Humayun Saeed is having a bit of a moment. Not that it's new to him.
JPNA 2 is a clear box office winner, marking the actor-producer’s third blockbuster in a row (after JPNA and last year’s Punjab Nahi Jaungi.) The multi-starrer comedy featured Saeed alongside Fahad Mustafa, Kubra Khan, Ahmad Ali Butt, Vasay Chaudhry and Mawra Hocane, and has succeeded both critically and commercially.
Humayun chats about his latest offering with Images, responding to some of the criticism that the film’s received, living up to high expectations and what keeps him going 20 years on:
Images: JPNA 2's remarkable box office profits marks another success for you as a producer/actor. How does it feel?
Humayun: Thankfully, the films we’ve made have done well, but this doesn’t mean that [our success] will last forever. One has to work harder every time, the responsibility on our shoulders increases with each film, so you try to make the next one even better. I actually forget that my last films have done well or the fact that I’ve done what I had to. I’m back to zero every time.
Even though I was always confident about JPNA 2, I was scared. No matter how good or better it may be, I wanted it to do the same kind of business and for people to like it just as much as our previous movies.
I don’t ever think I’m successful, it’s the people who make me successful, the more they love me, the better I will do [smiles].
Images: What are your thoughts on the screens distribution controversy surrounding Load Wedding? Are these issues inevitable when three Pakistani films release at the same time?
Humayun Saeed: That’s what I’ve said throughout the promotions. I was never happy about two more films releasing with mine. One of them was bound to drown and it could’ve been mine too. Unfortunately, it was Load Wedding. I’m honestly upset that it hasn’t done well. At the end of the day, it’s the public’s decision. JPNA 2 is doing well not because I’m sending people to watch it, but because the public is coming out.
Images: You decided to switch things up in the sequel, though, making the film more dramatic than the JPNA audience would expect. Why is this so?
Humayun: You know after JPNA did well, everybody we’d meet would ask us for another film like that. And that’s when we decided to make a sequel, including everything that struck a chord with the audience.
But we made JPNA 2 different; it was a conscious decision because no matter how great a film you make, they’ll always draw comparisons or find the first one better.
It’s very difficult living up to expectations, so I’d already thought about how people might feel there’s something missing in the second part. Which is why [writer] Vasay [Chaudhry], [director] Nadeem [Beyg] and I wanted to change it a little. So we gave the audiences romance and a story as well, which is why it was slightly serious, whereas the first one was a complete comedy. But the humour, of course, has its own place!
Images: You poked fun at yourself in JPNA 2 for trying to pass off as a ‘larka’. Do you feel you get a lot of criticism for playing young romantic hero roles?
Humayun: The boy within me hasn’t died yet (laughs). And as long as he lives, you’ll get to see him and people will like him. I’m sure there are people out there who don’t like my work, but I would’ve been worried had they not been there [laughs].
All over the world, we see heroes leading films at 60; I’m a bacha in front of them. Shah Rukh Khan, etc are about a decade older than me.
Acceptance will take time here because we’re way too judgmental. [My critics] aren't used to cinema-going, so they’re opening up now. But I guess it’s a part of our job, one has to take the bitter with the sweet, but the masses accept me and enjoy what I do, that’s all [that matters to me].
Images: The JPNA franchise has been criticised for not having enough substantial female characters. What is your response to this criticism?
Humayun: You see, as a producer, the story comes first for me. The concept needs to be good and I’ve always tried that all lead characters have their own space. I strongly believe that even if it’s a male-oriented story, the girl’s part can't be completely irrelevant. Some stories, on the other hand, just happen to not have very strong female or even male roles. With the films we make, we at least try that there’s something for actors to play with.
Images: There’s growing awareness about harassment and abuse of power in Pakistan. What are you doing as producer to make the women on your set feel more secure?
Humayun: I respect women and that’s the way it should be. Harassment does exist worldwide, and I’m completely against taking women for a ride. We all have families and I stand against harassment. Thankfully, I’m one of those people who can get along with everybody in the field and I’m friends with the women I work with, but I respect them foremost.
Images: Unlike earlier in your career, you’re now rarely working in television ever since your begun producing films. Do you see this as an upgrade?
Humayun: Being on the big screen has been a life-long wish. I've longed for films to be made and cinema to revive. So the wait ended when I made Main Hoon Shahid Afridi (2013). For now, I actually don’t have enough time to do something on TV. Especially when you're a film producer, [you have time for] nothing else. I really enjoy working in film and its genres.
When you’re doing a serial, there are so many layers to it in terms of the twists and turns in the character and the story. You get a wide range [to explore] with your character as well. So I wouldn’t ever want to leave it. I did Dillagi after Jawani Phir Nahi Ani had done well and people advised me not to. So I might just go back anytime (laughs).
Images: After two decades in the business, what still excites you?
Humayun: Challenges excite me! For the first five years, I was simply struggling to make a place for myself and get people to like my work. After that, you feel the need to hone your craft and polish your skills further. Then, I really wanted films to be made again. My first movie Inteha (1999) did really well but then cinema was at an all-time low.
Finally, Indian films started screening here and cineplexes opened up. The cinema-going audience returned and that’s when I realised I had to make my own movie. And now, I still get as nervous as a newcomer before shooting any scene; I think yeh masoomiat rehni chahiye (laughs).
Images: What’s next for you and is the next JPNA installment in the works?
Humayun: Of course, JPNA has become a proper franchise and we’re planning on coming out with the next one in two years. For now, we're working on two other films, one’s being written by Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar and the other by Vasay Chaudhry.