about them and that’s when you know the film has a made a difference in your day/life,” he added.

The 24-year-old also added that watching TV Shows and movies, helps him understand the tips and tricks of story-telling.

“I watch TV shows from different regions, be that Hollywood, British shows, Palestinian, Pakistani or Iranian.”

“It expands the knowledge of how different stories are told in different ways,” Zali said.

Thus, stating that inspiration for new projects is found by talking to people, engaging in debates and researching.

“When we look around we know there are so many stories that are worth telling, either stories that can change and help Pakistan grow or the stories that show how beautiful the culture, country and religion is.”

Telling us about his movie 100 steps, the filmmaker said, “It was an unreal experience because just like every film maker I always dreamed of landing into the Oscars Academy Awards since I was eleven years old.”

“I have grown up watching films that have won Oscars, actors & directors who have inspired millions of people and films that have brought real life change into this world,” he said, adding that being nominated for the Best Film in the Oscars – for now the student category is like getting very close to the main event.

“The experience, all in all, has motivated me more than ever, although it is scary sometimes, it has inspired me to continue telling stories that I am most passionate about,” Zali told Pakistan Today.

Talking about the movie Zali said that being a Pakistani, we dream of living peacefully in our country without terrorism and hoping towards a better future.

“The ideology that we should be able to speak about topics like terrorism drove me to make 100 Steps,” adding that he believes that for a country to progress we must acknowledge the problems that exist.

“By acknowledging that there is a problem, the more we talk about it, the more solutions we will be able to find. 100 Steps is an example of one such platform that provokes you to discuss, think and talk about such topics,” he said.

He continued to talk about the journey ever since 100 Steps started saying that he was given a budget of approximately US $8,000 to execute a short film in Qatar.

In short films, there is a very short time frame to tell the story, so poses a challenge for the team to make sure the story has all the right elements within it to capitalize on the main idea.

“Narratives are very important, especially because they involve having a clear, beginning and end, within that comes the character change,” Zali said while explaining the importance of narratives in short movies.

“If these narratives are not present, there aren’t any changes to neither the plot nor the character, which then results in the film being unfulfilling and unsatisfying.”

“The biggest obstacle was to find the right actors to pull off a performance that was controversial yet much needed,” Zali explained.

“Mostly I spent time looking for actors, training them and executing the film.”

The film was completed in the US at Northwestern’s home campus in Chicago before it hit the big screen.

When asked about what he wishes to accomplish through his movies, Zali said, “I want to create an impact within the community which is able to bring change.”

“Be that, a change in the way the audience thinks or a real life change in how our community functions. Although films are supposed to serve as a platform for entertainment, I consider it more than that, and I feel it has the power to influence the audience.”

In addition to that, filmmaking for Shahnawaz has always been a tool to convey his voice, vision and thoughts to the audience. “One of m y films will be given to a local NGO so they can fundraise for education in the Northern Areas,” said the 24-year-old.

We know that both good and bad things with any decision in life. Similarly, Shahnawaz says that backlash for a movie comes when you create a platform for people to speak. So when that power is given to people, whatever comes with that should always be welcomed.

What’s in the pipeline for Shahnawaz Zali?

This young and talented filmmaker is here to stay and make a change. He wants to start his own production company in Pakistan someday and extend support to the local filmmakers so that ‘we can continue making films and content that contributes to our film industry,’ Zali said.

Not only that, he wants to create a talent pool for Pakistani youth, a platform, which will bring together the youth of Pakistan, artists, musicians, filmmakers, writers and directors etc to work on their ideas and keep on creating content.

His advice to all the aspiring film makers to create content and shouldn’t let logistics stop them.

“Just go for it. Reach out to people who are like minded and work together to turn your vision into a reality. Even if 99% of the people are against your idea and one percent is supporting you,” Shahnawaz said.

“Go with that one percent, because someone out there believes in you and that’s a good enough reason to make what you want.”