There’s nothing ordinary about Asad ul Haq. From his demeanor to his approach, he’s edgy and left of centre. Then why did Pakistan – the viewer and the critic – expect his debut film, Dekh Magar Pyaar Say, to be a conventional romance or worse, a masala flick?
Asad has been filming ad campaigns for over 20 years; the Don Carlos (black and white) campaign, Telenor (again the black and white campaign) and the impactful HBL campaign featuring Pakistan Cricket Team are just some examples of his multitude of work. “I’m notorious for doing things different,” he explains, providing an easy explanation to the way DMPS is shot. “People come to me when they want to step out of the box.”
For the first time since the release of Dekh Magar Pyaar Say, director Asad Haq sits down with Aamna Haider Isani and explains what no one bothered to ask, understand or even talk about…
AHI: Without beating around the bush, Dekh Magar Pyaar Say was highly anticipated but when it went to the box office, it crashed completely. What happened?
Asad Haq: First of all, let’s go back to what I do. I make commercials; I pick and choose brands. Till this day, I will not pick up something that I don’t like. People come to me when they want to go out of the box. You want to do something cinematic, you want to go out of the box, take me outdoors to an old fort and I’ll give you everything then because that’s what I do. I don’t do ‘pretty pretty’.
Even with DMPS, I did what I wanted to do and I am in love with it; I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I read a review in a magazine that had given me five points (out of ten) for my film, saying ‘it’s an Asad ul Haq film’. It said that if you follow his work, great. If you’ve paid a ticket for it, too bad because ‘it’s Asad ul Haq’s interpretation of love and how he takes romance’. Look at my face; do I look like someone who’ll do things conventionally? I mean, why do we follow directors? We follow directors because we like their style, their approach to filmmaking. The way I made DMPS is how I do things. It may take a couple more ‘Asad ul Haq’ films to understand the way I work. My films may be labeled cult films.
So many movies have come out and every film has some weakness. So fine, we’re all learning. I’m not saying I’m God of all filmmaking but I’ve done something different and I am proud of it. At least give me this much credit.
AHI: So what, in your opinion, went wrong?
AH: The hype. It was misleading. But whatever went out didn’t go out from me.
AHI: You’re talking about the way the film was communicated?
AH: Yes. It just got picked up and blown away from different places. We weren’t seeking it. It spread out and the hype was out of our control.
AHI: That may have been out of your control but what is the one mistake you admit to making?
AH: I’ve been hearing different things. Someone said the writer is too ‘burger’. I said, who am I then? I mean, I can communicate with her. I tried to talk to a few writers and they were taking it to the Bollywood side. I even spoke to someone in India, and after they showed me what they would do, I said no, I don’t want to do it like this.
AHI: Are you saying the script was a mistake?
AH: No, I don’t think that was a mistake. I’m just telling you that if someone says that Saba (Imtiaz) was a mistake, I would say that maybe something else was missing. Maybe the screenplay or the dialogues could have been better. Maybe the dialogue delivery wasn’t up to the mark. I also think we were too quick with everything. We should have taken some time with the final edits. I was rushing towards August 14.
AHI: Do you think the presence of two other films at the box office also impacted the fate of DMPS?
AH: They were two very serious, patriotic movies. Maybe if we were getting a normal weekend, we could have gotten away with it. If you ask me what I would change, I don’t know. I seriously don’t know where we went wrong.
AHI: Tell us some of the challenges you faced. It was 45-day shoot.
AH: It was grueling.
AHI: Rumours say that originally you wanted to cast Fawad Khan. Are they true?
AHI: Why didn’t you?
AH: He isn’t here. He’s not available. Fawad is having a great time in Bollywood and I won’t blame him for that. Fawad Khan would have brought something else to the film but even Siki (Sikander Rizvi) cannot be blamed. We were just not making a desi film. Someone said to me that Humaima was over the top, and I said yes, that was her character. Someone was talking about green and yellow tones and how the frames looked Sprite sponsored but I picked up (the colours) way before Sprite came on board. Red, yellow and green were the three colours I wanted to play with. I had told my production designer much before Sprite came on board.
AHI: Ads in films are a sensitive point these days because everyone is placing products.
AH: Tell me, if they didn’t do this, how would they pay for the film? The box office doesn’t pay that much. It’s a very new industry. We are not ready. If you tell me to do a film, I won’t have a writer. Someone else won’t have a production designer. It’ll take time before everything comes together.
AHI: People also objected that Sikander didn’t look like a rickshaw driver…
AH: Lahore didn’t look like Lahore either. We weren’t selling you reality; it was fantasy. Have you ever seen a police station like that before? Have you ever seen a rickshaw like that before? You know, the things I was showing you, you’ve never seen before. So, it was a dream world and Sikander was part of it.
AHI: A world that had branding within branding. The train station had DMPS posters. The rickshaw also had the #DMPS number…
AH: I was just having fun with it.
AHI: People did appreciate the cinematography and the soundtrack…
AH: I was just talking to someone recently and they were saying that we loved the cinematography and we love the way it was done and I said bolo. Tell it to the world. People just shied away from saying anything good about the film. But they were blown away by the way it looked. We did something that looked different. You can’t pin me against the wall for being different. I did something and it did not work. But I’m not saying that it won’t work again. I will make another film.
AHI: What happened with the film you were making with Shaan?
AH: I pulled put. Shaan pulled out too. We both came to the same conclusion that what we were both trying to do would not meet. There was no middle ground. I said let’s do something when we’re both ready. He’s one guy I would love to go back to and say let’s do something because when Shaan walks into a room, you know a star has arrived. He’s got that aura.
Instep: What I’m also picking up is your need for your films to NOT to look like an average Bollywood film.
AH: I have this fight; why are we doing Bollywood? Why are we copying them? Even when I’m making my commercials, I tell my team to not show me Indian commercials as references. Because they are doing a great job but they are also being inspired by someone else. We may as well go to the original source. Why were people expecting a Bollywood film from me?
AHI: What’s the worst thing you heard or read about the film?
AH: The hush that fell over everyone. I am who I am. I’m very blunt. If I meet you, I’ll tell you what I think and that’s what I expected from my friends, from the industry I work in. Not one person wrote or said anything to me. I really liked it when Humayun (Saeed) came up to me and said, ‘I wish you had a better script, but rest of the points I give you for making it happen.’ I respect him for that. He said he was blown away by the visuals, the look and feel. If you are going to be nice to me and not be honest to me then you are not my friend. You are someone I only meet at parties. That was the only thing I thought was wrong and I wasn’t ready for it.
AHI: Now what?
AH: I’m back to commercials. In terms of films, we’re hiring more people, we’re expanding our team at Shiny Toy Guns and we’re going to double our work. I’m seriously looking for a script. I think everything else is resolved; if there was any problem, it came from the script. I think it wasn’t even the script. The story was written quite nicely, I think we got lost somewhere in the middle; we got lost in translating my vision for the audience. But even now if you ask me, I enjoyed it.
– Cover image by Mohsin Kamal