Wahab Shah has been making waves ever since Pakistani cinema has gotten back on its feet over the last few years. The professionally trained dance maestro has choreographed for a number of successful films, including Challawa, Karachi Se Lahore and Jalaibee. Recently he has been in the news for bringing Khilti Kali from Saqib Malik’s Baaji alive on screen with his moves.
When asked about the songs he has choreographed for the AmnaIlyas – Meera starrer, Wahab said “For Baaji I have choreographed three songs, including the main ballroom song ‘ShaamNasheeli Hai’ which features Meera and Osman Khalid Butt, glimpses of which you saw in the trailer, too, the second song is the ‘Khilti Kali’ remake, whereas the third song is ‘Badlaan’, which has been released in montages, but actually that song in the film has choreographed by me.”
Wahab says he had a great time working with Saqib Malik and his team for the film. “We all are fans of Saqib Malik, we know how fantastic he is, his attention to detail is quite precise and he knows exactly what he wants. At the same time, he gives you the full creative margin and liberty. After he gives his team the brief, you have the full freedom to bring on the table your own individual input.” Did things go smoothly on the sets as far as getting work done was concerned?“I was able to establish a beautiful chemistry with him as far as my working relationship is concerned as I am very precise about the kind of work I do,” says Wahab, adding“Whenever I sign on to a film, I discuss with the director about the project’s requirements and then I take the meeting minutes back to my studio for discussions with my own team, where we storyboard and decide on each individual shot. All the homework that I do is presented to the director, and this process is really useful. For Baaji, I did the same, and Saqib was pretty happy with what I came up with.”
The film had generated quite a bit of controversy over its item number Gangster Guria that starred Mehwish Hayat. We wondered what Wahab’s thoughts were on the number. “Gangster Guriais a pretty mazedaar number as it is, Mehwish looks amazing, Osman Khalid Butt has done a fantastic job at creating the moves. If I would have done it – and I am not making any kind of judgment on the song, I would have done it completely differently,” he said. And how exactly would that be?“To make a song look filmeeone has to have some real clichéd filmee things which are presented in one’s own unique way. And I would say it again – Osman has done a fantastic job and Mehwish is phenomenal in the song, but I just feel we have to create our own identity in the song, even if contributes a small fraction to it, creatively speaking. Our own unique identity should reflect in each song that should set us apart from the rest, and by the rest I mean the industries we look up to, such as the neighboring one in India and the current Pakistani films as well. For example, in my song Chirriya (from Challawa) I incorporated small elements that give hints of what I am about or how I look at the song. We have tried to give it a fresh look by using the rallicloth and by using the cages in the backdrop that help connect the song at a subconscious level. As far as Gangster Guriais concerned I love everything about it, but as I explained, I would have approached it from another angle.”
Baaji has opened to rave reviews, and with Wahab having worked so intimately on the film, how was working on the film different from his other projects? “I believe that Baaji is going to be a trendsetter. It belongs to a genre not seen in recent times in the new wave of Pakistani cinema, and as you can see from the trailer, it has every kind of flavour in it. It has subtlety, it has originality and at the same it has a generous dose of masala and spice. Moreover it brings all the eras of our cinema, be that the golden era, through Nishi Begum, the Lollywood era through Meera and NayyarEjaz and the current one through AmnaIlyas. It has a lot of great cameos and great actors like Osman Khalid Butt and Mohsin Abbas Haider too from the current lot. It is a bridge between the old and the new, and the best thing about the film was able to work with the old and new – it was purely an honor to work with the cast since I myself am part of the bridge that has been trying to make theold industry to the new one, in my own way.”
Baaji features Pakistan’s two top choreographers. Was there any jealousy or conflict? Wahab chose to be diplomatic. “When I was brought on board the film, I was really excited, especially to work with Saqib Malik. After I shot the first song, they asked me to shoot another one but after that I had certain date issues so I could not oblige. In the 90s there was healthy competition between the two top choreographers Ashraf Sherazi and KhanuSamrat, and choreographers like me are learning look at their work. I hope the kind of work I have done is appreciated and it is great to know that KhiltiKalli has done so well and ShaamNasheeliturned out to be wonderful as well.”
What are Wahab’s thoughts on new wave of Pakistani cinema? “New cinema is heading to the right direction, provided it is captained by the right people. At this moment we have a bit of a mishmash when it comes to influences from television and the cinematic way of doing things. Cinema stars used to exclusively work on film, and now they are also seen on television, so there is a bit of overexposure. So people have not been able to connect with the stars at that great a level. Our cinema also needs to starting trusting and utilizing new talent. An unfortunate aspect of the new wave is that television channels are controlling cinema’s content. Eventually, it would be great to see cinema standing on its own two feet with that grand aura of the silver screen. The good is that the technology is new and a lot of new people are trying to experiment, which is helping it go in the right direction. There is still a lot of room for more growth, more technicians and new people to come and join the industry. Through all of this, we have to make sure that we retain our originality.”