Cinema's biggest stars tell us what to expect in 2019
2018 was a good year for film and there's lots in store for us in 2019.
We talked to cinema's biggest stars about their upcoming projects and how they plan to take the industry forward this year.
What are your plans for 2019?
Javed Sheikh: I think 2019 will be a breakthrough year for us. Delhi Gate, Wrong Number 2, a film on boxing titled Chaja Rey, Superstar and many other films to come from my end in 2019. I think franchises are very important for Pakistan, as they are in other countries. It’s a gimmick that pays very well.
Mehwish Hayat: There is the web series that has already been announced. There are a couple of film scripts I am reading that I may sign up and another project close to my heart that I am working on. Other than that, I will be paying a little more attention to my music.
Jami: Exploring Netflix with Faisal Rafi and Ali Dewan. Plus, a few films as a producer and director.
Adnan Sarwar: We are about to go into production for our new film which we will shoot next year. It is always exciting to start a new project.
Humayun Saeed: I want to make an action film next year apart from a rom-com.
Ahmed Ali Butt: I am working in Paray Hut Love which will be releasing on Eid Ul Azha in 2019. I have also started working on my own film and very soon we will be announcing it officially.
Asim Abbasi: I am currently focused on my writing. I want to explore more genres, in particular thrillers.
What did you think were the best and worst developments in the film industry in 2018?
Jami: The worst was a few producers hijacking Pakistan Film Producers Association to block Bollywood films for their personal gains. The best was the fading away of item numbers as I predicted a few years ago and producers now thinking of stories instead of boobies.
Mehwish Hayat: I think the best development this year has been the [diversity] of Pakistani films. In addition to the usual generic entertainment films, we've seen animated films and several story-driven films make a mark on the box office. It's great to see that the industry has matured enough to allow filmmakers to take a chance on different genres of films and this is important for our cinema's growth.
I do get upset that everything we do is immediately compared to our neighbours. No matter what we do, it is assumed that we are copying them in everything from storylines to costumes and dances. Through our new films I think Pakistani cinema is developing its own identity, which is essential as we move forward. We are a fledgling industry so everything good or bad is taking us forward. So we learn and grow from even our failures. So there has to my mind been nothing that I would see as a negative development.
Hareem Farooq: I am happy that more cinemas and screens have opened up increasing the overall market size of people who can see our films, as well as money we make. It is still way to early for us to call our cinema an industry - but we are getting there - and I am nothing but optimist with the coming years.
Humayun Saeed: The best development is that the number of cinemas has increased as a result of which business has improved. Also it was heartening to see a non-Eid film (Teefa in Trouble) do so well at the box office.
There’s been no worst development as such but perhaps we could have avoided a clash of so many films on Eid. A clash of several films on any day isn’t good so may be that’s something we can work on avoiding.
Hajra Yamin: I think 2018 has been a starting point for filmmakers and content writers to come up with mature content, I'm looking forward to 2019 actually. But one thing I hope to see change is the limitations on female actors to being a pretty face. You're not really expected to perform and in the process of performing if you don't look good, then you're not "doing your job" even though your job is acting. It's enough to break your confidence as an actor. I hope directors have their female actors focus on their performance rather than sitting pretty.
Ahsan Rahim: The best would be films doing great business on non-holiday dates. It shows people will go and see a movie on any given Friday and the misconception that films only work on Eid is no more an excuse because a film industry cannot survive just on Eid. Plus, the different genre of films produced this year also is good sign.
The worst would be fake box office numbers, which will mislead new producers. Leg pulling and producers exhibitors and distributors not coming on one page to help Pakistani film grow. It’s the 'every man for himself' situation that will ultimately destroy the Pakistani film industry.
Adnan Sarwar: The best development was to see an upward trend in the number of content based as well as female centric films being produced. To be able to produce a film like Motorcycle Girl in Pakistan was a personal achievement for me. Cake was a huge milestone for Pakistani cinema and went on to become our Oscar entry for 2018. It's been a good year!
The worst development was the continuing calls and a high court petition for banning Bollywood in Pakistani cinemas. We have seen how such a ban has the potential to destroy our local industry. Myopic move!
Mansha Pasha: I think the developments have been really good in the technical aspects. Story wise, maybe we've taken a few leaps forward, but many films came out where the stories could have been better.
How are you encouraging new talent or small screen talent to be part of the film industry? Is it hard to convince them?
Jami: We will always need new talent. For instance, O21 was our DOP Mo Azmi's first major project. He was fresh from the US and bursting with energy and ideas. Even in the case of Moor, the entire team was almost all new. We have intern programs and highly talented people come to learn the game with us. Our team is mostly women and that gives us a huge edge as our CEO Nazira Ali wants to engage women. We get amazing interns and freelancers too.
Mehwish Hayat: I am an actress and not really in a position encourage talent in the way you suggest. It all boils down to business and what works at the box office and that is driven by producers and distributors. However, I have helped wherever I can. I have worked several times with new directors and even worked for free in a student film a few years ago. I also hope that I can be a role model for others wishing to enter the industry and often give advice to newcomers whenever I can.
Ahsan Rahim: The industry is at its infancy and many films are being produced so there is room for actors and new talent. The only way to encourage new talent is to cast them which we did.
Asim Abbasi: I am going to be a mentor this year for Qalambaaz, which is a screenwriting initiative started by Iram Parveen Bilal (who made Josh), to help find fresh screenwriting talent in the country. In addition, just like we did with Cake, I will always look to bolster my crew with new, fresh talent coming out of universities.
What steps are you taking to make the industry safer for women and upcoming talent with regard to harassment and exploitation?
Mehwish Hayat: It may be a cliché but thankfully I haven't personally experienced harassment or exploitation. But having said that I am more vigilant about what is going on around me and if I witness anything untoward I will take the appropriate steps. I feel very passionately about this and can reassure women and upcoming talent working with me that they will be in a safe environment. Every person has the right to a safe work place irrespective of what industry it is.
Ahsan Rahim: I have been associated with TV and advertising for 18 years and from day one I have been taught to respect the people you work with. The only step I can do is to set an example which we do on our sets.
Ali Rehman Khan: I think it basically boils down to raising awareness about the importance of keeping women safe at the workplace. Sometimes you know people have become so insensitive, [disrespecting women] has become casual banter to them. But I haven’t seen anything happen in front of me ever as I believe our industry has developed in such a way that shows respect to women. Women also are super smart and know how to hold themselves and even men do now. So, I haven’t been in a position to witness such a thing, but I am sure things do happen and if it does I am ready to stand by their side.
Ahmed Ali Butt: The MeToo movement has been very helpful in giving out the message to women that they can come out and be vocal about any bad experiences that they may have had. I feel that as an individual, as well as an artiste, I realise my responsibility to stand up against any kind of mistreatment and misbehavior and to extend support to any woman who speaks out about having suffered harassment.
Adnan Sarwar: I have worked as a doctor in Australia and one of the first things I learnt there were the rules against any discrimination or harassment at the workplace on the basis of religion, race or sex. I believe what's lacking in our society: awareness of such norms, no matter what the industry is.
Our set and the people who work on our films are like a small family and have been with us from the start. Any new person coming in is welcomed into the the fold like a family member. As a rule, our casting process and script sessions etc are done almost in an open environment and as a group. There is a strictly enforced, zero-tolerance policy towards harassment or discrimination on any basis and the threshold is kept very low, preferring to err on the side of caution. As a result, women, and men, who have worked on our films, have gone on the record to state that it was the most open, tolerant and safest workplace they have ever worked at.
Humayun Saeed: As filmmakers or producers of TV dramas, I think first and foremost we must make projects that show women as empowered, independent and strong characters. We, at our company, are very proud to have women at senior positions. My own family is actively involved in the business so absolutely we are very vigilant and try our utmost best to create an environment where our female employees feel most secure and comfortable.
Javed Sheikh: First, I want people to take precautionary measures to protect people on sets and otherwise. I think they should protect women/men and come forward with the names and also boycott any accused.
But the #MeToo movement has given rise to a lot of stories just to gain fame. We don’t know if the accused is really the accused. There is no evidence. See where there is a man and a woman, things are bound to happen. A lot of women get #MeToo done on themselves.
BUT we need to give women their due respect and be heard and make noise of genuine cases. If ever such a case happens, the victim should go to the higher authorities on the spot and not keep quiet, because keeping quiet won’t help anyone.
Sanam Saeed: I think actively supporting women when they call someone out is a huge step. Also, if I ever experience something, I will make sure that I speak out there and then. I would urge others to take a stand and speak up as soon as possible. As women, we need to understand that there is no shame in doing that.
Hajra Yamin: If I talk about myself, I'm very vocal about it, I believe in having conversations. And it's not just about the industry, even outside of it if I'm sitting somewhere casually I make it a point to have a conversation about it because talking about such sensitive issues really helps. Our first step should be to make people comfortable talking about it, you need to make them realise that it is not a taboo, it's not something that you cannot talk about it in front of your children, mothers and sister. You need to make them realise that this is exactly what needs to be had a conversation about - and not just with your families and friends but also with strangers.
Asim Abbasi: I think the primary thing there is inclusivity. You need to build a nurturing environment from top-down and a culture where people are free to approach you and voice concerns without the fear of backlash. In addition, and this is a difficult one to implement in practice, but it is my hope that in addition to continuing to tell women focused stories that obviously employ more females in front of the camera, my behind the camera team for my next project will also include more women in key roles. I think there is strength in numbers and having a greater representation on teams, in addition to being encouraged to speak up, will go some way in creating a better environment.
Mansha Pasha: I think we all are having conversations with co-stars, crew members and everyone really about how safety for women and for all newcomers really is essential. I think standing up for victims and hearing their stories is an essential part of it and giving them strength to tell their story is very important.
What lessons have you learned from your past projects and how do you tend to utilise those experience in 2019?
Jami: We will make balanced commercial cinema with our own touch in 2019. We will not bend down to cheap jokes or circus style films just because they make money. We can’t be Thugs of Pakistan. We will earn respect and move cinema further ahead with our films.
Hareem Farooq: After Parchi’s blockbuster success, there is one thing I have learned: that our industry and audience is ready to see women playing a central and strong role in a film and women in films do not need to be just there to look pretty or add glamour but actually drive the narrative! Playing Madam Sb was a risk, and I am glad I did it and audiences worldwide accepted her.
Javed Sheikh: I haven’t learnt anything new but my production house is making a film that will be directed by someone else and released in 2019. Name to be decided.
Ahmed Ali Butt: My JPNA 2 role was physically challenging because I had to dress as a woman for a large number of scenes. It taught me how women actually feel when they are dressed up and they have to fend off people’s stares. It was an eye-opener for me and a learning experience.
Mehwish Hayat: I'm beginning to learn what sort of films and characters click with the audience. I'm involved in my new projects at a much earlier stage now so I can give my input in the development of the script a lot more.
I think as an actress I am always conscious that our roles are secondary to that of the male lead, so I work hard to get my characters noticed. I refuse to be just eye candy in a film — the character needs depth and have a meaningful story arc.
Adnan Sarwar: For a film do become financially successful, it is imperative to have a strong marketing and promotional plan and a budget to be able to execute the same.
Sanam Saeed: I have learnt to believe in the kind of work that I want to do, to create my own content, to take risks and challenge myself … to not be afraid to go against the grain and to give the world something to remember, always.