He’s but one film old but is touted as the blue eyed boy of the UAE film world. Film maker Ali Mustafa’s City of Life not only bagged national and international awards and critical acclaim, it depicted the city of Dubai the way it is – multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi -nationality. He speaks to Manju Ramanan on his film From A to B that involves a few friends on a road trip from Abu Dhabi to Beirut.A journey of self discovery, a journey of identity.
Your next film is a dramedy?
In am in the middle of finalising my second feature film. I will start shooting this film by the end of the year. It is called From A to B. It is a drama cum comedy involving a group of friends, all Arab nationalities travelling by road from Abu Dhabi to Beirut crossing several countries. The film is a journey of self- exploration and self- identity since all the friends are based in Abu Dhabi and are visiting their home countries with friends for the first time. I am hoping to shoot the film by the end of the year. I am producing the film though financing is based in Abu Dhabi.
Is that way the film is Abu Dhabi based?
No, I already made a film on Dubai. So the next one has to be different I guess. So Abu Dhabi was a natural choice.
Is the City the text?
My earlier film too had the backdrop of the city of Dubai. This film has several cities. The characters in the film cross Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Syria and visit important places in these countries. So the backdrop and the location becomes a character by itself. Also the friends are of different Arab nationalities. One is a Syrian, the other is an Egyptian, another one is a Saudi – but they all hail from Abu Dhabi and have grown up there.
Why did you want this film to be bi lingual?
Like I said, the characters in the film are from Abu Dhabi and have attended the American School there so, they speak English. But when they are seen interacting with the local characters, they speak in Arabic. It is basically a human story on a group of individuals who are finding themselves through this journey on the road. It is a common phenomenon here that one lives in a certain place and adopts it as his/her own but hails from somewhere else. Somewhere deep down,w e all want to connect to the place where we came from.
Were you on this road trip?
No, I have been on road trips before but not this one. The film is an outcome of my visits to these countries and the subtler nuances I have observed about each. I have never been on a road trip like this but yes, that is what film making is about. It is about the artistic license that you take to weave a tale around situations you have experienced. Yes there are female characters in the film but they are not on the road trip with the guys.
How do you look at comedy as a genre?
Is very important. You can say a lot through humour and while people laugh, they learn what you are actually trying to state. People laugh at the jokes but do get the message you are trying to convey – without getting into an argument with them. If you pick up a genre that is too dramatic or controversial people lose interest. It is much easier to accept the same thing when it is in a comedy, though much difficult to execute. Comedy and horror and most physical genres to tackle and if you don’t want o discuss certain things or are scared to discuss them in a serious tone, you can do it with humour and light-heartedness.
Does the film have similarities with the popular Hindi film Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara?
When I was writing the script for From A to B, a friend asked me to watch Hrithik Roshan’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, which I felt dealt with a topic similar to my film. Both films talk about male bonding and a journey of self-discovery. The human element in both the films are the same. Apart from the human element, the film talks about some serious issues as well but not portrayed in a very serious manner. It is more of a house humour depiction. Humour that is not plastic, yet conveys the message. However this is set in the Arab world
Are Arab countries each are very different than the other?
The Arab world has several countries that are very different to each other. The film explores these differences as well as similarities. Saudi Arabia is very different when compared to the UAE. Things restricted in Saudi Arabia are not restricted in the UAE. Cultures are similar but also different. Syria is going through a rough time right now and is practically a war zone while Lebanon is a mix of the European and the Arab world and is very liberal.
Did writing the film give you an insight into yourself?
To be honest when you write things like this, you write things you know very well and have gathered from your experience. I might have learnt from my past etc. I connect to the age group of the guys in the film. They are under 25 and are in the phase of enjoying their life. It is a realistic film with humour.
Does the film have instances of the Arabic sense of humour?
A to B is an Arab film catering to an international audience. It cannot therefore have Arab humour from start to finish since it is a global product and will be consumed by people globally. So it is more universal in appeal because the humour comes out of action and adventure.
What about your next film?
My Third film will be an epic. I am keeping it very confidential but it will be the best film of my career.
What do you think about films from the Arabian world?
I think our films are getting better. Arab films used to be great for a long period, then they started to drop in terms of standards in the middle and now they are picking up again. As Arabs we need to be proud of the talent we have and getting recognition across the world not just in the Arab world, not just Doha an Abu Dhabi but the rest of the world too. It won’t be long that Abu Dhabi and Dubai will soon be the top hubs of the Arab film industry.