Asad ul Haq: “Blonde hair will never suit Desi skin.”

By Team FUCHSIA
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Ali Zafar dancing with Nargis Fakhri in a Mobilink Jazz ad; the one-and-only Nabila smiling in an Olpers ad; dhol waalas coming out of the gates of Lal Qila in Lahore to Morven Gold’s Rhythm Of Unity; and last but not least, the famous Don Carlos ad with actors in mime.

 You will agree with me that those who have seen any of these advertisements, will not forget them. The Rhythm of Unity and Don Carlos ads were hugely successful simply because the concept, execution and direction was far beyond the standards of the time, making the team behind them a pioneer, a trendsetter in the industry. And the person behind that team is the season commercial director Asad ul Haq of Ambience Films.

Asad has worked with the top brands in Pakistan – Coa-Cola, Mobilink, Olpers, Telenor –  just to name a few. He is known also for excellent cinematography in commercial films. With the recent revival of the Pakistani film industry, Asad decided to make an entry under the banner of Shiny Gun Toys, setting the industry abuzz with excitement and talk. Everyone is eager in anticipation to see what new trends he sets with Dekh Magar Pyaar Say, given his reputation of conceptual and executional excellence. Surely we were not about to let the chance by for a conversation with this cinematographic genius of a director

FUCHSIA: You have been directing advertisements for many years now. How has the Pakistani audience of advertisements evolved since then?

They have not evolved in some places (I hate to admit I think we have regressed). Everything is not about selling; it’s about having a brand to identify with. In our advertising it’s about being the loudest, meanest on media budgets, and as crass as possible so you can win the marketing battle. I think a few years back we were still heading towards greener pastures; nowadays it’s about all being the loud mouth. Most agencies are not doing anything about it, just look around and see what gets thrown into our faces. It’s a rehash of a rehash of a rehash. But then you get some jewels, which kinda break through the clutter and give you that little smile, a little hint of joy, bass.

FUCHSIA: What would you say to the Asad who broke into the industry, if you had the chance to have a cup of coffee with him today?

Keep the ones who are loyal to you close, and your enemies even closer. We have expanded but in Pakistan, we are not yet ready to think bigger then ourselves. I have been trying for years but nobody is ready to leave their four walls of comfort so let’s not try!

 

And … blonde hair will never suit desi skin!!!

 

FUCHSIA: What is the most important characteristic one needs to have, to survive in Pakistan’s television/film industry?

You need to be headstrong and ready for anything. You need to have a say and be counted for, you need to raise the point that “I am here and I am ready to play” every day. I never used to think like this, but as I jumped on the Shiny Toy Guns banner, I realised how little I knew about PR and the media. Now with Dekh Magar Pyaar Se (DMPS), I am everywhere, and it will count in the end; to take this platform of our industry little higher globally … hopefully.

FUCHSIA: Why is DMPS going to succeed; what does it have going for it?

I can’t forecast the box office; no one can, actually, but I am hoping that a love story would work nicely. DMPS is highly stylized; I do not think even India has gone down this route yet, It’s got glamour, it’s very cinematic, and yes, we have the best lead I could have asked for. The music rocks too, as it was hand-picked. Mooro’s tasweer has been on my playlist for a year, and I specifically wrote a situation for that in the film so I could use it, Soch brought so much to the plate; I met them a year ago on Kaala Doria Mix as I always wanted to reboot an old tappa. When they sent me the first draft I knew a desi dance number is a must! They ended up doing 4 songs for me in the end. And if all this does not work for the audience, then what definitely will work, is how divine Lahore looks in the film – the film can make you fall in love all over again.

FUCHSIA: You were working with a new artiste (Sikander Rizvi), and a seasoned one (Humaima Malick). How did you balance directing the two?

I think we were all learners on the set; that’s why it was such a great high. I have never done a narrative before. Siki was very new and he worked hard for his part; he work-shopped with my team for 2 months to nail down his lines and acting, We would record stuff and play it back to him with our thoughts, and he would be the first one to pick up something new. Humaima walked onto the set, and immediately we knew who the star of the film would be. She is just a joy on the camera; my gora cinematographer, Nic Knowland, just fell in love with her. Each time we would wrap up a shot, he would say that the way she catches the light on her face and is seen through the lens is pure magic. Not many leads have that effect; in the end it is not about seasoned or new, it is about the chemistry, and I think we had that. They both look good together, and chemistry comes through. Just look at the 3 posters we have.

FUCHSIA: Shiny Toy Guns claims that “DMPS will be a true manifestation of our culture and music captured in breathtaking visuals.” How does a film that only a portion of Pakistani society can truly relate to represent “our culture”?

Take the name. How much more desi can you get? Lahore. The rickshaw.I have always believed in mainstream cinema; it gets you going every single time. Go watch it, eat mixed popcorn or a Mars bar in the case of my wife Farah, have a Sprite, and you will come out of the cinema smiling, hand-in-hand – I promise you. I will not let your mind wander to the government, the power shortage, the mother-in-law visiting or the next trip to the in-laws … it will be pure paisa vasool …….Inshallah!

 

FUCHSIA: 45 days of shoot – why this kind of tight strict timeline? How did you ensure you didn’t compromise quality in the process?

You cannot say you did or did not! I only had so much money to spend, that’s the producer in me talking. I told my team this is my wish list, so long as we do not compromise on the deliverables, let’s make it happen. It was a constant struggle but I am proud of my team from Ambience, who I borrowed for the film, for making it happen! Our initial schedule was for 40 days and 5 days were back-up. We used every second of those 45 days, never rested, never went off course … not even once. Even the last shot of the film in front of Saint Anthony’s Church was to the tune of Fajr ki azaan in pre-dawn light. So yes it was a feat in itself; will we ever do such a thing again, I do not think so, but in our field, we do say ‘never say never’.  

FUCHSIA: We heard you recently lost your father. Tell us how your personal, emotional and spiritual realms inspire/affect/influence your creative and artistic expression.

I lost a big chunk of my life. We were close on a very different level. He would know all my TVCs; he would keep my newspaper clippings, and was very keen for me to spread my wings and get into features. I am just dying to see my name on the screen at Capri Cinema in Karachi, where years ago, I would go with him to check on the air-conditioning (his company did that). He would leave us two brothers in the projection room, where we would each get to watch the screening movie through a small hole as he went for an inspection round. We were not allowed to go into the theatre to watch the film; he would say that to take up a seat is to take money out of the cinema revenue for the day, and he would not allow that for free.

 

I guess the screening of DMPS completes a cycle of life for me which started years ago. I just hope that when the film ends, my parents up there will be proud of something their Asad has done, and hopefully they will be hand-in-hand feeling that way.

FUCHSIA: If you had the chance to go back and change one thing in DMPS, what would you?

I do know but I am not telling!

And there you have it. Asad ul Haq, himself, inviting you to experience his latest creation, Dekh Magar Pyaar Say, with popcorn in your hand, spouse by your side and smile on your face.

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About Team FUCHSIA

This article is the collaboration effort of several members of Team FUCHSIA.