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From ‘Khamaaj’ to ‘Baaji’: A conversation with director Saqib Malik

Saqib Malik’s name needs no introduction when it comes to the arena of music video and ad film making. With videos like “Khamaj”, Ali Zafar’s “Dekha Jo” and Ali Azmat’s “Na re Na”, this powerhouse of  talent has proved himself time and again.  Saqib has been gearing up for his big screen debut since long and now all speculations about his film debut have been put to rest as the director is nearing  completion of his upcoming film titled Baaji, we thought it as the right time to catch up with Saqib himself to get an insight into his film specifically and his take on the cinema in general. Here are the excerpts from the candid conversation of our editor Azadar Kazmi with the man who gave us all time classic Khamaaj.

Saqib how’s the shoot of your debut feature film Baaji  going on?

Its going pretty well Alhamdollilah, as film is almost complete. We are left with just one song and a few scenes following which the film will be entering its post production phase.

Great. Let’s take our conversation in rewind. You earlier debuted in the cinema medium with Love mein gum’s title song. How has been your experience of directing that song especially when you pulled off the exhausting task of getting the whole industry on board in it?

Yeah, initially I was a bit apprehensive about Love Mein Gum’s title track, because I thought people will inevitably compare it with title song from Om Shanti Om. But later when I heard the song done by Ali and on Reema’s insistence, I agreed and we decided to put the song  in end credits and use it as a promotional song and also we took on board all celebs from fashion, drama and film, giving it a different touch. Now when I see it, it makes me feel elated because it turned out really well and has a place of its own. It kind of represents our industry as a whole.

You also later directed dance number of Humayun Saeed’s Mein Hoon Shahid Afridi, featuring Mathira and Mahnoor. Having worked for two different film directors, you ever sensed any frustrating urge to make your own film and instead of working for others?

Oh yes, definitely. Even while shooting for Humayun’s film I was planning to come up with my own film. Its been 8 to 10 years even before cinema revival started. My first  film would have been Ajnabi Shehr Mein that I announced in 2005 even before Shoaib saab’s Khuda Key Liye but the film had to be shelved for some inevitable reasons when the producers backed off from the project at eleventh hour. The same project was submitted with Geo Films but by then the idea had become obsolete considering the fact that every project has a shelf life. Then ten years later we worked on a different film with Geo films again, but that project was also rolled back when Indian films were banned and cinema was feared to see a backlash in terms if its sustainability and growth. That’s when I thought to make my film on my own when I came with the idea that we later developed in the form of Baaji.

So from where did you conceive the idea for Baaji ?

I have always been fascinated by Meera’s personality as an artist and always wanted to work with her on a contemporary film. Also I had some characters in my mind which I thought if tailored into a story could impregnate a good film. I went to Irfan Urfi, a famous Islamabad based story writer who then wrote the film for me and he really has done a good job with it.

Why Urfi? What made you feel that he is the right person to write your project?

I had seen his earlier works before and I was introduced to him by Suraj Baba. Considering the Urfi’s writing style and the wavelength we were sharing when I met him, landed me to rope him as screen writer for the project. He’s from an era where writers used to create mature content and even for Baaji he has done stupendous job in writing its screenplay.

How was your experience of working with Meera Jee?

I feel Meera as an actor has been underutilized. Same goes for the actors of her era who all are being neglected and are not given the proper exposure that they deserve in this modern cinema. As far as experience with Meera is concerned, initially I was a bit nervous, though i have directed her in music videos and ad films before, but there was a concern as she has worked in an entirely different film industry and environment before. But the experience of working with her was really good as she put all her dedication and effort in the role that was specially written for her and when you see her work you will find it outstanding InshAllah.

There have been rumors that this film is based on Meera’s life. Is that true?

No, Not at all. Its not based on Meera’s life. Its about the fall of once a superstar and rise of a new actor. But Meera is playing the role of a film actor so naturally you will get to see some similarities between her and the character otherwise its not based on her life.

Baaji has been through a lot of cast reshuffles since the beginning day, from  Mawra to Humaima and now Amna the film has been under news radar for quite a while, what was the reason of that?

This whole story is a different “film” in itself and deserves a separate sitting to discuss (chuckled). But all I would say is that all is well that ends well.

So are you satisfied with your final decision of taking Amna Ilyas on board?

Oh yes. She is a very dedicated actor and she strikes me as Neeli. Her face, her personality, there is so much resemblance. And also in her approach to work and in her intelligence she is like Priaynka Chopra. The way she  owned her character is just marvelous. She is so dedicated to her work that she would reach the set at just one phone call of mine. I feel she is going to be future’s most successful film actor.

The male actors in your film aren’t that well celebrated as compared to the female stars. Was it done  intentionaly considering the fact that its a women centric film and you didn’t want male actors to steal the limelight?

No! No! Its not like that. Granted the film is female centric but the male characters in our film are equally powerful. This is what we did intentionally to avoid the general trend wherein female centric films the male characters get sidelined and vice versa. Baaji isn’t your typical hero heroine’s film despite being a very commercial project. It caters to all ages and all classes. All the male as well as female actors are casted on the basis of their talent and not their box office bankability. My male actors may not be Fahads or Fawads but they fit their characters like glove. From Osman Khalid to Mohsin and Ali Kazmi everyone has a different fan following and different appeal. Last but not the least, I will mention Nayyar Ejaz who has given the best performance of his career that will be remembered for ages.

How would you classify your film according to its treatment and subject? Is it like Madhur Bhandarkar’s cinema considering its based mainly on showbuizz?

My film can be classified and compared to multiple type of cinema but certainly not Madhur’s works. Its more of a classic Hollywood cinema and our own golden age cinema of 60s and 70s but in a contemporary way. To me Madhur’s work has been pretty average especially when it comes to screenplay. Madhur sticks to one background in a film while our film explores multiple themes and subjects in a non superficial way.

Baaji is a contemporary film based in today’s time contrary to the popular belief about the film. Its not a period drama or based on old lollywood of 70s. Its all about today’s time when Lollywood is fading away and new cinema is taking its place.

Who has done the music of this film?

The music is done by various musicians including Zaib Bangash, Taha Malik and Jamal Rehman (who did music for Sarmad’s Manto)  and also the very senior musician from Lollywood Taafu Sahab has composed two special 90s styled songs that will serve as treat for cine goers.

Any dance numbers in your film? 

Yes, there are some really wonderful dance sequences in the film ranging from a Lahori commercial stage number, to a classy ballroom waltz number. We also shot a club number that should get everyone moving. I love dance and with great dancers like Meera, Amna Ilyas ,Osman Khalid Butt, Mohsin Abbas and Ali Kazmi, it’s been a treat to shoot them. We also have a surprise up our sleeve but can’t reveal that yet.

Since the film is based on lollywood, does it have any cameos?

There are cameos but they are surprises so lets not reveal those before the film’s release but there definitely are some Lollywood cameos.

Your directed music video “Khamaaj” is an all time classic. What’s your personal favorite  music video that you made?

My personal favorite is Ali Azmat’s “Na re Na”. Its very different from my other work.

Talking about revived cinema, what has been your favorite film in the post revival phase of cinema?

Amongst the recently released I loved Load Wedding for it had all the elements of a commercial film with a strong screenplay and characterization. But overall my favorite would be Meenu and Farjad’s Zinda Bhaag because of its story and different nature. Not to mention “Cake” that’s a class apart film, “uski toh baat hi aur ha”. Everything about it was beautiful and very detailed.

What  variable, do you think needs to get better in our current crop of films?

It has to be screenplay followed by scripts. Film needs to be commercial as well as intelligent enough to engage you so as to have a broader appeal. That’s what we are trying to achieve in our film Baaji.

Azadar Kazmi

Written by Azadar Kazmi

Biotechnolosgist by profession, Azadar kazmi one of the founding members of Pakistani Cinema page is a die heart movie buff. The face of Pakistani Cinema page is currently content head and editor at pakistanicinema.net (Email : [email protected])

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