This summer Humayun Saeed broke away from the classic romantic hero we know him to be to play moustache twirling, proud to be Punjabi Fawwad Khagga in the smash hit Punjab Nahi Jaungi and he did it with the swagger and charm that had us rooting for a character that is so often the one-dimensional brute. I caught up with Saeed, who also produced the film to discuss the successes and pitfalls of Pakistani film-making.
UP, CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH FAWWAD KHAGGA
How do you respond to all the love, madness and criticism that Punjab Nahi Jaungi has received? This kind of love has never ever been seen for a Pakistani film. How does it feel?
Humayun Saeed: I’m very very happy. Whenever I used to go abroad I would come out of the cinema after watching a ‘foreign’ film and see Pakistanis and Indians in the audience. I hoped that our films would also release in the UK/US/Middle East some day. Well, there was even a time when I wished Pakistani films would get released in Pakistan! This took time. But it’s here. I’m so happy – I don’t have the words
It’s quite a feeling of accomplishment.
Yes, you think, I can do this. My intentions were noble as I wanted to do something for Pakistan. Some people say that Humayun Saeed has helped the industry find its bearings but of course it’s a lot of people who have made this possible.
What’s the best thing and the worst thing you’ve heard about Punjab Nahi Jaungi?
Oh! I read a tweet. “I love you in PNJ. I hated the film. I was praying it would just stop showing in the cinema.” I wanted to say, “Yeah, just let it do 50 crores and then it can stop!”
What’s the secret behind the Humayun Saeed style? You can say a simple phrase and people are laughing (or crying) with you.
I prefer to talk ‘straight’. I just say the dialogues casually. I never did a role with an accent before Punjab Nahi Jaungi. And I was sort of saving this ‘accent’ acting for something big – something special. And I’ll honestly tell you, I didn’t even work hard on it.
I was sort of saving this ‘accent’ acting for something big
Should you even be saying that?
I’m honest. I set the tone for 3 or 4 days and Nadeem (Baig) told me, it’s perfect, just stay like this. I grew comfortable. My first shot was where I bring home the degree and say, “Good question”. That was the moment I felt that I could do this and it was working.
There’s a moment in every actor’s journey of doing a project where they know that this is the moment which is going to make the project click.
When Khalil Sab (Khalil ur Rehman Qamar) sent me the script, I saw two scenes that were the ‘hero-makers’. One was this good question scene and the other one was where Fawad says to Vasseh, “Haath milao, main bhi mohabbat karta hoon!”
There has been some criticism about the storyline. Fawad offers Amal acres of lands and cattle as motivation to marry him – do you think this is problematic?
There was a discussion about this choice with the writer. He told us that Amal isn’t materialistic. Even if someone assumes this, in the next scene it is cleared up because she is incredibly hurt the moment she finds out he’s been lying to her and he’s drinking. She is also a little bit of impressed by Fawad’s ability to give her everything. It’s not about the money. It’s about giving up everything. You know, all my friends who have these modern cool boyfriends miss this about love.
This old school love – people miss that. There’s something really powerful about that love.
The second critique that on the film is that it takes an irresponsible tone on domestic abuse. I felt that if that could have been addressed, it would have been just perfect for me.
Yes, I agree – if we could have addressed that in the last bit it would have been better. But we were trying to make a fun film and not a serious film so we didn’t want to make it too preachy. But yeah, I agree, we could have added that a note when he was talking about all other things.
How consciously did you prepare for Fawad Khagga? Did he come naturally to you or did you prepare for the role by thinking about it and delving into his personality?
There was a very thin line. This character could have been easily hated. When Amal leaves, he says, “Jahaaz jaata hai toh wapas bhi aata hai!” And the writer knew it too, I am sure. But what I, as an actor, tried to do was give him a good heart. He had a good intention – a childlike charm.
Fawwad Khagga could have been easily hated – I tried to give him a good heart.
In India there are crowd pullers like Amir Khan and Shahrukh Khan who people support no matter what they churn out. A lot of people say that ‘He’s made such a big film, and he became the hero himself!’ Do you agree to any extent to this criticism?
If I’m not working for my own film – I’d be working for some other film. All over the world, when actors go into production, they star in the films themselves. As a producer, I produce 15 drama serials in a year. I only did Dillagi, the one drama, in four years. If I was that obsessed with self-promotion, I’d be doing way more dramas than that.
The truth is, I’ve always had a craving for films.
When I did Inteha in 2000, I got a lot of awards and recognition. And I thought – wow, this is it. This is great. I’ll be in films now. But unfortunately, cinema was dwindling in Pakistan.
How do you respond to the comparison to Bollywood?
Every film of ours is going to be compared to Bollywood. We’ve grown up watching Bollywood. We’re getting old watching Bollywood. But if you note, and I’m not talking about the random YouTube comments, but some people who have really noticed that about PNJ – was that they could see “Pakistaniat” in it. And that was it, we didn’t try to make it into something that we weren’t, crazy camera shot and loud dialogue – maybe we exaggerate in songs sometimes, but if you see a dramatic angle in the film, it’s not exaggerated.
This film’s simplicity was its strength. We didn’t try to make it into something that we weren’t.
What’s Bollywood? Even Bollywood’s not Bollywood anymore.
If you watch some older film of Shah Rukh Khan like Baazigar or Dil Toh Pagal Hai – they seem old-fashioned compared to new-age Bollywood. We have a lot of strength in our dramas which we have to take. I didn’t have to cry in an over-the-top way. I spoke the way I spoke and people responded to that.
There weren’t many good films that came out from the Pakistani cinema for a very long time.
There was Bol/Khuda Ke Liye which only Shoaib Mansoor could have pulled off but cinema was not thriving. I did try to get Indian movies in Pakistan, I would often speak at forums to say this because I wanted to get content in Pakistan so that the audience would go to the cinema. There were only twenty to twenty five cinemas in Pakistan when I made Main Hoon Shahid Afridi.
That was a pretty fun film.
That was a risk. It was a sports film. People told me, you make love and romance and wedding based stuff, what are you doing making a sports film. But that was successful. Then Jawani Phir Nahi Aani and Punjab Nahi Jaungi, I made three films in a short while. When people say “Oh, he’s cast himself as a hero,” it angers me because in MHSA, the main hero was someone else. I had a track in the story but it was centered around someone else.
When people say “Oh, he’s cast himself as a hero,” it angers me.
In Jawani Phir Nahi Aani, I had four other actors with me and the best role was Ahmed Ali Butt’s. Now Punjab Nahi Jaungi was about two people. And I felt that this character suited me. And maybe someone else could have been a better actor, but the character suited. And I think it worked.
What’s next in the pipeline?
Jawani Phir Nahi Aani part two.
You’re the biggest filmmaker in Pakistan right now. In Bollywood, the trend is changing, they’re really making women-centric films right now In PNJ/Dillagi, Mehwish Hayat was a strong female protagonist. She wasn’t a prop or an accessory.
We’ve worked so much in television. We make twenty-five episodes so we can’t hold that to one character. I believe that a good product is where even the supporting characters are strong. We try to make every character well-rounded. Look at Durdaana. She had eight or ten scenes but they were significant and memorable. In the future, all my films the female lead won’t just appear for two songs. If it’s a romantic film, both characters have to be strong.
In all my films the female lead won’t just appear for two songs.
Previously Pakistan was making films like Moor and Dukhtar which were making waves but the Punjab Nahi Jaungi is a commercial success as well. How do you see that in the next five years?
A film like PNJ has done very well in international markets. Now there’s an idea that you have to think of the overseas sensibility. There are a lot of people who work better than me in Pakistan so maybe they would think as well and increase budgets for their films.