Iram Parveen Bilal is a Physics Olympian turned filmmaker. In 2007, she formed Parveen Shah Productions which is a global short and long form media production company that focuses on telling stories that matter - stories that elevate the human condition.

She was one of 15 directors invited to Cinefondation’s L’Atelier at Cannes 2019 for her feature project WAKHRI, based on a social media star in Pakistan.

Her past noted feature length works include Josh (Against The Grain), Pakistan’s first film to be on Netflix and in the permanent selection at the US Library of Congress and The PhD Movie: Still in Grad School.

In conversation with The Nation, she talks about her career and success. Following are the excerpts:

Your latest feature film titled ‘I’ll meet you there’ is based on a Muslim cop goes undercover at his estranged father’s mosque while his daughter hides her passion for a forbidden dance, uncovering a shocking family secret. Tell us something about it?

I’ll Meet You there (Urdu title: Bismil) is an immigrant story about a Pakistani family settled in Chicago. It is an original script; the first one I wrote. It is personal and important, talks about ideology, identity and how one can stay true to themselves and still belong to their family, where family is an operative word. Could mean one’s nuclear family, religious family, or their national identity.

Can you tell us a bit about SXSW, the festival where’ I’ll meet you there will premiere?

SXSW is considered one of the world’s top film festivals. It is often ranked in the top 5 to 10 festivals and to have a film in narrative competition, one out of ten films out of thousands, is an unbelievable honor. Our team is very excited and honored to raise the curtain on the film in such terrific company. We also cannot wait to bring the film to Pakistan later this year.

Do you feel film making in Pakistan has entered yet another golden era, considering the number of independent films which are being released?

Quantity of films is not what we should judge by solely. We need to have a healthy and consistent pipeline of films, of all genres and budget ranges, to really sustain a durable revival of cinema. Furthermore, the culture of watching films in the cinema and making it accessible at various price points is what will really ensure a long life for this industry.

You often choose to tell real life stories with controversial themes. Why?

I’m curious to research how imperfect characters create and resolve conflict in life. Filmmaking to me is a real life lesson. I learn so much about human nature by observing, writing and directing films.

Controversial is a subjective term. I feel we need to broaden our tolerance of various viewpoints and be more flexible in observing and learning about views that might be uncomfortable for us. Growth and learning to me is the only point of life. So why shy away from “controversy”? What’s the point of telling a story we have heard before without any new twist?

What’s your take on Sarmad Khoosat film ‘Zindagi Tamasha that is banned to be released in Pakistan?

I think audiences should be treated with maturity. We should have faith that they can make a judgment on art with their open minds. Censoring art and artists in an otherwise global world is short sighted. Thanks to modern technology, we have access to the world’s innovation at every minute. Who are we kidding by censoring our own artists? A society that can’t be open to processing various points of views will never be able to rise in a tough global competition. We are damaging ourselves by our limited points of view.

You are the founder of Pakistan’s first screenwriting lab Qalambaaz. Why do you feel there is a need for something like that?

A film begins on the page. I feel that our technical filmmaking skills have really improved over the past few years. What is really lacking is the character development in our films. Focusing the effort on the page, before the light, and action, is what makes a film really resonate. I believe it is really hard to mess up a good script as a director, but a bad script cannot make a good film, no matter how talented the filmmaker is. You can’t fix a bad script on set or in post. You just can’t.

Would you like to tell us about your upcoming projects?

Our next project is the Cannes validated project, WAKHRI, to be shot in Lahore in 2021. It is inspired by social media influencers and is a take on the modern, tech-influenced world we live in, with all its opportunities and demons.