Hardly three years into the entertainment industry and he makes his film debut, opposite someone who is undoubtedly Pakistan’s biggest female star today; Mahira Khan, and in a film directed by one of the best Pakistan has to offer in terms of direction, Asim Raza. Has there ever been a leap as expidicious as his?
Acting debut with TV serial ‘Merey Dard Ko Zuban Miley,’ and from thereon to touching television heights with the super hit ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’ and then ‘Aasmanon Pay Likha,’ he has said his good-byes to TV now and will be exploring himself on the big screen with his debut film, ‘Ho Mann Jahaan,’ coming on 1st January 2016. Sheheryar Munawar everyone! We interviewed him ahead of his debut film release, and he shares with us pretty generously.
So here you go.
Aayan Mirza: Acting debut in 2012, and now Ho Mann Jahaan. In a country where there are still not many films being made. You have been quite choosy with your projects and the journey says that they were all mostly right calls. A new actor usually doesn’t behave that way. Even Amir Khan did multiple films at the start of his career. What made you a sensible actor that way?
Sheheryar Munawar: You mentioned 2012, I also graduated that year from IBA, and before that I was modelling, hosting and all that stuff, something that was getting me by, or pay the certain amount of my college fee. I always wanted to be behind the camera though, learn the direction and I would say I was always creatively more inclined to it than acting, but when I did dramas, I realised unfortunately that it is not going to teach me anything about direction, unfortunately that’s how the state of affairs were of the drama industry. Even acting wise I thought I was struggling, so rather than just doing work, minting money, and just getting by things I did not want to get into the mediocrity of, what I did was that I started working with Asim.
I have been working with him for two and a half-three years now, as an assistant director earlier and now as a producer MashaAllah, and now I have made my directorial debut with the new Sprite commercial as well, the one where everyone is jumping and all. So while I was doing that, I started working on my craft as an actor as well. But the choosiness that you talked about, it’s just that I am generally a very choosy, picky person, it’s something in my nature, something that makes me do less work and be satisfied with it, rather than doing more work and regret it later.
Aayan Mirza: In Ho Mann Jahaan you play Arhaan. Arhaan in the equation of three and then his separate part with Soniya Jehaan’s character, how would you define your role in the film. What should all those people who will be watching the film because of you expect from your character?
Sheheryar Munawar: (Laughs) well, all those waiting for the film because of me should go to cinemas with their friends and families on 1st of January and discover the actual answer to it for themselves. But seriously, what one should expect from Arhaan is that first of all he is a complete 180 degree from what I have been doing earlier, and Arhaan is completely different from my own personality as well, as an individual, the way I have been brought up, the society that I have grown up in, so I had to work really hard on it from the pronunciation of certain words to his walk, clothes, eating habits, and all. I had to learn playing guitar and riding bike which involved three-four months of rehearsals.
So what one should expect from Arhaan is that he is just like any other guy my age right now, because of his ambition, things he wants to do a lot in life, he feels that he has to become a rockstar in life, and I am not saying rockstar in terms of rockstar, but whatever he wants to do, he wants to be best at it. But in that ambition of his, he is in so much hurry that he wants to achieve everything very quickly in life, making him commit some mistakes in those hurries. He has this quick sense of humour, and a bit of arrogance as well, but that’s just there to hide the insecurities inside, like we all do in our lives. So not a complete white or black character, he is pretty grey, which makes him quite real to life. Watching it I think out of 10 boys my age, eight of them would be able to relate to him. Basically a journey from being a boy to getting into being a man.
Aayan Mirza: Acting teaches you vague things. If you are doing an action film, by the end of it you would probably come out knowing self defense, or knowing how to hold a gun. What did Arhaan’s character teach you? We saw you playing a guitar in the film? Do you really know how to play a guitar?
Yeah that’s true, that’s the interesting part about being an actor at times, you get to learn new things every now and then. For Ho Mann Jahaan, basically for three months I took guitar lessons and learnt that, not to the point of becoming Slash I would say of course, but I at least I knew how to play the songs that I had to perform in the film and that was very important because I think that authenticity only comes when you actually feel like a musician. I wouldn’t feel like a musician unless I would pick up that guitar and when the director would call ‘Action!’ I used to feel that I would play such an amazing tune that everyone would go crazy, so you get that confidence and you start feeling as if you are a musician.
Similarly, I didn’t know how to ride a bike, I learnt that because it was demand of the character, in fact in some particular scenes there were some stunts required by my character that I performed myself. I got so inspired by it thatI just bought a bike for my own self, a classic 1962 triumph. And for my next project InshaAllah, I am training really hardcore everyday, taking mixed martial arts classes which is quite an interesting experience.
Aayan Mirza: You are a Bachelors in Finance from IBA, and then there is a fact that you were raised in the same society and went on to become an actor. Two contrasting careers. How much can you relate to the character specifically and the story in general?
Sheheryar Munawar: Basically our message in the name of the film was also that ‘jahaan aapka dil ho, waheen aapka jahaan ho.‘ So the idea is that do what your heart tells you to do and it has a very obvious rationale, just look at how many bankers are here in our country, too many to count, right? But how many make it to the top or are considered the best, hardly 2% of them, the reason being that those 2% have their heart in there, into what they do. Same goes for every other profession. That’s the message we are giving out. So I believe it was very relate-able since in real life I chose to do something which was completely different from what I studied, but fortunately enough my parents have been very supportive and told me that ‘listen, you have to live your life, you have to think about your financial stability, you have to think about being independent at a certain point, so if it makes sense to you, if you are happy doing it, then it doesn’t bother us.’
Aayan Mirza: Putting money into something isn’t of course easy, and putting a lot of it in a Pakistani film, where returns are never really certain combined with the factor that you were also acting in the film, how difficult or easy would you say was it to make that decision and then juggle between the two acts?
Sheheryar Munawar: See, a producer not necessarily puts his own money, he gets finances and that’s scarier. I just turned 27 this year which means if I lose my own money, I won’t mind because this is the time I can take risks in life. But when you have to answer back to a lot of other people as well, then you are actually scared. But we worked on it in a methodological way, and my degree in Finance really helped me there. We analyzed the market, the potential, screens coming up, the screen situation by the time we release the film, the market strength and a complete feasibility which I’ll be honest wasn’t really very positive. But we saw the growth in the industry and that was motivation enough. Also from your first, making money isn’t the biggest goal. You are just trying to cement yourself in the industry and then you go from there. And now we have started a company MashaAllah the idea of which is to explore a business opportunity in the industry and develop it, so if God willing, next year we will do another film, and the year after that we will do three more, so we want to be serious content generators.
About juggling between production and acting, it was very difficult. The good thing however was that as an actor because of the homework I had the luxury to do and because I wasn’t doing dramas and wasn’t jumping from one shoot to another, I had time to work as an actor on my craft and with the three month homework I had come into my character. Also when you have a director like Asim, you don’t have to worry about anything else. You do your homework and then you let Asim takeover and that’s what I did. Being the producer on the other hand was really difficult because everything from scripting to pre-production to art direction to selecting actors to music, we have been working 14 to 16 hours everyday for about year and a half now and in between that I also did commercials, as I just told you about my directorial debut. So I guess it’s been really interesting, but I am really grateful to God that I got the chance to do everything I wanted to do.
Aayan Mirza: Asim being your director in the film, and you being his producer, and then him also being your partner in crime as far as the production goes. How interesting was it to be his boss at times and then him being yours?
(Laughs). Asim has got twenty to twenty-two years of experience in the industry and is surely one of the most respected individuals here, and even the corporate clients of his haven’t ever been able to play boss with him. So no one is Asim’s boss. But I guess we have a mutual respect for work and we have a level of trust where we share ideas and argue it out sometimes. We realised that we are like-minded in a lot of ways so a lot of times he would let me take calls and then these other times he would be the one calling shots. So working with him was a lot of fun.
Aayan Mirza: Looking back at the entire Ho Mann Jahaan journey, what do you recall as your favourite most moment from the time. Any particular moment or scene that just stuck with you?
Sheheryar Munawar: The thing is that as an actor I was just acting but as a producer I was married to this project for like a year and a half, working for at least fourteen hours everyday. So if you ask me about one particular day, I wouldn’t be so sure because then with that approach you can’t get up the next day and go to work. We celebrated almost everything, from celebrating the first scene written to the completion of script and then celebrating the shoot to celebrating the culmination of Chitral spell, and then the release of the BTS video, so we literally celebrated each and every feat that we had accomplished along the way. And that’s the only way we could work and get that kind of output out.
Aayan Mirza: You were actually supposed to do debut with Hamza Ali Abbasi’s Kambakht, what happened with that film, and is it really coming out any time soon?
I think Hamza Ali Abbasi has become a politician now, and a social activist maybe. So his activity sometimes goes left, sometimes right and I don’t know where he actually stands but he is a very good friend of mine. Honestly, I feel it’s a very dated content right now, it was an interesting script but now it’s very dated, old content. Our production values have become better and I don’t think Hamza is planning to take it out any time soon and I would not let him take out either. And I would go on record to saying that if he wants to take it out right now I would not have anything to do with it.
Aayan Mirza: As an actor with your debut film done, in a very budding film industry. What else do you have on your plate? Also any plans to return to television?
Sheheryar Munawar: MashaAllah I have got few scripts for films that I am working with and that’s actually what I want to do in the coming years as an actor. I would want to do one or at max just two films a year, and between that if I can get time I would want to be doing my production and my direction work, and that’s all what I want to do for the coming years. So suffice to say I don’t plan to leave the industry but I simply want to be doing more than just acting.
- Hamza Ali Abbasi or Adeel Hussain, as co-actor?
2. Mahira Khan or Sanam Saeed, as co-actor?
3. Your pick, and one pick only from the music album of Ho Mann Jahaan.
Umm, Baarish…actually no, I have been saying Baarish but lately I have really got to liking Mann Key Jahaan again. It’s one of the songs that just grows on you.
4. Zindagi Gulzar Hai or Ho Mann Jahaan?
Ho Mann Jahaan any day, any time, anywhere, a hundred years from now. I think Fawad [Khan] would give you the same answer, he has done this small role in the film but if you would ask him the same question he will give you the same answer.
5. Had I not been an actor, I would have been?
A director but I am also that… but had I not been an actor, director or producer then I would be travelling the world doing nothing, just trying to make living and travel the world, I would probably be a street urchin or a street hawker trying to make living but travel the world nonetheless, and I guess I am getting to do that as an actor or producer because everyday there is a different life.
6. This one famous character I think I would have aced at had I played it?
I think Hugh Grant’s character in Notting Hill.
7. Favourite film?
I have a lot of favourites, from all kinds of genres, I really like Closer of Julia Roberts and Jude Law. Then I really like Birdman as well, also a big fan of Martin Scorsese, so all his films, Wolf of Wall Street was amazing, back from the days his Raging Bull and then Taxi Driver, and then the Guy Ritchie movies, big fan of him.
8. Favourite actress?
This is a tough one, but I have got two, one is Julia Roberts and then the other one would be Penelope Cruz.
9. Meera or Mathira?
Meera any day.
10. This one director I would love to work with?
That’s it from this one guys, we hope you enjoyed it.
Interview by Aayan Mirza, taken on 16th November 2015.