Somewhere in the idyllic countryside of Faisalabad, Pakistan, Fawad Khagga, a dhoti-kurta-wearing, semi-literate and sturdy milkman (gawala, in vernacular) with the proverbial heart of gold and an exhilarating capacity for native humour, is rooting for his lady love Amal, who lives literally at the other end of the spectrum — a thousand miles away — in the city of Karachi.
They are separated not just by the physical distance that exists between the two states of Punjab and Sindh, as much as their social standing and upbringing.
Yet, there is some ‘fault’ in their stars that pulls them towards each other. And this forms the basis of Punjab Nahi Jaungi, Pakistani cinema’s latest offering, which releases on August 31 in the UAE and other countries.
Starring two of Pakistan’s most favourite artists today — Humayun Saeed and Mehwish Hayat — PNJ comes with a barrage of feel-good promotionals that have already won a huge response on YouTube.
Fans of Saeed and Hayat are especially excited to see them together after last year’s hit drama serial, Dil Lagi.
The film’s songs are becoming a rage, and so are the few dialogues that are advertised in the promos.
Hayat’s emotionally charged declaration, “Punjab ab kabhi nahin jaoongi! (I won’t go to Punjab ever again),” in particular, has become viral.
Social media is buzzing with posts, chiefly from other actors in the fraternity, suggesting ways to Humayun’s character in the film on how to woo the girl back to Punjab.
Meanwhile, team PNJ which also includes actors Urwa Hocane, Ahmad Ali Butt, and Sohail Ahmad, has just wound up a racy world tour.
But before they jetted off, the stars made an extended promotional trip to Punjab.
And, why not: Punjab lends the film its name and is also supposed to be an important metaphor for this romantic comedy’s varied emotional landscape.
The sight of fancy horse carriages running wildly through the colossal gates of a gorgeous haveli (mansion), amid mad dhol (drum) beats; the eye-popping mustard fields that the merry village girls are seen crossing with colourful pitchers skilfully balanced atop their heads; the elderly men in the house, sporting stately turbans and awe-inspiring moustaches, cheering one another; the profuse references to Heer and Chenab... are all so warm and beautiful, they make you fall in love with Punjab.
For his part, director Nadeem Baig promises that PNJ’s Punjab is “different from the cliched images you’ve seen in various Bollywood movies.”
Gulf News tabloid! has an exclusive chat with Saeed, Hayat, and the PNJ director, as they talk Punjab and more.
This must have been the longest that a film team stayed in one city — in this case, Lahore — for promotions. Was it because Lahore is the capital of Punjab?
Nadeem Baig: That was one of the reasons, but we toured other cities of Punjab also. We’re sure the people in the region shall be able to connect with our characters and story very much. Which does not mean that the non-Punjabis won’t. [Smiles.] By the way, we have a Karachi ki larki [Karachi girl] in the film, too...
Mehwish Hayat: That’s me. [Laughs.] I am taking care of that part.
Baig: Also, Punjab is the biggest market for films, so we wanted to dedicate more time to it.
Humayun Saeed: We did five to six magazine covers during our stay there, visited a number of cinemas and shopping malls, recorded interviews for different media outlets, met the bloggers, and so on. We even celebrated my birthday here. [Smiles sheepishly.]
Director Nadeem Baig with actors Mehwish Hayat, Humayun Saeed and Ahmad Ali Butt, at a press conference promoting ‘Punjab Nahi Jaungi’, at the Roda Bustan Hotel, Dubai, last Thursday.
Punjab is rich in valleys, mountains, rivers, and also heritage sites — from the palaces of Bahawalpur to Lahore Fort, and archeological places like Harappa. Which parts of the province shall the film take the viewers on a trip to?
Saeed: Lots of places, actually. For instance, Gulzar Mahal, which is an architectural marvel. Also, Darbar Mahal is breathtakingly beautiful. If you view it at night time, it shines out like a bride in her full glory. If you notice the film’s theatrical [trailer], it ends on an exterior shot of the palace. We incorporated that on purpose.
Hayat: All these places are pure magic.
Ahmad Ali Butt, Humayun Saeed and Mehwish Hayat.
Humayun, did you personally do the reconnaissance along with the director? What was your criterion for selecting shooting locations in Punjab?
Saeed: Yes, I did the recce along with Nadeem [Baig]. The choice of locations was made according to the script only; nothing that didn’t make sense was picked up.
Baig: Exactly. We don’t believe in going to the Alps to shoot a song without a reason.
Saeed: Of course, aesthetic is always a consideration but it must be justified. For example, we had to shoot at a haveli, so we picked a place that looked awesome and was also a fresh location; that is, it hadn’t been exposed in a Pakistani film before.
Tell us what came first — the dialogue “Punjab ab kabhi nahin jaoongi” (I won’t go to Punjab ever again), or the title of the film?
Baig: The title came first. The dialogue was born when Khalilur Rehman [Qamar] sahib was writing the scene.
This line sounds rather strange, doesn’t it? We don’t normally say, “I won’t go to Punjab or Sindh,” we mention the city. Comment.
Hayat: Well, there’s a reason for my character [in the film] Amal to be saying it like this. Nadeem can explain this better…
Baig: I believe Punjab has a much wider meaning; it’s not actually about a province but a ‘mindset,’ so to speak. So, that’s what Amal is hinting at in the film.
Hayat: Let me add here that we’re talking about a girl [Amal] who isn’t normal anyway. So, permit her whatever she has to say. (Laughs)
Humayun, you play a Khagga in the film. The Khaggas are traditionally a Seraiki-speaking tribe, largely found in south-western Punjab. You seem to have acquired a peculiar accent to suit your character. Did you improvise it or simply followed the director/writer’s instructions?
Saeed: I was only following Khalil sahib’s instructions. He would read out my lines to me, with complete accent, and I’d try and imitate that. Every time I tripped, he’d correct me. Nadeem also trusted him to be pitch-perfect.
Baig: For instance, there’s a dialogue that goes, “Main thak gya hoon.” [I am tired.] We spent a good while discussing how to say it like the Khaggas would do. Humayun was insistent that stress be put on ‘tha’ but I wanted it to be on ‘k’.
Hayat: I play a Karachi girl which I am in real life also, so I had no such issues of intonation etc.
A scene from the film being shot, featuring Urwa Hocane and Humayun Saeed.
Do you know any real-life Khaggas?
Saeed: Of course, we do. Vasay Chaudhry [the scriptwriter of Jawani Phir Nahi Ani]’s wife is a Khagga.
Baig: She’s been telling us, ‘Aap logon ne khaggon ki izzat rakhni hai!’ (You guys have to make sure we aren’t disrespected).
Hayat: We haven’t projected them in a bad light anyway.
Saeed: No, we haven’t.
Mehwish, the character you play was originally offered to Iman Ali who turned it down apparently because Humayun Saeed is doing all the comedy in the film. Did you ever feel the same way?
Hayat: No, I didn’t. I was just concerned about my role and whether I was performing well. In fact, I loved my character the moment it was narrated to me. I couldn’t wait for the camera to start rolling.
Saeed: Actually, you know, Iman [Ali] is dying to do comedy. I hope to cast her in an out-and-out comic role in a future production.
Actors who’ve done films with multiple leads are often asked if there were any issues that they faced. Tell us, instead, if there are any advantages of doing such a film?
Hayat: For one thing, the audiences don’t tire of watching the same one or two faces throughout the movie; they crave variety. Besides, they are excited to see everyone’s chemistry with everyone. Lastly, I think that having a number of leading characters means adding richness to the screen. It eventually goes in everyone’s favour.
Baig: I think supporting leads are the pillars of any film. There are many films in which we remember the supporting characters more than even the main leads, because they were so well-written and well performed. Look at Ahmed Ali Butt; this guy stole the limelight in Jawani Phir Nai Ani.
Urwa Hocane (centre).
Fans of your hit TV serial Dil Lagi can’t help find similarities, especially in Humayun’s chemistry with Mehwish. Do you think this shall work in favour of the film or it could spell monotony?
Saeed: I can say with certainty that when the audiences watch PNJ, they’ll forget Dil Lagi. The characters and situations here are different, the premise is different, and there is so much else we have to offer.
Hayat: This film takes our jodi [couple] to the next level.
Baig: Honestly, this [comparison with Dil Lagi] is not a disadvantage, because we are talking about a play that the audiences loved. They want to see Humayun and Mehwish together again, even if they find some similarities. And I don’t think this translates as monotony.
Hayat: Of course, it doesn’t!
Saeed: A lot of people have told me that Dil Lagi should have been adapted for the big screen.
Hayat: Or, that there should be a sequel.
Director Nadeem Baig is another constant here. Besides, music composers Shani Arshad and Sahir Ali Bagga come together with you on a film for the second time in a row. Is it a conscious effort to build a ‘dream team’?
Baig: See, it’s very difficult to find likeminded people, those who can actually understand what you are looking for. So, when you find them, you don’t feel the need to work outside of the group. And, this happens everywhere in the world.
You’ve also repeated Bollywood choreographer Shabina Khan.
Saeed: Shabina and we have developed a great rapport. Besides, and perhaps more importantly, the fact remains that not many Indians can travel easily between the two countries. The visa regimes are so strict that they often feel discouraged. With Shabina, mercifully, we didn’t face any such problem.
Baig: Also, Shabina is very talented. She is one of the leading choreographers of Indian film industry today.
Hayat: Have you seen her recent work in Prem Ratan Dhan Payo? It’s mindblowing.
Finally, Khalilur Rehman Qamar is best known for epic romances like Pyare Afzal and Sadqay Tumhare. What made you choose him to script a comedy?
Baig: Trust me, in PNJ, you’ll find a totally fresh Khalil sahib at work. Even we didn’t know he had a lighter side to him. Besides, he is a Punjabi, so that helped in developing nuanced character details.
Hayat plays the lead actress in ‘Punjab Nahi Jaungi’
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Punjab Nahin Jaungi releases in the UAE on August 31.