Director Umair Nasir Ali Hopes ‘Nayab’ Provides A Complete Experience for Pakistani Audiences

Yumna Zaidi’s film debut ‘Nayab’ is the first big commercial release of the year in 2024. It’s about a young girl who dreams of playing for the Women’s National Cricket Team. Advanced booking is already open at major cinema chains around the country for what promises to be a huge family entertainer as well as a social film.

We caught up with Umair Nasir Ali, the director of ‘Nayab’, to delve deeper into the story and characters of the film.

The “Strong Content” of Nayab

Yumna Zaidi had said that while she’d refused many film scripts before Nayab, the “strong content” made her say yes. Umair Nasir Ali says that apart from the role of an aspiring female cricketer, Yumna’s interest in the role spouted from the intimate relationships between family members shown in the film.

The film includes very relatable characters reminiscent of the lower- and middle-class families that Pakistani films used to portray.

Mohammad Fawad Khan plays Nayab’s brother and coach who fights for her to become a cricketer. A NAPA graduate, the actor was seen in the web series ‘Churails’ as well. Noreen Gulwani, another NAPA grad has also acted beautifully in the film.

PTV veteran Huma Nawab is also in the film, portraying Nayab’s mother, alongside Jawed Sheikh who plays the father. Casting the latter in a more complex role rather than the loud, comic caricatures he’s been confined to as of late was a huge motivation behind his casting. Umair Nasir Ali has specifically praised Jawed sahab’s performance in the film.

Usama Khan, who plays Nayab’s beau in the film has also given a very natural performance.

Was Yumna Zaidi Chosen Because of Her Role in ‘Bakhtawar’?

Yumna Zaidi has mentioned that she was a tomboy as a child, and her role in TV serial ‘Bakhtawar’ found widespread popularity. However, Umair Nasir Ali maintains that ‘Bakhtawar’ and ‘Nayab’ are miles apart. He was looking for range. That meant an actor that could fit the physicality of an athlete as well as someone who could give a restrained performance.

Where Did the Idea of ‘Nayab’ Come From?

Umar Nasir Ali did an ad campaign for Uber in 2019 with former women’s cricket captain and legendary figure Sana Mir. He interviewed a lot of cricketers and learned about their lives. What connected them all was a sense of love and duty for Pakistan.

“They wanted to play for Pakistan. That was their aim. That was their goal.”

Women’s cricket doesn’t pay nearly as much as men’s cricket, a wage gap that exists across almost all sports. Hence, the athletes’ main motivation is always to serve their country and to bring home glory.

What he learned from that experience fueled “Nayab”. Together with his producer Rumina Umair and writers Ali Abbas Naqvi and Basit Naqvi (both writers for ‘Laal Kabootar’ and ‘Teri Meri Kahaniyaan’) who were former students of Umair at Karachi University, the story began to take shape.

Ali Abbas Naqvi, Yumna Zaidi, and Basit Naqvi:


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A post shared by Basit Naqvi (@m.basit.naqvi)

A lot of further research went into the film. Several visits to cricketing academies and coaching centers in Karachi allowed the team to study the atmosphere and the rapport between players and interview aspiring cricketers.

The coronavirus pandemic put a hold on the project, but they kept working on successive drafts until the final script was ready in 2022.

While shooting for the re-recording of the national anthem for the 75th Independence Day, Umair and his producer Rumina Umair (also co-producer on ‘Aasmaan Bolay Ga’) met with Agnes and David Kenney the producers at Kenneyz films. They heard the story of Nayab and agreed to finance the film. Shooting began in January of 2023. ‘Nayab’ is now finally hitting theaters a year later.

Is ‘Nayab’ the Story of All Female Cricketers in Pakistan?

“Aspiring female cricketers and all current players will find their stories reflected in Nayab.”

While the film isn’t inspired from a single cricketer’s life or a specific incident, the characters are made to be relatable to so many girls aspiring to play at the national level one day. They will see their fathers, brothers, friends, and their home reflected in Nayab.

How Did Yumna Zaidi Prepare for ‘Nayab’?

Yumna Zaidi has said that she doesn’t follow Pakistani cricket. She only watches those adrenaline-pumping Pakistan-India matches and major tournaments like the World Cup. According to her, this steered her performance away from stereotypes. However, she gave it her all when it came to preparing for the role.

Yumna Zaidi with Cricket Coach Tanveer Ul Haq Tango:

Professional cricket coach Tanveer Tango, who was known for training Shoaib Malik, was hired to teach Yumna Zaidi. In fact, he was present during the script readings and shooting. He kept on training Yumna during the shooting schedule to keep the basics fresh in her mind.

Yumna Zaidi training for Nayab:

“Yumna underwent 3 months of physical training for the role and learned to bowl professionally. She also refused to use a body double throughout and took the bruises and wounds which are part and parcel in training for a physical role.”

Yumna Zaidi Learning to Catch from Scratch:

Yumna also met with actual female cricketers during her training and picked up a lot of nuances here and there. These cricketers are present throughout the film, led to some friendships off screen.

What About the Secondary Storyline About Immigration?

The secondary storyline regarding Canadian immigration hits home right now since so many Pakistanis are trying to run to greener pastures. In the trailer, Javed Sheikh, the father, is encouraging his son to leave Pakistan for Canada.

Umair Nasir Ali initially planned to make an entire film on this topic and the local “brain drain”. This organically became part of Nayab and was present during the initial drafts. This made for a much more interesting screenplay with fleshed out characters and their own motivations.

Why are Sports Films Like ‘Nayab’ So Rare in Pakistan?

Sports films of any kind are a rarity in Pakistan. No iconic sports film exists in collective memory, which is a shame since we’ve produced such legendary figures in cricket, squash, and hockey. “Shah”, “Main Hoon Shahid Afridi” and “Doda” come to mind, but none have achieved iconic status. Women’s sports including women’s cricket also unfortunately doesn’t have a large audience in Pakistan. Is the intent behind the “Naam Yaad Rakhna” slogan to change that?

Director Umair Nasir Ali says that films which require any kind of deep research are rare in Pakistan because they require effort. That’s why the number of cliched and superficial films are the norm in Pakistan. ‘Nayab’ has that research and effort behind it, which is why it will reach the audience emotionally.

The cast apparently did entire dry readings of the script, something Jawed Sheikh sahab recalled from the early days of PTV, and something which is quite normal in foreign film industries.

“Any topic which requires research is avoided by filmmakers in our country.”

The slogan “Naam Yaad Rakhna” comes directly from the cricketing lingo that players share. Hopefully Nayab will hit the right notes and become as memorable as the filmmakers intend.

What is the Hope for Nayab?

Director Umair Nasir Ali did his Bachelors in Film and Television from the National College of Arts, the first filmmaking degree ever offered in Pakistan. The National Academy of Performing Arts was also established around the same time. Then the media boom of private TV channels, including HUM TV, happened. Shortly after, Shoaib Mansoor released ‘Khuda Ke Liye’.

Today, Umair Nasir Ali sees that cycle coming to completion. Ad makers and music video makers have become filmmakers. And that first batch of NCA graduates, including himself, is now teaching up and coming filmmakers.

Ali Abbas and Basit Naqvi, the writers of Nayab, are graduates of the Visual Studies department at Karachi University. The DOP is Shajee Hassan and Associate Producer Umer Qazi also studied from Karachi University. The Assistant Producer is from CBM. The chief AD Hassaan Mukhi is a SZABIST graduate, the first AD Ramil Ahsan graduated from Iqra University, the second AD is a graduate of the first Film Studies batch at Indus Valley School of Arts and the 3rd AD is from Karachi University again.

All this young blood, the distillation of years of hard work is the team behind Nayab. Their hope is that this film provides an answer to the question: “What is Pakistani Cinema?”

“Our films are either too commercial and lose their relatability because the same characters are packaged differently and presented on screen again and again, or they’re too independent and artsy and only appeal to a niche market.”

He cited the films of Zoya Akhtar and Rajkumar Hirani which balance the two extremes of filmmaking pretty well. He also cited the early days of the Pakistani film industry which portrayed the lives of the working-class like labourers and horse cart drivers. Umair Nasir Ali hopes that Nayab can provide that complete experience for the Pakistani audience.

‘Nayab’ will hit theaters in Pakistan on the 26th of January 2024.

It will also be released internationally on the 2nd of February in the US, UK, Canada, GCC Territories, and Europe.

Written by Yousuf Mehmood


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