Ahmed Ali, Ali Rehman Khan and Usman Mukhtar star in the upcoming gangster comedy 'Parchi'
Ahmed Ali, Ali Rehman Khan and Usman Mukhtar star in the upcoming gangster comedy 'Parchi'

After delivering the massive box office hit Janaan last year, Imran Kazmi and Hareem Farooq return with Azfar Jafri’s third film, Parchi.

A gangster-comedy that revolves around a group of friends who land in trouble and turn to an influential woman (Hareem) for help, Parchi is a film that might shake things up for Pakistani cinema.

The film is expected to release this fall. We speak to the leading men of Parchi to find out more about it.

Excerpts from our conversation follow:

Images: You’ve completed shooting for most of the film, except the songs. How has the journey been?

Ahmed Ali: It was very quick. We were basically sleeping and shooting, but it was a lot of fun. We all know each other from theatre. The whole idea of shooting in Islamabad only made it feel like home for us.

Ali Rehman Khan: I agree. At times we didn’t even have enough time to think about how the experience was. But it felt good being on set with people who were not just co-stars, but friends. The synergy between us was excellent and that’s something that’ll shine through.

Usman Mukhtar: I think whenever you invest your heart and soul into a project, it does get exhausting. We’ve shot for 24 hours straight; a lot of actors would even take naps on the set because they couldn’t function. At the end of the day, as long as the product that comes out is good and you’re proud of it, it all seems worth it.

Director Azfar Jafri (centre, in red) with Ali Rehman and Usman Mukhtar
Director Azfar Jafri (centre, in red) with Ali Rehman and Usman Mukhtar

Images: How different do you think Parchi is compared to the films you’ve previously starred in?

Ahmed Ali: Well for starters, we didn’t rehearse in my previous films and rehearsals, to me, are extremely important. That’s the trial and error period and it ends when you begin shooting. So previously, I would do what we do with TV; just what I thought would look great. So on paper, you realise that there’s a lot happening in Parchi, so you may not have many lines, but actors have to fill those gaps in between. 

Actors have to make sense to the audience and I firmly believe that a character in a film is established by its actions, that’s what I focused on basically. The dialogues are to-the-point, so we had to work around with the limited space we had. Keeping that in mind, there was a lot of room to play. You can do a lot when you’re not saying something.

Ali Rehman Khan: It’s been very important for me to choose different characters. Even if you’re playing the lead, you can’t really take up a typical hero or a boring, two-dimensional character. I try to avoid that, I’m very selective and maybe that’s why I’ve always played slightly more animated characters than my co-actors. So with Parchi, I saw a character per say. A character needs to have a past, present and future, it needs to have layers and it wasn’t that hard.

We had begun preparing for it in January and since the shoot got delayed a bit, it actually worked for us. By that time, I knew how I wanted to take my character forward and was also constantly discussing it with Azfar [director]. All my homework had been done by the time I arrived on set. That said; there is always something there before you take up a new character and I see that as stage fright. It’s just that first moment.

Usman Mukhtar: Parchi is dark yet funny when it has to be, and both the genres are of my liking. It’s actually something that Pakistan hasn’t seen before. When Imran first pitched the script to me, I jumped onto the opportunity and I’ve been a part of it from the very first day.

Ali Rehman Khan plays the lead role in Parchi
Ali Rehman Khan plays the lead role in Parchi

Images: Ahmed, we haven’t seen much of you on celluloid despite the rave reviews you received for your debut film. Do you consider yourself underrated?

Ahmed Ali: I believe that my complete potential as an actor hasn’t yet been utilised and that’s because the scripts being written are very limited. Everyone’s playing safe. You do have to carve your own path, but you can’t always be extremely selective - you need to strike the right balance. I’ve seen actors saying no to mainstream commercial work and then there aren’t any opportunities left. I don’t want to do that either.

Honestly, television pays my bills. It’s sad, but that’s how it is. You need to be very practical, considering all the superficial aspects such as the channel or the director. That said, it’s not all that bad, like I really enjoyed working on this recent serial that I did called Yeh Raha Dil. My criteria, now, would be slightly different though. I would want to do plays that are issue-based, where there’s enough margin to perform and of course, my co-stars need to be equally hard-working as me.

Also for cinema, I wasn’t too sure of the kind of scripts I was being offered. In our country particularly, for some reason, performers are judged on their last piece of work. And if you make a mistake, the industry can be very unforgiving. I am very skeptical about my own work; I critique my own work, so I didn’t really feel the need to jump the gun.

Images: Ali, Parchi is being made by the same team as your last film. Do you believe filmmakers tend to stereotype actors a certain way?

Ali Rehman Khan: I’m a complete director’s actor. I need to keep what the director expects from me for me to be able to do justice to the role. In terms of characters, I was doing kind of a supporting role in Janaan. But here [in Parchi], I play the main lead. If they had to compartmentalise me, they’d still cast me as the second lead. Still, it’s very easy in our industry to typecast actors in certain genres and that’s happened with me as well, especially after a comical role in Janaan.

People overlook the work I’ve done in my dramas, which was completely serious. We haven’t joined the fraternity to become famous; we act because we feel passionate about it and because we love it. And as an actor, I want to do an array of characters. By working with the same team, you have this benefit that they know your strengths and weaknesses and if they’ve given you a film, it means they know you can do more. That’s their trust in me, to hold a film, and I really appreciate that.

Ahmed Ali and Usman know each other from theatre and think their chemistry will shine on screen
Ahmed Ali and Usman know each other from theatre and think their chemistry will shine on screen

Images: Parchi has an ensemble star cast; were there insecurities on set?

Ahmed Ali: Not at all, I think we feed off of each other’s energy. We’re also very honest with one another. Doing a scene together, you have to communicate, and that doesn’t happen very often. They want you to fail, but in this dynamic, there were no insecurities. In fact, I’ve actually learnt from working with them.

Ali Rehman Khan: I wouldn’t call it insecurity, but there is competition and that’s healthy. For me, if I see I’m lacking somewhere and my co-actor is doing better, I feel the need to up my game. In television particularly, people tend to take it easy, but when there’s competition, everyone makes sure that they give their absolute best. And you see that shows, you naturally enjoy a TV series or a film more.

Usman Mukhtar: It was a lot fun actually; we would always be joking around. This is actually the first time I’ve seen such great actors come together, and I’m not including myself. Ahmed and Ali are both such fine actors, and Shafqi (actor) is on another level altogether.

Images: Parchi is set in a fictional city, how was it creating that world and making it believable?

Ahmed Ali: Sometimes we felt the disconnect too. We don't really know how it'll turn out until we actually see it come together, after the film's edited. Initially, the sets looked great, actors in their respective wardrobes looked the part and eventually as the story progressed, it all gelled in really well. I think it’ll turn out great. You just need to remember it’s a situational comedy at the end of the day.

Ali Rehman Khan: You know you get to see gangster films, and you never get to be in one, until you actually are. So being on sets, shooting gangster sequences, it all felt surreal at times.

Usman Mukhtar: I don’t know how much I’m supposed to say, but there’s a major cultural difference between our cities and their American counterparts. I’ve grown up on comic books, so the first thing that occurred to me was Gotham. But we obviously had to put in our own twists. That said, I’ve always wanted to visit Gotham or Metropolis. Even though we imagined the complete infrastructure, the architecture, I could for some reason relate to it.