Her second, Dobara Phir Se (DPS), releases today (25 November, 2016). Her first, Raamchand Pakistani, came out eight years back in 2008 and was one of the pioneer films of what we see of our film industry today.
One of the finest directors Pakistan has, of film and TV, and certainly someone whose work we can immensely be proud of, films or otherwise. Who else but, Mehreen Jabbar.
I interviewed her recently and she had a lot of worthy things to say. Down below is how it went:
Ramchand Pakistani in 2008 and then an eight year sabbatical from films where you did a lot of television work. Despite being one of the pioneers of this revival of cinema in Pakistan, what was it that kept you away from films for so long?
Mehreen: The reason is very simple, the industry here wasn’t developed yet at that time. There were not enough cinemas, not enough investors and so when Raamchand came out, there was Khuda Ke Liye that had come out before and Bol sort of came right after, and then there was a long period when nothing really happened, and everyone sort of took a step back. Even Shoaib sahab‘s next has been announced just now and is yet to start. Eight years is a long time but things do need time to get better. And they are better now and sometimes I really wish Raamchand could be seen by a wider audience, it didn’t run for that long. So maybe at some point. Would love to re-release it.
So not because I didn’t want to make films, but because there was no other way to do local cinema. I got into doing a lot of serials which I don’t regret because I think I did some of my favourite work there.
From the director’s Point of View, what exactly have you tried to create in Dobara Phir Se? Is there a particular genre that explains the film?
Mehreen: I feel it is a genre that has been done before in America or even in India. A love story but not a RomCom, not a laugh out loud, ha ha hee hee sort of film either. It is about love and friendship, but it deals with it in a much more lighthearted way even though it deals with very complicated relationships. To specify the genre, I would say it’s Romantic-drama, that is probably the closest thing to it. It has an original story of course, but films like Before Sunset (2004) and others such; which are sort of all about relationships but are dealt in a more mature, adult way, are what describe it in terms of its treatment, but it is an ensemble film with bunch of characters that differentiate its treatment at the same time.
So that was my intent, because we have had films like Moor, Manto, Dukhtar, which are sort of about social issues, and then we have had RomComs like Wrong No. and Na Maloom Afraad, and then we have had films on terrorism. We are in a budding industry and I thought there should be something more close to what I could do, especially after Raamchand. And so this is my kind of commercial film. (Laughs)
DPS cast says your business sense is Zero. But being a feature film director, one cannot remain aloof to the surrounding market needs, the business sense or the marketing sense specifically. Your take?
Mehreen: I think marketing or having its sense is absolutely important, more so because of the social media and all. There are various avenues now and you can innovate in terms of product projection. But in the sense of making a film for a particular audience, that’s something I have trouble with, I think you should make the best film you possibly can with the absolute desire that as many people will want to see it as possible and will enjoy it. The biggest Hollywood films have failed and they have spent 200-300 million dollars and they thought this formula is going to work, and although they may even have had done well at Box office but critically they are really bad. So you have to be very honest with how you treat a subject and then really hope that the audience likes it. That’s what I believe about it all.
You seem to have an extremely good ear for music. What’s the approach usually? Do you believe in picking the right team, or you are someone who picks up just anyone, dictate him how it’s going to be and get the results?
Mehreen: I am a true believer in collaborations and if I have got a music composer or singer in, I am not going to tell them this is how you do it. I actually got them on-board because I liked their kind of music. For example, Mata-e-Jaan was Waqar Ali and Bilal Khan, and I wanted Bilal in it so I got him over and we discussed how it’s going to be. Same with Daam where Zeb and Haniya had never done an OST but I thought that would be really refreshing. I think it spoils things when you don’t have that knowledge and you just become that arrogant director and dictate. I want to choose my people well so that they can do what they are good at. I don’t have any kamaal in it, just a good ear I guess, yes. (laughs)
What sort of sound have you guys tried to create for Dobara Phir Se?
Mehreen: We have seven songs, three are sung by Jimmy Khan, one each by Urooj Aftaab, Hania Aslam & Ali Hamza, Rekha Bharadwaj, and Shiraz Uppal & Zarneesh. And Haniya has done the background composition too. Seven songs, but there are only two that are lip sync, because it’s a situational kind of film and so rest of the songs are all narrative. We wanted a fresh feel because obviously it is a film about Pakistanis, but it is also set in New York and Karachi. So we brought in all these guys, who are some of my favourites, just to create that contemporary feel. Whether it was Jimmy, whose voice I love, been a massive fan of Zeb and Haniya for years, and same goes for Shiraz Uppal who I really respect, and then of course Vishaal and Rekha Jee, I am a huge fan, so it was great to have them onboard. It was a mix of my taste, the writer’s taste and of course what made sense for particular situations.
Recalling now, in a Raamchand BTS video long time back, someone talked about how meticulous you were about minute little details like the growth of plants over a period of time in film. This looks like a trait of perfectionist. Do you see yourself as that?
Read the response of DPS cast on the same question here.
Mehreen: I would actually really wish that I was a perfectionist. I think I am a mixture of compromise and perfection (laughs). Having been in this industry for so long, having edited a lot of my projects, having produced alot, I have sort of an overall view of what I can manage, and I have become very practical in how I approach things. Now I can throw a fit also if those plants aren’t of the appropriate height, and can say ‘pack up,’ cause a delay and waste money, or I can just simply figure out what to do. So I think direction is all about you come with a plan and you have to be ready to throw that plan out of the window because on set things can really change, and new ideas can come up, you have to have that flexibility.
Anyone who has been in your eyes for a long time but haven’t got a chance to work with yet? Any wish of that sort?
Mehreen: Yes, there are three such very famous, very talented people. Fawad Khan, Saba Qamar, and Fahad Mustafa. I would love to have the opportunity to do something with them.
So honestly, who has been the naughtiest on sets?
Read how the cast responds to the same question here.
Mehreen: Naughtiest… well, Ali is called the Energizer bunny because he is absolute, incredible, good energy 24/7. Even if we want to kill ourselves and want to kill each other and are really tired, he always had smile on his face and was always positive. So, naughty koi nahee tha but he was just someone who lifted everyone’s sprit.
If Dobara Phir Se was being done Dobara Phir Se, one thing you wouldn’t do, or would do differently?
Mehreen: There are few things, but since the film hasn’t come out yet, I can’t really tell you. I think in film or any other project, once you are done with it, firstly it is very difficult to let go because you want to keep making it better, but once you let go and once you see it, then you think , ‘Oh my God, I wish I had done this. I wish I had put the camera here, I could have written or had this scene more expansive. But I am hoping people don’t see it the same way (Laughs).
Your plans post Dubara Phir Se?
Post Dobara Phir Se I want to sleep for one week. And after I wake up, hopefully I do, I have a TV Serial planned, and I am also working on another script with Bilal Sami, an interesting story which we are aiming to make into more of a crossover film because it is based again in America, but I want to sort of explore what Meera Nair and Deepa Mehta have done. Even though the film is about Indians and Pakistanis, but I feel Pakistani Americans also need something that they can own, so would like to explore that market.