“There’s so much beauty here” – Interview with Aleem Shah by Mushba Said

To many, Hyderabad is a small city a few hours away from the mega-metropolis of Karachi; a city which many call, in Karachi’s comparison, smaller, quieter and duller in every sense. But Hyderabad is also home to a promising talent for the country’s visual arts scene: Aleem Shah.

Aleem is a nineteen-year-old student with an avid interest in film and visual art— an interest so strong that it influenced him to start showcasing his own work. He is the creator of two Facebook pages, No Life Doodler and Arcane Aesthetics; the former page is showcasing his digital art, the latter some of his short films, as well his cinematographic photography, which often uses his ‘dull’ home town as a subject. His compositions are of everyday objects one wouldn’t bat an eye at, but he makes us view them in a different light. His images feel like the paused scene of a film; images you can hear, smell, taste, feel; images that are like profound moments, about to reveal a great new story to us. Aleem makes us realize that our society and environment is a breeding ground for artists, providing them with subjects to talk about and care about. His perspective has been influenced by every aspect of his surroundings, whether it be the buildings, the culture, the people, the animals, or the seasons—a perspective that let’s you see what you previously couldn’t: the Art, beauty and the arcane aesthetics of Hyderabad and Pakistan.

I had the opportunity to interview Aleem online, below is what he had to say.

Do you just go out and look for things that interest you to shoot them, or do you like to specifically plan out your films and projects?

Most of the times I plan out my projects, I have in my mind what I want. For example, when I’m going out to do my photography, I have in mind what kind of pictures I’m gonna take and that’s the goal for the day. With Film projects, I have a basic script with all the pointers I write down on my phone notes.

You live in Hyderabad. One of my friends is from there and she’s in awe of how beautifully you capture that city, because “there’s nothing interesting there”. So my question is, do you see Hyderabad that way, or is it you applying your film maker style to your immediate surroundings?

I don’t think there is anything not “interesting” here in Hyderabad. For me it’s not about what’s there, it’s about how I view it and what I want to show. I’m not looking for big sky scrapers or anything fancy, I’m showing it the way I want to see it. It’s small compared to rest of the cities and I believe that’s another kind of beauty to it.

One of the most fascinating things about your blog is how you view your immediate surroundings; where people romanticise about the West, you portray how beautiful our surroundings are …  is that like an intentional underlying message? Because it has that effect on me. Or is that how you see things?

I don’t see why people romanticise the West or anything else when there’s so much beauty here. Again, this is not the kind of “beauty” like big palaces, or big buildings or huge forests or anything like that. I’m talking about the everyday life; more and more I try to capture that. It just feels good to be part of something so big. You see these people in the streets, going off to work, coming back from work and you’re in there—right in the middle. I don’t want to take photos that are easy or in the same zone and I don’t want to make my films about people going to expensive parties and what not, all that stuff; that’s not me. I want to make realistic films about people you see in these little cramped up streets everyday of your life, but somehow you choose to ignore that. I don’t get why.

Would you see things any differently if you were somewhere else?

I don’t think so. It depends on where I was and that’ll be my identity. I’m from Pakistan, so that’s my identity. Growing up I felt reluctant towards that notion, but now I feel like it’s a part of me. I can’t change that. I grew up here, I’m living here; somehow I feel obligated to showcase it and I feel no shame in it. Nor do I feel immense pride in it. I just feel good about it, I feel satisfied and that’s all there is to it.

How have people responded to your work?

I’m not sure, I’ve had my days when I used to paint – I’m on a long break right now – when I felt like people weren’t interested in what I was doing. They were more into mediocre stuff that was easily available to them, even I felt like either I wasn’t good enough or I wasn’t at the right place. I know so many underground artists who go unnoticed because the people here, they’re reluctant towards change especially when it comes to Art; very few people are willing to accept the new wave of photographers, filmmakers etc. But then again, a lot of people love my work, I get messages from people that they absolutely love the way I light my subjects or how I edit the pictures and there are actually people here, perhaps less in number, but they are eager to see more.

Is this [Arcane Aesthetics] a side project that you have for now, or do you wanna build this, and your art page, into something bigger?

This all goes to my portfolio basically; I wouldn’t say this is a side project because this is pretty much my main project, haha! I’m not interested in anything else apart from Art. It has consumed my life, so yeah hopefully it may or may not turn into something bigger, I’ll let that be and continue doing what I do.

How are you so talented at 19 man? My friends and I studying design came across your work and we fangirled so hard like WOW.

I’m not sure how to answer that, but it’s really not all about talent.

So I suppose the real question is where does this sense come from? Are you someone who reads about film and photography techniques online? Or are you someone who simply learned through observation?

Both! I read about film and photography all the time when I’m online; I’m a cinephile. I have an extremely large collection of films, around 500gb on my pc; Hollywood, Bollywood, Russian, French, Bengali, Korean, Chinese, Irani, you name it. I’ve literally memorized names of directors and their films; I know their different styles and everything with specific details. I’m crazy about it, I’m absolutely obsessed with cinema. I observe their work and I try to work around it; I take what I like and I ditch what I don’t and then I mould what I “like” to something that’s personal to me; it could be inspired from somewhere else, but I do it my way at the end.

What equipment do you use? Is this all smartphone work? O_O

I started with my smartphone, but now I use a Cannon DSLR. Eos 700d model and a 50mm lens.

Do you want to study film making in the future? Please say yes; we need filmmakers like you!

Definitely. I plan to study filmmaking in the future and have goals to become a real Director or Cinematographer one day.

What are you doing right now basically; what are you studying? What are your plans for these pages? Any big projects?

I’m in Inter-Second Year at the moment. Giving my exams then soon will be applying for some Arts University. Plans for these pages? Well I’ll just keep creating art and posting it here. Big Projects? Hopefully a short film soon after I’m free, writing it at the moment.

Would you like me to mention any specific links? 

The pages are fine, just link them. Oh, and maybe my insta: @nolifeoodler; trust me it’s not filled with selfies, no lie.