For The Love Of Cinema – Talking Movies With Mehreen Jabbar

By Rabia Mughni And Farah Haq
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It’s a Mehreen Jabbar production.

You know you will watch it. You have to watch it.

Her film, Ramchand Pakistani, won multiple international and local awards in 2009. Dramas like Daam, Vasl, Mata-e-Jaan Hai Tu, Coke Kahani, and Jackson Heights are just a few from a long list of her directorial brilliance. With these projects, Mehreen Jabbar has given audiences entertainment, creativity and, many a time, thoughts and issues to mull and ponder over.

How does one carry the responsibilities as the daughter of one of Pakistan’s most successful media personalities? Does one not get overshadowed by a father’s legacy? How does one not simply become a continuation of his style and work?

Well, Mehreen carved out a space for herself in the Pakistan entertainment industry, with a unique and unbeatable style, giving one hit after another, each outshining the previous. Her passion for the creative process and focus on the end-result reflects in every piece of her work.

FUCHSIA: Ramchand Pakistani and Dobara Phir Se – two films with very different concepts, entirely different projects. How? Why?

I think Ramchand Pakistani was an incredible experience because of many reasons. Firstly, the time when it came, it was pretty much barren landscape in cinema in Pakistan with a few Punjabi and Pashto films. Ramchand Pakistani was developed with the help of my father who brought the idea to me based on a  true story; and then with 20 people who volunteered, invested and contributed money to make it happen. So the whole process was very different. Then came a gap of 7 years because nothing else happened, which is when I went on to do a lot of television.

Dobara Phir Se came about when Bilal Sami and I were writing another script over the past 3 to 4 years. It wasn’t a love story. It wasn’t a very commercial script, so we felt that the interest would not be there at that point. Bilal and I sat down for 8 hours and came up with the very simple love story of Dobara Phir Se and presented it to Jerjees Seja, JJ, of ARY, and he really liked the idea; which is how the wheels got turning.

FUCHSIA: So, now that you are done making Dobara Phir Se, would you categorize it as commercial cinema?

I don’t know how to define commercial cinema because everyone has their own version of it; and I don’t even like the delineation that ‘this’ is art cinema. A film should entertain, move, inform, educate or make you happy and even think … which can be through either commercial or art cinema. I’ve always been against compartmentalising cinema like that. So let’s just say that Dobara Phir Se is neither your Devdas nor is it a Ramchand.

FUCHSIA: Some recent Pakistani films have been regarded as the revival of Pakistani cinema – was watching them a learning experience for you in any way?

Actually, what I am very excited about is that in the last 2 years, there has been a variety of films that have been made, which is really encouraging. It shows that everyone has tried to do what they want, and I hope that this trend continues, and that the big studios and production houses don’t get into the idea that ‘this made money so let’s go on to produce fifty more of these’. I like the fact that there is a variety like Moor, Jawaani Phir Nahi Aani and Manto. In terms of learning curves, one always learns by watching films from all over the world, and not just Pakistani films.

I’ve never shot songs before, so it was fun to shoot them in a film, and I did look at some of the wedding songs that have been shot in Pakistani and Indian films to see how they do it.

FUCHSIA: When a production does so well, does it scare you that you might not be able to deliver the next time?

Always! I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and you can’t expect everything to do well, so you have to be ready for criticism. Thankfully, I learned this very early in my career. It’s not that you become immune to criticism, but you try and not let it destroy you because it is tough. You’ve produced something on which you have spent 2 to 3 years of your life, and you get a reaction like “Yeh kya tha?” and “It was boring”, which is really not a nice experience. I just want to make the best thing that I possibly can, and I feel that the reception by an audience is very unpredictable. At some point you have to stop caring, and just focus. I do hope Dobara Phir Se resonates with the audiences and am excited to bring it out there. 

FUCHSIA: Is there space for many players to experiment in the Pakistani film industry, or is it a monopoly?

Obviously it’s a new market and those with the most resources and infrastructure will get monopoly. But look at the range of films, from Waar to Manto to Mah-e-Mir to Jawaani Phir Nahi Aani to Wrong No. It’s not as if we are just producing one kind of cinema; but, again, I think that my fear is that this kind of variety will decrease, which is what happened in Bollywood. When big studios and big money get involved, then sometimes you leave out the independent or experimental voice. That independent voice is important in Pakistani cinema since we are growing. What we can do is, I hope, more and more people with money come in because more and more cinemas are being made, and we have a vibrant cinema-going audience in Pakistan. As more private investors come in, it widens the playing field.

FUCHSIA: You chose Adeel Husain & Ali Kazmi for your first commercial movie instead of mainstream film industry names like Hummayun Saeed or Shaan.

It was primarily because they suited the characters; these were specific casting decisions – they fit their characters like a glove, which I felt was great. Sanam Saeed has a great fan following, Tooba Siddiqui made a comeback and Ali Kazmi was reintroduced with Jackson Heights. But I think when you see the film, you’ll be able to understand why I cast them. Yes, I do agree that they are not the ‘chhammak chhallos‘.

FUCHSIA: What is your favourite dialogue from the film?

Dobara Phir Se.” You’ll see how it’s used, so it will make sense.

FUCHSIA: What makes a successful production?

While it is a mixture of cast, direction, audience and marketing … the script has to work. If the script is strong, then bad camera angles can be overlooked, and maybe even not-so-top-notch acting; but if your script is terrible, then nothing can save it, not even the best-looking actors or the best cinematography. No stress to scriptwriters, but that is the foundation. Also, if you have a good producer, you’re in heaven.

FUCHSIA: Do you think we need an acting academy in Pakistan?

I think National Academy of Performing Arts is doing a great job, but now there are more people entering this business. This is the first time so many young people are entering this field, and so many are interested from all kinds of backgrounds … so I do think there is a need. I know of a few universities that offer small courses but I think it needs to be more accessible to the middle-class or lower-middle class students so it is more spread out, rather than just for the elite.

FUCHSIA: So will we see Mehreen Jabbar going down that path of an acting academy?

I want to; I think I want to be less selfish, and do something. It is much needed; not just acting but all the other kinds, especially script writing … that’s where we need it the most.

FUCHSIA: Is the Pakistani film industry betrayed by actors who start working in Bollywood?

I think all our actors know that they can’t lose their ties with Pakistan. But you have one life, you have your career of acting, and wherever that takes you, whether it’s India or Timbuktu, you should go. Why be limited? We should explore the world. Even our films should go out, and not just be shown in Pakistan.

FUCHSIA: What does Mehreen Jabbar want to achieve in the next 10 years?

I really want to get a great awesome body. I want to lose 10 pounds and continue to sustain that in my old age. I want to start eating healthy, I want to travel, and really not ever be caught in a rut or routine. I hope I have the money, time and ability to travel the world. I want to have the time to go to museums, see plays, and listen to a lot of music. Basically I am describing a retirement life.

Well, Mehreen, FUCHSIA is all for your lifestyle of retirement, but we do hope it’s a long way away… we hope we get to keep seeing your work onscreen… Dobara Phir se. 

Transcribed by Anum Anwar:

Anum Anwar has done her bachelors in BioMedical sciences from Singapore. She is a big fan of documentaries and street photography. Her hobbies are baking and drawing. She truly wishes to travel to photograph people of different cultures and get to know them. So we might see her doing something like humans of New York but with a twist.

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About Rabia Mughni And Farah Haq

Rabia founded FUCHSIA in 2013 with the help of a passionate, determined and aspiring team. She holds a Master in Business Administration with a Marketing Major from IBA, Pakistan. At FUCHSIA, Rabia oversees the Marketing and Public Relations work. She is also part of the Editing Team in conceptualising articles and monthly issues. Farah is one of the pioneers of Team FUCHSIA and feels deep pride for her work with the magazine. Her role at FUCHSIA involves the overall coordination of the Fashion segment, and she is also FUCHSIA’s official photographer. Her fashion consultancy and expertise allows her to put together a relevant, informative and interesting Fashion segment monthly, with the support of Team FUCHSIA. She also co-ordinates the logistics of events for FUCHSIA.

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