Mehwish Hayat, as well as the producer-director duo of Nabeel Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza, have so far had a spotless record in films — no flops, only blockbuster hits.
Fahad Mustafa, too, has had it going smooth largely — a non-starter Mah-e-Mir notwithstanding. In fact, given the kind of cult following he enjoys, it isn’t hard to believe why he should be completely unfazed by the failure of a random project.
This Eid Al Adha, all these successful Pakistani stars are coming together on a project, cleverly titled Load Wedding. Cleverly, because weddings have always made popular cinema in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent, be it in terms of songs or elaborate sequences; they bring in family audiences.
In a chat with Gulf News tabloid!, Qureshi, Hayat and Mustafa talk about the pressures and living up to the huge expectations, with a film that is set in a small Punjabi neighbourhood and which shines some relevant light on social issues faced by the lady health workers in Pakistan.
The film promises a bunch of strong characters culled from everyday life. Of course, if the promos are anything to go by, all this is packaged in a sweet and simple love story, with some foot-tapping music. Check out Good luck and you’ll know why.
Excerpts from the interview follow:
With ‘Wedding’ in the film’s title itself, a play on ‘load shedding,’ and a bunch of very relatable characters… Would you say you’ve hit the perfect recipe for box office success this time around? Do you have less fears now, compared to maybe when your first — or even second — film was releasing?
Firstly, I don’t believe in any recipe or formula for box office success. If there was one, every producer and director would have it and they’d be successful. Secondly, the fears that you are talking about will always be there, every time you roll out your film, because cinema is one of the world’s most unpredictable businesses; it involves a great deal of risk-taking. So, there’s nothing as a foolproof plan. We’ve seen some great disasters and some huge surprises. Having said that, me and Fizza [co-producer of Load Wedding] believe in a good script, and whatever our gut feeling tells us, we go with it.
All your (three) films have been blockbuster hits. Did the expectations weigh you down when you began work on Load Wedding?
The pressure’s there for sure. In fact, it only increases with every hit you have given. But we enjoy that; it pushes us to do more.
Do you agree that Punjabis are shown in a certain light — and stereotyped — in popular cinema, in terms of the way they speak, whatever they speak, their mannerisms, their sense of humour, their rituals etc.?
See, popular cinema of the [Indo-Pak] subcontinent has created a stereotypical image of every thing under the sun. For instance, Bollywood always shows Pakistani Muslims in a certain way — the men are invariably dressed in shalwar kameez, and they’re sporting prayer caps and often also holding a beaded rosary in their hands. But we know for a fact that that is not what every Pakistani looks like.
As for Load Wedding, yes, we’ve shown a Punjabi family settled in a small town, but it’s a very realistic depiction. I think this film shall break a lot of social stereotypes.
You have worked mostly with Mehwish Hayat and Fahad Mustafa. Do you actually write scripts picturing them in mind?
Mostly, yes. I believe that when you start scripting, once the story is on paper and you begin to develop the screenplay, it helps to have an idea as to which actors could be playing the characters in the film. When you know them in terms of their physical appearance, their talents etc, you can shape your characters accordingly. But I always have one or two options in my mind, in case Fahad or Mehwish aren’t available for my film. (Laughs)
People bracket you and Nadeem Baig together as the best filmmakers Pakistan has today. Who do you see as your competition?
I definitely see Nadeem as my competition, especially considering box office.
Are there any directors whose work has inspired you greatly?
I love Raj Kumar Hirani’s work. I like some of the works of Imtiaz Ali and Anurag Kashyap. I am also inspired by [Quentin] Tarantino and Guy Ritchie; these are the directors I follow.
You’ve been part of three of Pakistan’s highest grossing films of all times — Punjab Nahi Jaungi, Jawani Phir Nahi Ani and Actor In Law. Do you feel the burden on your shoulders is less — or more — this time over, and why?
With every film, or every successful film, for that matter, the burden only increases. You now know that you have to be even more careful. I also believe that my becoming nervous or scared isn’t going to make a difference; what matters is how well you performed a given role. When I am shooting, I put in my 101 per cent; I give it my blood and sweat. I hope we are rewarded duly.
Somehow you’ve always got to play strong women on screen. Why, in your opinion, do you attract such roles? Is it by virtue of some trait in your personality?
No, this is my own conscious decision; otherwise I am offered all kinds of roles. I choose characters that have something for the girls out there to follow. As an artist, I can only inspire; and if I can do that much, I am happy. I don’t take up an acting assignment just for the heck of it, whether it’s Punjab Nahi Jaungi’s Amal who is from a privileged background and has a mind of her own; or Load Wedding’s Meerub who is a health worker based in an old neighbourhood of Lahore.
Yes, it has to do with my own upbringing: I’ve been brought up by my mother who is a very strong person; and, growing up, I’ve been around some very strong women. I want to be like them for other girls.
You also sang in Coke Studio, but you haven’t given playback to any films. Why?
Because that’s not my call. If I play a singer in a film, that might be a good occasion [for me] to sing for my character, in order that it looks more real.
Your performances have been appreciated by critics and audiences alike. Yet, by and large, the best actress award has evaded you. Does that make you doubt the veracity of award shows?
Not at all. But I do believe that the shelf life of an award isn’t long; you get the best actress trophy, you go back home ecstatic, the jubilations last how long? Maybe a week? Then what? You’ll have to come back soon with something worthwhile, otherwise you’ll be gone and forgotten.
You are starring in two of the three major Eid films. If they both do well, there’s no stopping you. Are you excited?
More than excitement, I’m nervous this time because when you have one project coming out, you direct all your energies to it. Promoting two films at the same time is a tad tricky; also, because I have to keep the goings-on at both ends confidential.
Tell us a bit about your character in Load Wedding vis-a-vis the one in Jawani Phir Nai Ani 2?
They are completely different from each other. I always knew that the two [films] would be releasing simultaneously [on Eid Al Adha], so there was this constant thought in my mind that I should not be repeating myself.
In your acting career so far, you have played diverse characters — be it Mah-e-Mir’s unhinged poet or Na Maloom Afraad’s small-town smart alec. But it is your common-man roles in films like Actor In Law and, earlier, in TV plays such as Main Abdul Qadir Hoon, which earned you popular appeal. Is this your mantra to connect with the mass audiences?
I believe I am people’s champ; I am not your typical poster-boy, dreamboat kind. I believe in selling stories that boast interesting, everyday characters. Besides, every story has a protagonist; call them hero of the film or whatever. So, my mantra has just been to pick and choose the right scripts as well as the people I work with; and half my job is done.
You host a game show on TV that records huge TRPs. But in Load Wedding, you are taking the mickey out of such shows. Is it about being able to laugh at yourself?
We haven’t really made fun of this kind of shows which you now see in plenty on TV. Maybe, a little! (Laughs)
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Load Wedding is out in the UAE on August 23.