Qaisy and Laila is the first local film to be shot in war-torn Quetta, a border town between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Budgeted at RM2.3 million, Qaisy and Laila is love story between a Malaysian non-governmental organisation volunteer and an Afghan man working as a translator in the war scarred land.
The cast and crew spent a month in Quetta to complete the filming. In an interview with theSun, Habsah Hassan (pix, left), who co-produced Qaisy and Laila with Ruhani Abdul Rahman, elaborates on the challenges faced during the shooting.
Habsah, who also wrote the script for this movie, had previously produced three other films, namely Hati Bukan Kristal, Soal Hati and Soal Siapa.
How did you get the idea for this movie?
It happened in 2003 when I was attending a dinner function organised by Mercy Malaysia. The organisation showed clips on the horrifying situation in war-torn Afghanistan and the lives of the people who are victims of the war. Their plight touched me. Then an idea struck me. Why not make a film depicting the situation there? As for my research, I talked to 10 Malaysian volunteers who served in Afghanistan.
What is your message in the film? Is this an anti-American movie?
It is not anti-American. This not a political movie either. It’s based on the humanitarian aspect, the situation faced by the victims of war. When I wrote the story, I kept asking myself why the Afghans were willing to be suicide bombers, why they would so easily offer their lives for a cause they believed in … I hope the audience will ask the same questions. In the end, I hope the audience will be thankful that ours is a peaceful country, that our people are not living in such dire situations.
Why did you pick Raja Ahmad Alauddin to direct this film?
He directed the first film that I produced, namely Hati Bukan Krystal in 1990 and the movie went on to win six awards at the Malaysian Film Fest, including best director. At the Asia Pacific Film Festival, he won the best young director award. I really believe he is a talented director who has not been given the right break. Besides, we communicate well and he brings out the best in my script. I’m very particular about my script.
Your cast features relative newcomers. Why not hire more established names?
I’ve always hired those who I believe best suit the characters I have in mind. Even for my first film, I hired relative unknowns. In Soal Hati, I gave Afdlin Shauki the lead role — his first. He had only played supporting roles up till then.
I believe in giving new actors a chance. I am happy to say the Nur Fazura and Jehan Miskin, who play the leads, gave convincing performances. Acting coach Normah Nordin did a wonderful job, too.
Tell us your experience filming in Quetta.
Since it’s a war-torn country, to ensure safety, I had to hire bodyguards to be on set. There were occasions when we could hear bombs being dropped nearby. The other hassle was the weather, which was very unpredictable. The nights were cold while the days were extremely hot. There were even days when sandstorms would call a halt to filming.
At first, we wanted to shoot at Kandarha (in Afghanistan). The setting would have been perfect. But we had to cancel the plan as the Americans were still looking for Osama bin Laden and the situation there was tense. I couldn’t put the safety of my cast and crew in jeopardy. So I moved to Quetta, which was reportedly safer.
Why take the risk of shooting in such a potentially volatile area?
I wanted to portray the beautiful landscape and I wanted my movie to be realistic. Given a chance, I would love to go back and make another film in Quetta.
Love in Afghanistan
Produced in digital format, using a videocam, Qaisy and Laila is a love epic that is laced with sacrifice and hope. War-torn Afghanistan brings together two unlikely souls from different cultures.
Qaisy (Jehan Miskin, pix left) is a failed graduated who has returned to Afghanistan after all members of his family are killed in the war. The only survivor is his youngest sister, Nurjanah.
He has to put his studies on hold as his priority now is looking after Nurjanah and the other Afghanistan orphans. He is frustrated by the condition of his country and people.
But he hopes to able to unite his segregated nation. He firmly believes that unity and knowledge is the key to freeing his people from oppression and humiliation.
To support his sister, Qaisy takes on a job as a translator for the Malaysian Relief Team (Merit), an NGO.
There, he meets a volunteer, Siti Nurlaila or Laila (Nur Fazura, pix right), who’s the only child of a wealthy family. The sufferings of the people touch Laila’s heart. She also finds herself slowly falling in love with Qaisy.
The movie also stars Umie Aida, Radhi Khalid, Ridzuan Hashim and Rahimah Rahim. It will be released at the end of the year.