Aamna Haider Isani manages to bring the cast of HMJ together for a madcap interview that allows us to read between the scripted lines!
It took some serious skills in persuasion and coordination to get these guys together. With the release of Ho Mann Jahaan a mere few weeks away and promotional activities at an all time high, the cast and crew was all over the place, all the time. You could spot them at colleges and cafes, cineplexes and hotels, talking about the film and building up the hype with very little leftover time to sit down and talk about it. But we did manage to get Mahira Khan, Sheheryar Munawar, Sonya Jehan, Adeel Hussain and Asim Raza in one room for an hour or two. The result was a madcap session full of fun, laughter, politically incorrect statements (many of which were retracted immediately after they were spurted out), unrevealed behind-the-scenes info and an invaluable insight into the mechanics of how this troupe had brought its real life camaraderie to life, from real to the reel.
Team Ho Mann Jahaan and Aamna Haider Isani
Question: The movie is all about music. Can any of you actually sing?
An awkward silence followed, with all of them looking at each other for someone to save face and confess that he could. No such luck.
“I’m a great singer,”Adeel offered philosophically (you’ll notice that he tends to get very philosophical every now and then), “but I’m a really reluctant singer. I don’t mind singing but I don’t enjoy sharing it.” Okay, whatever that implies. “I really am a great singer,” Adeel insisted very seriously but he refused to sing even a single note when requested so no one believed him.
“You could say that he just sings his own praises,” Asim quipped, to a set of cheers and hoots from the rest of the team! That set the mood for the rest of the interview.
Mahira could sing in tune, it was established, but her voice wasn’t good enough.
“I’m a closet singer,” Sonya offered generously! She confessed that she could have sung, had she trained for it, but she had successfully destroyed her voice. There was something substantial in the genes (she is Nur Jahan’s grand daughter, after all) but it hadn’t been explored or worked upon. “Dado always said if anyone could sing it was me!”
What Sonya could do is dance, she said, adding that she hasn’t danced in the movie though. “My next movie with Asim is a cabaret and I’m dancing in it,” she laughed, “And it’s a horror film!” Joke. Not many of you know that Sonya is a trained classical dancer. Fact. So we established that fact and the fact that none of these guys could actually sing.
Q: What’s your favourite track from the film?
I directed the question at Sonya first but Sheheryar rapidly answered “Baarish” for her. “Her favourite is ‘Baarish’ because I’m singing it for her in the film,” he said. Lots of ‘hahas’ followed. “I just love Jimmy and anything that is acoustic and guitar so that probably is right,” Sonya agreed. Mahira confessed that her favourite was ‘Baarish’ too. And Sheheryar wasn’t even holding a gunpoint to her head for that answer! “And ‘Mann Kay Jahaan’ too,” Mahira smiled. “That’s the soul of the soundtrack. And the qawali. I love the qawali.”
“The other one I like is ‘Sadak Sadak’,” Sonya added. “I love that organic voice. That folk song is beautiful.”
We established that Adeel’sfavourite was ‘Mann Kay Jahaan’ too.
Q: How do four thirty-plus people pass for college students?
Adeel felt it would be easy to portray the lives of these characters once he had read the script. “It wasn’t difficult and it seemed like a fun idea to play the part of when you were younger and allowed to be more silly. I really got into the character and half-way through the shoot had convinced myself that I was a mid twenty student or something…I thought maybe some really interesting things might start to happen in my head. And they did!”
Everyone agreed that age was just a number as long as everyone looked the part they played, which they did!
Q for the men: What’s with you guys and older women?
So, we established that Sonya’s character was the older woman, the Mrs Robinson, if you like. You can imagine what direction the conversation took from here. Sheheryar appeared to have done a lot of research on The Graduate.
“All men have a thing for older women,” Asim joked (or did he?).
“You’re not a man so you don’t know.” Laughs. Sheheryar took the discussion a notch further by dissecting Pakistani men and their mommy issues.
“Hey but you have to see the movie to understand what we’re talking about,” Asim pointed out. “And look at the lady (pointing to Sonya); how could anyone not fall for her?” Point.
Q: You’ve all been to college; which college in Pakistan has this kind of water fight, guys?
Asim remembered water fights in NCA. Mahira remembered a huge water fight on the last day of school. “We had crazy water fights back in A-Levels,” Sheheryar added, “It used to be worse, with egging and all.”
At this point Adeel launched a detailed description of putting egg whites into water fights… that’s how water fights got healthy with 6% protein and 0% carbs. He described, in intricate detail, a water fight created out of a weird concoction of colas and masalas and etc.It was a detailed description. So in a nutshell, yes, they had all experienced water fights in school or college.
Q: How does a bunch of elitist actors expect to connect with the masses across Pakistan?
“Excuse me,” Mahira began in protest. “The masses watch television and we started off as Pakistani television actors. Popularity comes from there. We’re recognized from Mata-i-Jaan, More Piya, Humsafar…that’s the masses.”
“Sheheryar’s Aasmanon Pey Likha was an awami play,” Asim added. “It had the highest rating.”
“There are certain people who do television and certain people who graduate on to film and I want to be a bit snobby about this,” Sheheryar said. “Cinema is a bigger medium and has to have that aspirational value so not everyone can do it. We don’t call them elitist; we call them film actors.”
“I don’t think stars can be called elitist,” Mahira made a valid point. “They have to be aspirational.”
“Actors are supposed to be able to mold themselves according to character,” Adeel offered another valid point. “If they are able to connect with their roles then no one can call them elitist or isolated.”
“When the film comes out and they’re speaking in Urdu,” Asim summed it up, “you won’t feel they’re elitist. You feel that way because they’re speaking in English right now.”
Q: All our film actors have moved from television. Does that work for the revival of cinema in Pakistan? Can TV give films a star as big as Shaan?
“Shaan is a big star,” some was quick to answer but then requested (cross that for ‘begged’) for anonymity, “but he’s a star of a dead industry. The film industry has changed now.”
“What is a star?” Mahira replied. “A star is someone who ensures a box office hit, a successful opening.” Needless to say, Mahira is a star because she does guarantee that much.
Q: But isn’t it difficult to shift from the clean, almost clinical TV frame to a big, booming, sexy and much more risqué requirement that the big screen demands?
“Have you seen how sexual our TV plays have become?” Sheheryar was quick to respond.“There are so many innuendos. There’s much more sexuality on TV than there is in this film. There has to be a rape scene and a wife-beating scene in every play these days.”
Q to Mahira: Your character in Humsafar really stood out and led way to the ronadhona that followed in SadqayTumhare and Bin Roye. Are you afraid of breaking out of that mold?
“Khirad has become my ghost,” Mahira replied. “Humsafar follows me wherever I go. If there is one crying scene in another play or film then people want to see that. But of course I want to break out of that.”
“She’s completely broken out of that in this movie,” Sheheryar offered. “I think she completely plays herself here.”
Q to Sheheryar: How does a young actor decide to produce and put money behind his very first film?
“I didn’t put any money into the film,” he responded. “I’m just the producer and I got financers, one is sitting over there (pointing to Asim) and there are others we don’t want to talk about. A producer is a manager. When you have Asim directing and people like Mahira in the film then it’s easy to convince financers to invest.”
Q: Does Ho Mann Jahan enlighten in any way or is just a plain and simple entertainer?
“Is it possible that you do as you please, I do as I please and we still continue to love and respect each other?” Mahira summed it up in some simple words. “This is a film that enlightens and plays up the importance of tolerance.”
“I would like to clarify,” Sheheryar chipped in, “that this is an entertaining film and there is no preaching right and wrong. It’s a social commentary that is meant to be enlightening. Art is not supposed to educate. We’re trying to entertain people while giving them something positive to take away.”
“The story is about relationships,” Sonya concluded, “so everyone watching it will be able to relate with it on some level or the other.”
Releasing on January 1, 2016, Ho Mann Jahan definitely has created the hype that any film can only hope for to get the box office buzzing, pre-release. Let’s hope the film turns out to be as entertaining and impressive as the time spent with its cast was.
– Photographs by Tapu Javeri