Iram Parveen Bilal has many independent film production credits to her name such as Extinction, Josh: Independence Through Unity, and Dho Dala: The Sin Washer.
Her passion for filmmaking really shines in the films that she has produced. Bilal loves to tell stories. Her most recent film I’ll Meet You There, tells the story of Majeed (Faran Tahir), who is a cop in Chicago and the father of Dua (Nikita Tewani) who is a high school student. Dua’s grandfather Baba (Muhammad Qavi Khan) arrives in town to visit, and there is a generation war that ensues as the three ideologies clash.
The Knockturnal recently got the chance to interview Iram Parveen Bilal to talk about the film and the challenges that came with producing the film!
The Knockturnal: I watched your film and I loved it. What motivated you to tell this story of I’ll Meet You There?
Iram Parveen Bilal: It’s a combination of things. Growing up in Pakistan and then coming to this country as a college student, I kind of see myself as a visionary woman based on what I have seen when I was growing up. Right after 9/11, I saw an immediate reaction that people had to Muslims. I wasn’t really aware of that identity as much because I grew up in a homogeneous sort of environment. And then suddenly, everybody was interested in the fact that I was Muslim. I remember at a community event, I saw this like heavily-bearded, super orthodox Muslim dude who was a cop. I just was so intrigued, and I wonder what his life was like. That was kind of how it started. My sister who taught me how to dance also became sort of conservative. So, there are a lot of personal issues in the cop character and a lot of things that were boiling in me at the time. So I kept putting the film away, and it was the first script I worked on in film school. But then, I wasn’t really ready to tell this story. I would keep rewriting it. I was kind of over the whole conversation about 9/11. So I was like, “You know what, I don’t want to do that anymore.” I think it slowly became an ensemble piece with a lot of my experiences growing up that I made sure to have in the script. After college, I traveled around the world and asked people if they dance because I was so fascinated with the utilization of dance as a tool. I was happy on how it turned out, and I wanted the focus on the film to be on everyone’s point of view.
The Knockturnal: How involved were you with the casting?
Iram Parveen Bilal: I was very involved from the start. I had casting directors for the first time in my career for my film. During the financing of the film, we were trying to find all these Bollywood stars who might be authentic to the roles. I am very particular with language authenticity, and I don’t like fake accents. It did not matter if they spoke English either, but it was important for me to have someone who sounded like they were from their homeland to be part of the cast. On an indy budget, it was a challenge to bring in Quavi Khan because of the visa process. But we were all very fortunate to have him on board when we were on the early stages of us developing the film. Khan has won a lifetime achievement award on radio, film, TV, and theater. He’s also a great person to talk to and work with.
The Knockturnal: The generation gap between the three central characters really was eye-opening to me when I watched it. How did you balance out the point of view between the three characters?
Iram Parveen Bilal: When I was writing the script, I wanted to feel for everyone involved and also thought of how the viewer would see it through their eyes. I wanted the generation gap of the three of them to be front and center of the film. I wanted to showcase how they are feeling about a certain thing during the day, and then when they all return to the home at the end of the day. It was not too hard to balance all three of them since I wanted them all to feel relatable in their own unique way. When I spoke to a father and daughter about the film a few months ago, they both related to the father and daughter in the film in many ways. It was a challenge too because of how cultural it is and I wanted to make sure that these point of views between the three were not more of who you agreed or disagreed within a particular situation.
The Knockturnal: Which parts of Chicago was the film shot at?
Iram Parveen Bilal: We actually shot that in Jackson Heights, Queens, and in Brooklyn. But then I had to split the second camera during post-production to make it look like Chicago. *laughs*
The Knockturnal: I did not know this! I was really convinced that it looked like Chicago!
Iram Parveen Bilal: *laughs* It looked very convincing! I made sure to not have any trace of New York when I was editing the film and shooting too. Also, I was raised in Chicago and I have family over there and I miss them.
The Knockturnal: Did Nikita have to go through dance lessons before she got the role, or did she knew how to dance prior to filming?
Iram Parveen Bilal: She actually has danced! She stop dancing like years ago, so we had a body double and we had a choreographer help her. Also, the choreographer is the woman that plays her mother as well! I knew that I wanted her to be a part of the film. I had gotten some of the music tracks made way before casting was completed. Nikita also had fun practicing the dance scenes because it reminded her of when she used to do it when she was younger. She was really anxious because she’s not a ballerina and that was totally different than what she was used to before. This is where I think that when you have a bigger budget, you can sell things more. I would have loved to have had twelve ballerinas in the class on the opening – and during that opening, we would have discovered the lead of the class which would have been Dua. But, we still had a blast shooting it!
The Knockturnal: What are some of your favorite memories while shooting and producing?
Iram Parveen Bilal: I had walked through sixteen mosques in New York between the weeks that we filmed, and nobody was okay with shooting there. Then, the one day during the schedule where we had a mosque shoot happened to follow the super religious holiday of the Shia sect, which is a minority sect of Islam. That was the mosque that actually allowed us in. They were so open and kind, and they draped a cloth over the entire mosque. So me and my production designer were shooting at night because it was the time that they were not going to be in the mosque. After that, we had to take all of it off and put some of it in the back. It was hard work and the head of the mosque watched some of the scenes that we had rehearsed and shot. We all made sure to respect the mosque and the area we were in because some of the extras have never seen a mosque in person prior to us filming there. It was hard to set up, but the experience was great.