According to the official website, Coke Studio “embodies a musical fusion of exciting elements and diverse influences, ranging from traditional eastern, modern western and regionally inspired music.” The second season of the immensely popular television show aired this summer, and each collaboration became an instant hit in Pakistan. While the series centered on live music performances, the show embodied themes applicable to Pakistan as a whole – Individuality, Harmony, Equality, Spirit, and Unity. Below is CHUP’s interview with Adnan Malik, who was the Associate Video Producer and the Behind the Scenes Producer on this season’s Coke Studio:
Q: You came on this season as an Associate Video Producer, as well as a the Behind The Scenes [BTS] Producer. Given your background in film, were you prepared coming into the show? What were you unprepared for?
After watching the first season of Coke Studio last year, I was pretty blown away by the whole package: fantastic music that engages with both classical and contemporary Pakistani ideologies, bold visuals, great packaging and a pure, constructive intention. I knew I had to get on board for the second season, and got in touch with Umber and Rohail [Hyatt] (henceforth known as ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’). It was a tough selection process for them to choose a video team for this year, and I definitely pseudo-stalked them to get the job! I knew that I was the perfect fit. I was summoning it from the universe, asking for it in prayers and felt very blessed when they selected me to be the Associate Video Producer and the Producer Behind the Scenes.
I have quite a few years as a documentary producer under my belt, having worked on projects like Sundance winning Why We Fight and being the local producer on Jihad for Love as well as directing the award winning Bijli, and the first feature length anthology on Pakistani cinema, The Forgotten Song. I have also been an assistant director on many music videos, produced shows for MTV and worked as a packaging director on the Lux Style Awards. So I would say that I was pretty prepared to jump on board the ‘Coke Studio’ project. I knew it would be very intensive, and I really enjoyed handling the camera for all the behind the scenes, and collaborating with Zeeshan Parwez on the videos.
What I was not prepared for was the spiritual satisfaction I got from working on this project with Ma, Pa and the rest of the CS team. It was by far the most pure intentioned, good willed, honest project I have worked on in Pakistan. Rohail is fantastically tech savvy, a great problem solver, intimately in touch with his music, a communicator and above all very organically connected to the project. It was a passion project for all involved and it started at the top with Ma and Pa, and filtered through to the house band members, the people who worked on the set, the tech support, and even the security guard, all of whom contributed their energy to making this project the phenomenon it has become today.
Q: What was the interaction between musicians like behind the scenes, particularly between the older, more established artists and the younger, more up-and-coming musicians?
Having worked with a lot of these musicians and artists before in various capacities, I was well aware of the possibility of conflicting egos. But I think all of us were so committed to the project and believed in it so deeply at a visceral level that every time a new artist came on set, their energy merged with ours and not the other way around. Coke Studio definitely had an aura about it that was welcoming, trusting and open to ideas and I think that made it a very comfortable space for new energies to mingle and become something higher than ‘ego’.
We had an amazingly talented houseband with some of the best musicians in the country, and they set up a fantastic framework for the artists to come in and further develop the songs. There was never any conflict, just growth, and that kind of energy has become increasingly rare to find in Pakistan.
Q: What was your aesthetic vision when shooting the BTS videos? What did you most want to portray?
I shot the behind the scenes almost everyday for two months and really got to develop the aesthetic for how we were going to shoot the final videos. Naturally, Rohail had shown us examples of what he wanted, and Zeeshan contributed heavily with his own unique visual style to the final videos as well. The final look of the videos was the result of a collaborative vision shared by the three of us. All of the visuals were well thought out and discussed and we even trained all of our camera men! Zeeshan and I were behind microphones in the CCU room during the final shoot, instructing our respective camera men on what to shoot; however, without those two weeks of training, we wouldn’t have achieved the aesthetic that we finally managed to achieve.
As for the Behind the Scenes (BTS’s), the best part of shooting verite on an evolving show is that you can capture the really spontaneous moments, and for that I had to make sure I was in tune with the people I was shooting. The aesthetic was to capture immediacy, spontaneity, expression, emotion and a little soul. After spending weeks with the house band, I began to understand their habits, their gestures and therefore preempted them to capture some great spontaneous footage. I always had my camera handy, and managed to capture about 120 hours of footage, out of which audiences have seen less than an hour! There are a lot of precious, crazy moments and espoused philosophies in those hard drives! Hopefully, we will do something with all that footage one day soon!
Moreover,with a background in still photography I wanted to imbue every frame with something pleasing to look at. I believe in the power of the image to tell a story on its own, and I wanted every image that came onto the screen to be open to multiple interpretations. But more than that, it was of utmost importance to make sure that each BTS segment told the story of each song. It took months to put these songs together and it was my job to show the depth of work that went into each song, from its conception,to its philosophy, deconstruction, reconstruction, and the evolution in rehearsals.
The BTS segments give context to the songs and an insight into the characters that made up Coke Studio.
Q: The fifth and final episode of Coke Studio’s Season Two aired on August 14, Pakistan’s Independence Day, and was aptly titled, “Unity.” How do you think the show embodied the spirit of unity, and what message did that send to citizens on Pakistan Day?
My favorite aspect of this show is its engagement in helping define a Pakistani identity. We are clearly at a crossroads in terms of a collective cultural ethos, and I believe that this show is an example of how we should engage with our past, present and future. The music takes from both current Western influences and indigenous classical and folk influences to create a truly ‘contemporary’ and ‘universal’ sound. The music is an honest representation of where we are today, it’s both timely and timeless; both purely Pakistani and palatably global.
Each of the five episodes of coke studio represent the journey of the show: from the ‘Individuality’ of the artists coming together, to the cohabiting and synchronization which was ‘Harmony’, to the ‘Equality’ of all artists collaborating from all sorts of musical backgrounds, to tapping into the ‘Spirit’ of our times and its music and to finally reveal the ‘Unity’ in a true sense of great musicians coming together, collaborating and creating something that is greater than the sum of their parts.
Coke Studio is all about ‘Unity – the collaboration of big-hearted, open-minded Pakistanis to create something unique, beautiful and truly our own. The effort shows that it is possible to work together and create amazing things with pure intentions and dedicated hard work.
At a micro level, Coke Studio is also a metaphor for nation building. It has captured the imagination of the whole nation and collectively brought us together from all corners to appreciate and celebrate the diversity of our country.
I am extremely proud at having been a part of something so amazing! I walk away from this season of coke studio as a richer, more evolved, and spiritually ignited human being than when I entered it and this is solely because of the dynamic created by Rohail, Umber, the production team and the supremely talented musicians.
Q: The show is immensely popular in Pakistan. Will there be a third season? What do you think the biggest differences were between the first and second seasons?
I hope there is a third season!! Why wouldn’t there be one?
I loved both the first and second seasons respectively. The first season was a bold experiment in a new direction for music. It wasn’t as high tech or ideologically evolved as the second season, but its rawness and passion really shines out. The second season has a much more evolved visual ethos, and musically has a greater slant towards folk music than the first episode, which had a greater focus on classical fusion music.
Well, that’s the politically correct answer anyway! The un-p.c answer would be that I preferred the second season a whole lot more because I worked on it!!