How excited are you about your first film? What is your role in the movie?
I think I am much more excited about Revenge of the Worthless than any other actor because I have worked in it as its assistant director as well. In films, an actor is excited to see his scenes first and then he thinks about the rest of the film, which is very much natural but being an Asst. Director the whole film has been shot in front of you. He has to see the film in totality. The experience is amazing. ROTW is like our baby which is finally coming out on 22nd July 2016.
Why should people go into cinema and watch ROTW?
People should go and watch ROTW because we have depicted the reality of Swat insurgency in 2009. Let me remind you that it caused the massive migration within a country. We have shown what actually happened there and one big reason to watch this film is that we have shot it in real locations. We have shown the actual hideouts of militants. People should see the mesmerizing beauty of Swat valley on the big screen as well.
What have you learned as an assistant director?
100 books on filmmaking cannot teach you anything until you go to the set and experience the magic of it. It is just like driving, you cannot learn it by reading the books. You have to sit on the seat.
Being an AD I have learned a lot about filmmaking. The whole process of getting the text to reel life and then the post work to polish it. Setbacks and errors teaches you more; I have taken help of them as well. The experience was worth it.
What will be your priority in future? Acting or Direction?
I am an actor. My priority will always be acting. I am doing direction for a reason and that is to understand the science behind the camera. To keep alive the actor within me, I take help of theater.
Plus, very honestly, acting doesn't pay your bills. Until and unless either you have a godfather behind you or you have spent a decade in the industry. I don't have that support so I am becoming one for all those aspiring actors who want to work in films. This is one of the reasons.
The gel that I use for my hair as an actor is bought with the money I have earned as a director.
And then I know how greatly it would help me if work as an actor for some other good director to deeply understand what exactly he wants from a certain shot.
Film is my passion and anything related to it fascinates me a lot.
You were among the main lead of Anwar Maqsood’s Siachen? Tell us about that experience?
I played the character of a sepoy Musa Khan. People absolutely loved the character everywhere in Pakistan and in Dubai. I think if you know your character really well and if you love him unconditionally, the audience will love him too. The same happened in Siachen. It took me a few weeks to know my character and then I became friends with him. I put all my trust in him and after that I didn't do anything. He took care of me.
And to me it was funny when people would come to see me after the show and congratulate me. I failed in making them understand that it wasn't me. It was my character who is only alive on stage.
Such is the magic of acting.
How is film different to theatre?
Theatre is a scream, film is a whisper. As an actor you have to be loud enough from your movements to your voice that the last guy in the theatre sees and knows what you are doing. In film, that last guy is right in front of you, which is called the camera. You have to minimize your expressions in order to play a character. In theater hardly after 3, 4 rows anyone would notice how many times you blinked your eye. In film people would know better if an actor has a normal eye or one with a dilated pupil. Film is about detail, theatre is about the general.
Do you see a revival in theatre in near future?
I hope so. Yes, new people are doing theatre which is good. They should be appreciated.
How do you rate recent revival of cinema? Do you think we are going in right direction?
No we are not. I do not even agree with the term "revival of cinema" yet. I believe cinema has not been revived in Pakistan at all. It would have been revived if new people come in direction and new stars were made. Coming up from television after building your monopoly there the age of 40 and then opening your own film production house, making your own film and then surprisingly casting yourself in the lead and giving 2nd lead to a new actor who is far much well talented than you, doesn’t mean revival to me. That's my personal thinking.
Tell us about your struggles before people recognized you?
I had no clue how to go when I decided to join showbiz. I remember when I went to a production house in Islamabad, they asked me to bring a portfolio. I didn't know where to get it done from and when I came to know about the rates, I got scared. I didn't have enough money and this is 2010 when baba had passed away. There were these photographers who asked Rs 3,000 for a portfolio. I was in my 2nd semester at that time. I missed my lunch to save up for it and after a few days I finally had a photoshoot. Pictures were of the least quality where you simply change the background to some street in Paris or with Niagara Falls picture. I was hurt to see the output.
When I went for my first video audition, the director recorded it with his cell phone and he didn't even look at me and what I was doing. I also saw him deleting the video right after he told me that he will definitely consider me in his upcoming project.
Then I did a job in a regional television where I was supposed to clean the set with mop right before their live shows. Even for that I didn't get paid for almost 9 months.
Then a time came when I became associate producer in the same place after a few months and got a few shows of my own as well to host.
At that time I didn't have my own car and I would change 3 wagons from my home to university and then from there to office every day.
My mom bought me a camera (DSLR) with which I started practicing. I would do the cheapest photoshoots of people in my university which would get me good money because I had started getting many clients because of the low rates.
They story is very long and I would have accepted myself as a failure long ago but I knew that I am not made to quit.
Do you think Pakistani entertainment industry provides sufficient platforms to youth to showcase their talent?
My views about it have massively changed over the past few months. I would say No. First of all we should accept the fact that we do not have any industry. We have people working individually and making their own projects but unfortunately the bad ones are in majority. I believe if you have the spark and you have decided not to quit then believe me you will get what you want. With saying this, I would also say that to keep your integrity on priority, it is not very easy to work freely till the time there are dirty fishes in the sea.
What do we actually lack when we compare our industry with Bollywood or Hollywood?
We should not compare ourselves to any of the above. They are far ahead of us. But just for the sake of it , we lack that knowledge of engaging audience throughout the film. We have very few film professionals who understand the language of film. We do not have film institutes. We should not compare ourselves to any industry because they have travelled a long way. We are a group of film makers who just got the way to travel.
We also lack unity among the filmmakers. There is no filmmakers’ guild in Pakistan. There is no platform where filmmakers share their work (even the large scale film festivals).
How did media studies help you as a professional?
I have done graduation in Media Studies from Bahria, Islamabad. What I have gained from my studies is the knowledge of audience. I have learned how to cater to the psychological need of audience. The knowledge of what they want at what time and in what way is very important. Eventually you make films for the audience. Plus skills like editing and technical writings have been improved from my studies. And then again , no institute with any degree in film can ever help you more than the practical experience. So that is very important and should never be ignored.
You have launched your own company, please tell us about that.
I have recently launched my own production company with the name Mandwa Films. It is an initiative I have taken to introduce new talent and present some great films for the audience. I have an excellent team working for the company and recently we are working on a film. We are in its pre-production phase and I am very happy about the kind of effort and sincerity my team members are putting into it. We have titled this film Sarang. It is a beautiful story with romance, suspense, action and thrill at the same time. It will be in cinemas next year Inshallah.
We will also be doing auditions for it all over the country within 3 months.
What suggestions would you like to give to inspiring actors, directors and writers?
Just do it. Find your junoon and then think more and more about it. Go to the depth of what you want. Think enough about it that you stop getting ideas of doing anything else other than this. This field is not for the sane people. You should have that insanity to do something if you are thinking to join it.
To actors, I would say do theater. It is very important and more than that it is much more important to stay honest to yourself. Study literature, religion, politics and philosophy. These four subjects are the subjects of an actor. Plus, the most important thing is that if you don't have it within you, do not do it.
To directors, I would say to read a lot. Read as much as you can. Books will take you to places you never even imagined of. It is very important for a director to have good knowledge. Only then you will open up your mind for the creative processes on or off set. Plus don't wait for anything, James Cameron didn't wait to be great by himself. You have to keep on shooting with anything you want of anything you like. You can even use your cell phone camera. Be friends with the camera and it will payback.
To writers, travel a lot and meet new people. Open up for all the observations and then write it down. Read a lot to improve your vocabulary.
To everyone else in the field or outside the field, stay honest with yourself and the people around you. Love unconditionally.