Film-maker Farooq Beg: ‘The only training I had was in cutting people open’

Farooq Beg. Photo: Danyall Beg Farooq Beg. Photo: Danyall Beg

Farooq Beg is currently directing Ishq, a musical inspired by ancient Sufi folklore celebrating 70 years of Pakistan’s independence. He tells Giverny Masso how the show is a love story of female empowerment.

How did you become a film-maker and director?

I worked previously as a surgeon. When I started making films they became very popular. I duped the health authority I was working for at the time into letting me make my very first film, Cancer – A Word Not a Sentence. All the women who were my patients were asking me: “What happens to women who have cancer?” I felt I had to do something about it. I never had any training in theatre. The only training I’d had was in cutting people open.

What is Ishq about?

It is very much a love story. I thought let’s turn the original story on its head. In Ishq, there is this woman who asks: “Why should I be married against my wishes?” The script is very much about the empowerment of women – how a woman shook society. People should go and enjoy the whole show, it has a very tense story and a powerful message. I always believe in breaking the mould. We always do things that people say can’t be done.

What is the message of Ishq?

It’s about diversity: that we must integrate. Five people in the production come from Pakistan – it’s a very mixed cast. We may encounter problems when our cultures come together, but people must not assume it is a sideshow: it is a mainstream story of human integration. I hope we can do something like this again, but sadly these kinds of things happen once every 10 years. I tell the team: “You are not doing a show – you are creating history.”

As well as directing Ishq, you also wrote the lyrics. Why?

We couldn’t find anyone, so I decided to do it myself. It took me about a week to write them, but I don’t know anything about music.

You created a show at the Rohtas Fort in Pakistan, a UNESCO world heritage site. What was that like?

We had no idea how to do it, so we just went ahead and created a spectacular show. It was about the life of the Sher Shah Suri, the one great king. When we were performing at the fort, I went and sat at the top, which was 100ft up. It was breathtaking. During one of the performances, God decided to participate in the sound: there was thunder and lightning all around while the people watching were having barbecues. It was unbelievable. We did a show for the president, which was a bit more sophisticated. In our minds, we were trying to restore history.

CV: Farooq Beg

Training: None
First professional film: Cancer – A Word Not a Sentence (1981)
Agent: None

Ishq runs at Sadler’s Wells, London, from September 7 to 9