For a man who has spent his entire career in one line of work, Razaq Baloch has managed the seemingly impossible: a diverse portfolio of accomplishments and an extremely broad worldview coupled with a strong sense of modesty.
A gentle giant, Baloch stands over six feet tall and is always in the mood for a quip and a laugh. When asked about how he defines himself in terms of work, he self-deprecatingly responds that he is trying to find a job. This description is far from being apt; with over 15 years experience as a production professional in the US, many of which have been spent heading his own New York-based production company, Vision Unlimited, the job has always had a way of finding Baloch.
From the Lux Style Awards, live transmissions of national events, cultural shows and documentaries on Africa, to TVCs for Pakistani, Afghan and Indian brands, Baloch has a huge body of work. Not bad for someone who started from scratch as the third assistant cameraman at International Studios in Sohrab Goth in the early 80s. When Baloch talks to students and young producers, he tells them that his success came overnight, but that the night was 15 years long.
This statement is typical of the hard-working man who spends 200 days a year travelling across the world even though he is not fond of travel, loses weight as a result of stress when working on a live production, and has been planning to retire for the last five years but finds that he has to keep extending the date every year because there is too much to do. This is hardly surprising considering that a regular work week is “25/8; 24/7 is simply not enough for me.”
Of the many projects he is currently working on, nothing is closer to his heart than the documentary on the Indus Valley Civilisation which he has personally researched for the last decade. When it’s done, Baloch hopes it will be shown as part of the curriculum in every school in Pakistan. Why?
“Because all we have is a two-page lesson on Mohenjo-daro in our textbooks and we need to take greater pride in our heritage.”
Unlike many people who migrate to another country and choose not to look back, Baloch has always been connected to Pakistan. When he first established his production company in New York in the mid-90s (roughly five years after moving to the US), one of his first acts was to convince Pakistani brands and agencies to shoot their ad films in New York. Next, he managed to claim the title of being the first person to live telecast the Pakistan Day Parade to 120 countries around the world. This was followed by a number of cultural shows with Pakistani artistes in the US.
Although Baloch has worked on plenty of American productions and claims that he is the first Pakistani to work with Indian production companies on Indian brands in India, his link to Pakistan has only strengthened over time, to the extent that he now travels from New York to Karachi twice or thrice a month.
Why does he do that, I wonder out loud? He grins and tells me that his sons (nine and 13 years old respectively) ask him the same question and often suggest that he embrace digital methods to conduct his meetings in this part of the world, i.e. via Skype. Incidentally, this is yet another Baloch-ism; he works his family into every conversation.
Back to the point, however, Baloch is not keen to work remotely on any project that involves a Pakistani crew.
Pakistanis, he says, still have the “supervision mentality; if you don’t stand on their heads, they won’t do it properly.”
However, this is only partially the reason for continually returning ‘home’. While in Karachi, Baloch always finds a reason to hop across the border to Mumbai and Kabul.
His association with the latter country began when Karim Rammal (former CEO, JWT Pakistan) invited him to produce a TVC for Roshan Telecom (one of JWT’s first client’s in Afghanistan) in 2005. The hardy Baloch, who has often been exposed to inclement weather and less than perfect on-ground conditions in his line of work, enjoyed the challenges Kabul offered and has returned regularly to work on commercials, documentaries, and even a series of promos for an Afghan election campaign.
In spite of all his accomplishments, Baloch’s happiest professional moments remain the ones that are the most challenging. For example, while he does not particularly enjoy shooting commercials anymore, he still loves big spectrum, large scale TVCs, where he has to hunt down locations and is exposed to the elements. As he talks about the thrill he gets from his work, I get a sense of how vested Baloch is in everything he does, regardless of whether he enjoys it or not.
However, this kind of mental, physical and emotional investment comes at a price: exhaustion.
“I have given up sleep as well as my comfort zone and I had to make many sacrifices,” says Baloch, wearing his hard work on his sleeve like a badge of honour.
Although he admits that he now works “smart, rather than hard,” I suspect he is far, far away from anything close to a retirement. When I present him with this thought, he grins sheepishly, as if to confirm my suspicion. Certainly, his current projects will ensure that he is busy for some time. These include the Indus Valley documentary, two full length feature films (one set in New York, the other in Afghanistan) and a number of TVCs around the Subcontinent.
But if all this work is enough to make a ‘regular’ person feel accomplished, Baloch is far from being regular. He wants more, not only for himself but also for Pakistan.
“There are so many subjects to cover in Pakistan; so many things that we need to document before they disappear. And I feel strongly about giving back to people.”
Thus for Baloch, his 15-year-long ‘overnight’ success story is really only the tip of the iceberg.