What does the work of a ‘Pakistani Consultant’ on an international project like The Reluctant Fundamentalist involve?
Basically, as a Pakistani Consultant, I organized the first casting for Mira Nair in Pakistan last year. She met a lot of actors for various roles. I also periodically kept sending her music from Pakistan to keep her abreast with what’s current in Pakistan these days. Mira is a very well read person herself, but to her credit, she really wanted to have some a Pakistani voice around to interpret the book which is set in Pakistan. Apart from that, once the production started, I helped her get in touch with local designers, coordinated with musicians and actors
You were initially rumored to be the film’s second unit director. Could you tell me why there was a change of plans?
Well, I was going to be the second unit director but I requested them to go easy on me because my own shoot dates were conflicting with the film’s shoot. I’m currently shooting a serial in New York, and I was busy with that when they shot the Lahore bit, which they had to cut short because of some logistical issues. As you already know, the film’s set in Lahore, but now they’re shooting most of it in Delhi and making it look like Lahore. Mira still wanted some original shots of Lahore to put in the film to keep it authentic, so I introduced her to Saqib Malik who then did a day’s worth of shooting for her.
Have you been traveling with the crew during the film’s shooting or are you carrying on with your consultancy from NY?
No traveling for me. I’ve been coordinating everything over phone and via emails. I visited the set when they were shooting in New York.
You’ve garnered immense accolade over the years for making intelligent dramas and telefilms that try to send out a positive message. Have you read the book? How appealing was the story of TRF for you? Would you have considered making the movie yourself?
I would have considered making the film myself if I had the budget! It’s a very ambitious film. Taking place over three countries. It’s not an easy film to make. I know the kind of struggle that went on for Mira to make it as well. The protagonist is a Pakistani character; it’s not easy to get funding for these kind of projects.
I think I read the book several years ago when it first came out. What Mira’s done with the film is really amazing. I’ve read the script, which I think is very compelling and quite appropriate for its time. I hope it resonates with the audiences as well because it’s a voice coming from this region which is usually not heard or portrayed in Hollywood or other Western productions. It’s a very authentic voice from our part of the world. It’s very exciting that we have all these big actors on board who will help secure the film a good audience and therefore, eventually also get the message across. It’s a good idea with marketable actors, which is a good idea over all.
Pakistani to Pakistani, how proud are you of Mohsin?
Very proud! I think it’s a fantastic achievement because we have some excellent writers in Pakistan, both in Urdu and English. It’s great that someone’s finally decided to give them this kind of exposure. A book might be widely read, but translating it into a film opens up another audience. I’m very excited for Mohsin.
As a filmmaker, what do you prefer more: original stories or adaptations?
Either, really. For me it really depends on how compelling the story is. I have worked on a few adaptations before, and my current serial is also an adaptation of a novel called ‘Matai Jaan Hai Tu.’ I know it’s a mouthful, but it means: ‘You’re the treasure of my life.’ It’s a very popular romantic novel, so this will be my first attempt at a serious tragic love story.
I know this isn’t a fair question, but how would you personally compare/differentiate between Daira and Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist in terms over-all execution and mass appeal?
I haven’t seen Daira so I can’t really comment on that. As books, I think they’re both very different. I personally preferred Moth Smoke though.
Tell me a bit about your association with Mira Nair both pre and post TRF.
I’ve known Mira for about three years now. It’s a very interesting story, my friendship with her. I’ve admired her since the early 90s when she made ‘Salam Bombay,’ and she’s one of the reasons why I wanted to become a filmmaker. I sent a CD of ‘Ramchand Pakistani’ to her through a common friend, and she liked it and that’s how we developed our friendship. She’s a wonderful mentor. She’s been very helpful to me and it’s a dream come true to have her in my life as a guide and as a friend. She’s very passionate about her work and working with her is an extraordinary experience.
You’ve worked with some of the best talent Pakistan has to offer. How does working on a project with actors like Keifer Suderland, Kate Hudson, Om Puri and Shabana Azmi feel like?
I haven’t been interacting with these actors; they’re solely India connections. If I had gone, I’d probably have met them. I only got to meet Riz, who’s the main lead, and was briefly introduced to Kate Hudson, and that’s about it. I really didn’t spend much time on the NY set either as I’ve been busy with my own production, but spending this past year-and-a-half working on the film with Mira and watching it take shape has been a great experience nonetheless.
Tell me about Meesha Shafi’s role in the movie. How have you been involved with her during pre-production and filming? How well do you think she deserved the role and more importantly, do you think she’s doing justice to her character?
I’ve read her role and I was there when Meesha was introduced to Mira last year. I had sent a CD of Meesha’s song with Arif Lohar to Mira, which is where she started considering her for this role. I think it’s an excellent thing that an actress from Pakistan has gotten a chance to play this excellent role. Meesha is very talented and I’m sure she’ll nail it!