Javed Sheikh talks to Instep about directing Wujood, the changing landscape of movies and why he is optimistic about the future of Pakistani cinema
Javed Sheikh is a man known for doing things differently. He was an integral part of the partial revival Pakistani films went through in the 90s, both as an actor and as a director. His directorial feature film, Yeh Dil Aap Ka Hua, changed the way films were being made in Pakistan and he has kept his persona alive through the many characters he has portrayed in films over the years. Apart from acting in films, these days Sheikh is busy calling the shots for Wujood, his own production that will see him take on direction duty after a gap of eight years.
Instep got hold of the maverick director and asked him about everything filmi. An excerpt from that conversation…
Instep: First things first… How did you manage to cast super-stars such as Nadeem sahab, Shahid sahab and yourself in a film together for the first time in four decades?
Javed Sheikh (JS): All three of us have been working since the 70s. Shahid sahab and Nadeem sahab have done a lot of films as have I. But the three of us never shared the screen together even once because when Shahid sahab was on top of his game in films, I was busy with TV and when I re-entered films, his career was on its way down. I had seen a lot of his films including Umrao Jaan, Tehzeeb and always wanted to work with him and Wujood gave me that chance. We needed two character actors to play the patriarch(s) of two families and decided to cast the two stalwarts who readily agreed. Unlike these two, I am playing an investigative officer who is settled in Turkey and comes in to solve a case.
Instep: Did you write the script according to these great actors or did you select them after the scripting process was completed?
JS: I never select actors before the script is finalized and Wujood isn’t different in that sense. Had I been a producer/director who chose people before scripts, I would have asked the scriptwriters to write the film around me (laughs). Filmmaking is a serious business and I take it seriously. Believe me, I was not in the mood to play detective in my own film; it was my team that convinced me to do so.
Instep: Why is the film called Wujood?
JS: I can’t disclose the details but it’s a well-thought out title. We have a boy in search of a wujood and a girl in search of the same thing, hence the film’s title. It will be clear to you after you watch the film.
Instep: You are introducing two new actresses in Wujood. Tell us something about them.
JS: I am introducing Aditi Singh and Saeeda Imtiaz through my film. Aditi is a beautiful young actress from India who will make her debut opposite Danish Taimoor. Saeeda is a British model turned actress and she has been chosen to play the second lead with upcoming TV actor Asad Mahmood. We also have Ali Saleem playing a music video director as well as Frieha Altaf in a prominent role. All the actors have been chosen based on auditions and I am happy that everyone was cast as per the requirement.
Instep: You have cast an Indian actress (who is yet to make her debut) at a time when ties between India and Pakistan are not at their best. Why?
JS: We are open-minded people and that’s why I never thought of India-Pakistan while selecting the actors. We had planned to call Aditi to Dubai for her photo-shoot and wardrobe but it was going over-budget so we asked her to visit Pakistan. Her mother was dead set against this idea as TV reports in India paint Karachi as a war torn city. I convinced them by showing them the picture of 100 Hindu Yatris in Pakistan who were visiting temples in interior Sindh and that’s when they agreed to come. We took them around, they met my family and she got attached to the cast and crew. After one week she didn’t want to go back to India as she was having a lot of fun. She went back to India and told them that their perception of Pakistan is totally different from reality. She also came back for the launch and since then has been asking me about her next visit.
Instep: It has been 15 years since you made Yeh Dil Aap Ka Hua. Don’t you think cinema has changed a lot since then?
JS: It has and for the better if you ask me. When I made Yeh Dil, the film industry was going through a bad period. Had film directors, in those days, made an effort to raise the bar like I did, we could’ve survived.
Yeh Dil was a trendsetter in Pakistan as it was our first Dolby Digital movie; it was mostly shot in Europe and also featured Indian playback singers among other things. Everyone in the industry had declared it a flop even before it released but I knew that my product was good and I was confident. In the era before multiplexes, it was a film that defied the odds and was shown to packed cinemas with ticket prices raised. It was declared a box office hit as it recovered the investment. I want to bring change just like that this time around as well.
Instep: Your last production, Khulay Aasman Kay Neeche, could not do well despite having tried and tested faces. Wujood, on the other hand, features mostly debutantes. Was this a conscious decision?
JS: An accomplished filmmaker never makes the same mistake twice. After Khulay Aasman Kay Neeche, I decided to take a break and come up with something fresh and different. In Wujood, I have not cast any member of my family although they are doing very well in the field. The story (and the genre) is different and I am hopeful that my film will do well when it is released on Eid ul Azha, later this year.
Instep: You are directing a film without two of your trusted comrades – Amjad Bobby and Waqar Bokhari. How does it feel?
JS: I miss Amjad Bobby and Waqar Bokhari, both of whom had worked with me in every production of mine from Mushkil to Khulay Aasman Kay Neeche. The music of all my films had been composed by Bobby sahab while Waqar was the cinematographer for all these films. This time around I am working with music director Sahir Ali Bagga while Asif Khan, who shot Main Hoon Shahid Afridi and Mah-e-Mir, is my director of photography.
Instep: This Eid ul Azha, three big budget films (including Punjab Nahi Jaoongi and Na Maloom Afraad 2) will release simultaneously. Don’t you think that it will adversely affect box office collections?
JS: All three films belong to different genres and I believe that all of them will do well. It should be taken positively because earlier on we used to release one film every Friday and now we have more films and less Fridays.
Instep: Don’t you think that we should not release Bollywood films on significant occasions such as Eid so that our films can do better business?
JS: I agree with your idea one hundred per cent and this way we will give more screens to our product. Indian films don’t depend on the money they earn from Pakistan but our films have no other avenue. The censor board and the government should seriously consider this idea so that we can compete with ourselves. Bollywood films can be released a week later.
Instep: You have worked in both Pakistan and India. Would you agree with the notion that films can help in creating cultural harmony in times of severe discord?
JS: I have always been treated well in India and have never found myself to be an alien in the neighboring country. However, after the recent elections that were held in the state of Uttar Pardesh, I am wary; they have elected a Chief Minister who doesn’t like Muslims. There isn’t much difference between this guy and Donald Trump and things don’t look good in the long run.
Instep: We release big banner films during holidays but the rest of the year is punctuated by low quality content. It sends potential viewers away because no one wants to waste hard-earned money on less-than-average efforts. What are your thoughts on this?
JS: You can’t stop people from making films anywhere in the world. However, it is our duty to produce good films that entertain people. This is our start and we should let new people make films; trust me, they will filter out after their films don’t get the expected response. From this Eid onwards, we will have better films in cinemas. 2017 is going to be the year of Pakistani films!
Instep: You have been a part of several films in recent memory but the roles were lacking. Why did you opt for these films?
JS: I am a human being and to err is human. I shouldn’t have done those films; it was a mistake on my part.
Instep: Has the ban on Pakistani actors in Bollywood affected you particularly?
JS: It didn’t affect me much because I am currently busy doing films in Pakistan. I am in Cape Town one day, in Poland the next day and later in Turkey and sometimes in Pakistan. I was supposed to play Kareena Kapoor-Khan’s father in Anil Kapoor’s Veere Di Wedding but it got delayed, first due to Kareena’s pregnancy and later due to Indo-Pak relations. In this period, our industry has found its ground and we are making good films and I am glad to be a part of most of them.
Instep: You are not doing television these days. Is that a conscious decision?
JS: I am glad that we have options now. Right now, I have eight films and one drama under production. You tell me which field should I prefer?