Pakistan’s cinema industry needs innovative films to steer it in the right direction and the one-hour-long Jeewan Haathi (JH) may be the need of the hour.

Releasing nationally on November 4, JH was commissioned as part of ‘Zeal for Unity’ short film initiative by an Indian TV channel.

It will be the first time a short film will be releasing like a feature in the cinemas. The directors of Zinda Bhaag — Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi — join hands once again to give the film industry the innovative push it requires and for that, they have selected the issue of morning shows on television and all those affected by them.

Here is what the dynamic duo has to say about the upcoming venture …

Images: What prompted you guys to come up with the idea of Jeewan Haathi?

Farjad Nabi: Meenu and I have a perverse fascination for unhinged characters on the media, and we thought what would happen if an unsuspecting couple got entrapped by them for their own nefarious purposes.

Meenu Gaur: The film is an over-the-top, outrageous, absurdist comedy. It is in the tradition of Pakistani films such as Rangeela’s Insaan Aur Gadha and Indian movies such as Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron. However, it doesn’t lay the blame on any one set of people but rather looks at all its characters with empathy.

Images: Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah has a cameo in JH. Wouldn’t it have been better to keep it a secret as the audience now knows what surprise they are in for?

FN: Oh, there are still lots of surprises in the film, not least of all Hina Dilpazeer with a jaw-dropping performance. She has amazing depth and subtlety, and is surely one of the greats.

Directors Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi and producer Mazhar Zaidi
Directors Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi and producer Mazhar Zaidi

Images: How did you choose the cast. Did you have them in mind or did you decide after auditions?

MG: We sent the script to Hina Dilpazeer who loved the role of Natasha a lot. Hina perfectly balances the extremes in Natasha’s personality, the comic and the tragic. She also has a great connect with the film’s writer Fasih Bari Khan.

Theatre actor Fawad Khan has already starred in Matteela Films’ Gardaab. Kiran Tabeer who has done mainstream TV came through auditions but people can’t recognise her in JH. Samiya Mumtaz and Nimra Bucha are very close friends and we got both to play comic roles. The same goes for the multi-talented Adnan Jaffar.

Hina Dilpazeer perfectly balances the comic and tragic sides of her character Natasha

Images: Your previous film Zinda Bhaag (ZB) wasn’t that successful commercially. What are your expectations with Jeewan Haathi?

FN: Back in 2013, Pakistan had 25 screens and now three years later we have crossed the 100 mark. To be honest, ZB did well beyond our expectations. It wasn’t a typical mainstream film with stars and all that but still released theatrically in three countries, was on screen for eight weeks in Pakistan, won 14 awards nationally and internationally, went on Netflix USA and so on and so forth.

Most importantly, the producer made money off it. I don’t think we had imagined all that for ZB. As for JH, it is an out-and-out entertainer and we think it will be a larger draw for audiences.

MG: I think the success of Matteela Films is that it’s able to put out original, thoughtful and entertaining films. We’re happy that we’re able to keep making the films we want to, and that our audiences grow with each film.

Fawad Khan and Kiran Tabeer in Jeewan Hathi
Fawad Khan and Kiran Tabeer in Jeewan Hathi

Images: Don’t you think that it’s the wrong time to release JH, considering that it has been produced under an Indian banner?

FN: The film has been produced by Pakistani ‘Matteela Films’ and the entire production is local so the film per se is unaffected by whatever is going on between both the countries.

JH became part of the Indo-Pak peace project ‘Zeal for Unity’ which isn’t something new as such collaborations have taken place in the past. Pakistan’s biggest hits such as Jawani Phir Nahi Ani had some Indian crew, Actor-in-Law has Om Puri sahib, Shoaib Mansoor’s Khuda Kay Liye had Naseeruddin Shah, etc.

Images: Apparently because of the short length, the ticket price will include popcorn and cold drinks. Whose idea was that?

FN: It’s my decision … let’s see how the audience takes it when JH releases on November 4.

MG: I think the popcorn and drinks are so unreasonably priced in any cinema that this move should be the beginning of a movement. Yeah, my decision too … JH it is!


Originally published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 30th, 2016

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