The trailer of Parey Hut Love (PHL) has a certain magic to it – especially when you see it on the cinema screen.
In a whirl of light, color and music, director Asim Raza lays out the world that he has created, hinting at romance, comedy and heartbreak and proudly revealing an ensemble cast that is very, very star-studded.
There’s hero Sheheryar Munawar and the leading lady Maya Ali, accompanied, among others, by Ahmed Ali Butt, Zara Noor Abbas, Nadeem Baig, Frieha Altaf and – making her cinematic debut – her daughter Parisheh James. There’s also a long list of heavy duty guest appearances; most noticeably, Mahira Khan twirling like a Bollywood courtesan of yore, Meera, Fawad Khan and Sonya Jehan.
It remains to be seen whether PHL will manage to live up to this grandiose first peek but Asim has packaged it with enough glitz and glamour to make you want to see it. At least once. Twice, if it turns out to be a riveting watch, particularly if you’re a romance buff.
Entering Asim’s office – a leafy, gorgeous space that looks more like a resort than a gritty workspace – I encounter some of the famous faces that are imperative to PHL’s framework.
There’s the acclaimed playwright and journalist Imran Aslam who wrote the script, Azaan Sami Khan who composed the music, Ali Tariq who sung the romantic number 'Bekha Na' and cast members Sheheryar Munawar – also the movie’s producer - Maya Ali, Zara Noor Abbas and Parisheh James.
The movie releases on Eid-ul-Azha and promotional appearances and interviews are in full gear. And is the case with all productions that get shot in multiple locales over long periods of time, there are plenty of stories to share.
“The script had been a work in progress for a while and I was halfway through it when I fell ill,” says Imran Aslam who, having now recuperated is looking very well. “And then, I was on my deathbed and I opened my eyes and I saw Asim coming towards me, holding a beautiful bouquet of flowers."
"I thought that I had reached heaven! Behind him were two beautiful women, Zeba Bakhtiar and Samina Peerzada. I thought that they must be jannat’s hoors!” he laughs. “They waited for me to get better, I completed the script and here we are.”
Sheheryar adds in, “Yesterday, in a morning show, the host asked me why people should go and see PHL? I told her that I didn’t know how the movie would fare at the box office but why wouldn’t people want to see a production that is such an all-out extravaganza?
When you look at the names rolling in this movie’s credits, you can’t help but get intrigued; from the scriptwriter to the director, music composer, wardrobe designer, guest appearances and cast, every name has so much to offer. I am lucky that somehow I tricked them all into adding my name to the cast too!” he laughs.
There has been the criticism that the trailer is all glitz and glamour without revealing anything at all about the story. How does Sheheryar feel about this?
“I just think that every director has his own way of creating a trailer. Asim has created this world and with the trailer, he is allowing people a look into it, telling them that this is the world that they will see when they come to the cinema. He also sets the premise of the story with the very first lines in the trailer where I am asked if I am an actor. There are emotions, music and some parts that do have the audience guessing. I think that that’s all that we need.”
This is, of course, Sheheryar’s second movie with Asim Raza, both as producer and actor. The first movie was 2015’s Ho Mann Jahaan. I can’t help but pitch the tired old question to him: how is PHL different from their first venture together?
“They are both completely disparate products. When something is your own, you love everything about it. We love Ho Mann Jahaan but we also learnt a lot from it. Towards the end of PHL’s trailer, Fawad Khan says a line, ‘Kamyaabi ka asool hai logon ko maza karao, jeena matt sikhao’ (the secret to success is that you entertain people rather than teach them how to live). That’s the lesson that we got from Ho Mann Jahaan!”
Does this mean that PHL is going to be much shorter than its predecessor? “It’s two hours and 18 minutes long. Imran Sahab probably hates us for this but once we got the script we broke it down into separate scenes. Then, we would say out the dialogues and time them.
In the scenes where there were no dialogues, we actually timed the basic execution. Then, we took three highlighters and marked scenes according to their genre: romance, drama and comedy. It is an art but there’s also a lot of science to it.”
Sheheryar hasn’t always been lucky with his movies – case in point, Project Ghazi and 7 Din Mohabbat In. Does that make him very tense about how PHL will fare? “I am just happy and excited because we have worked very hard. But as for my past movies, I have learnt something from all of them. Project Ghazi taught me that I had to be more careful about the projects that I took on. With 7 Din…, I learnt that it wasn’t always important to play the hero. I am here for the long run. Obstacles are bound to come my way.”
I turn to Maya Ali. Following her debut in last year’s Teefa In Trouble, PHL is going to be her second movie. Considering that she didn’t get a Best Actress nomination at the Lux Style Awards for Teefa, does she feel that this movie is her second chance at proving her mettle?
“Nominations and awards come when they are meant to,” observes Maya. “I was, of course, upset when I wasn’t nominated in the Best Actress slot but then I decided to take it in stride. I got a lot of appreciation from the audiences and that means a lot to me. My character in PHL is quite different and I spent a lot of time preparing for it.”
She continues, “Once I had signed on to the movie, I got a call from Asim’s office that I needed to come in for script-reading. For a month, I rehearsed so that I could get into the skin of my character, Saania. The preparation really helped.”
Did Maya or Zara Noor Abbas ever felt concern that one may have better screen-time than the other? The obvious answer comes as a ‘no’. Zara elaborates, “This was the first movie that I signed on to. Chhalawa came later. When Asim called me for this role, I was very scared about it and I asked him if I could choose my character. I opted to play Shabbo."
The great thing about working with Asim was that, from day one, we knew what each character was doing and what our looks were going to be. Nothing was hidden and I think that we’re all very happy about how our characters turned out.”
“The character that I am playing, for instance, is very funny,” Zara adds. “Comedy just comes naturally to me because of my family. At home, we are all always joking around. There are also parts where I cry and again, because I cry easily, the part came easy.”
Even behind the scenes, Zara stayed true to her family’s penchant for theatrics – she is the daughter of Asma Abbas and Bushra Ansari’s niece – by playing a prank or two. “We were in Bahawalpur and the movie’s stylist, Adnan Ansari, and I were getting very bored so I decided to act as if I was possessed! Everyone flew into a panic and started praying.”
“She didn’t fool me!” pitches in Sheheryar.
“No,” agrees Zara. “Someone went up to him and said ‘Zara pagal ho gayee hai!’ (Zara has gone mad) and he said ‘Yahan kon pagal nahin hai!’ (who isn’t mad over here?). It was only when Maya started crying that I put an end to the prank!”
Maya has her own story to share. “We were at this fort in Muzafarrabad and Sheheryar and I were supposed to sit at the very edge of the top wall. From down below, it didn’t look too high and I told Asim that I’d be able to do the scene easily. It just turned out to be really high once I was there!”
Sheheryar says, “So we are about to start shooting and I have to deliver this long emotional monologue when Maya tells me that she is afraid of heights. I had to say my dialogues with her squeezing my hand tightly.”
Maya laughs. “I actually made sure that I never looked down!”
At another time, while shooting in Istanbul, Asim decided that he needed brilliant sunlight for a scene – on a day that wasn’t sunny at all. “The task of arranging sunlight fell upon my shoulders,” Sheheryar says wryly. “I arranged for a large number of lights and then a crane carried them to this gap in the roof from which the faux sun had to shine through!”
The cast and crew shot in a number of locations. What was their favourite? “Turkey was fun!” says Maya.
“For me it was Pir Chanasi,” says Sheheryar. “It is higher than Muzafarrabad and really beautiful.” Shifting gears to producer mode, he adds, “The place did have its logistical problems. Wherever we shot, we had a large entourage of cars carrying our equipment. There was a truck containing the entire art department and it turned out that it couldn’t go up the narrow road up to the mountains. We ended up managing somehow.”
I turn to Azaan Sami Khan who may be high on the praises that he is getting for his music but I have so much more to ask him. For instance, being the son of musician Adnan Sami Khan, does he feel that there are certain expectations attached to his music and how does he deal with them?
“I don’t let the pressure get to me,” he shrugs. “I just do my work and enjoy it but yes, there is always that extra effort to not mess up!”
And does he ever get judged for his father changing his nationality from Pakistani to Indian?
“All the time but again, there is nothing that I can do about it. When I am at the airport, in particular, the men at immigration will make a jibe that I must be heading off to Mumbai. I just find it really unnecessary. I am working in Pakistan and I live in Pakistan and my father’s life is his own choice!”
Like his father, does he also have to struggle with his weight? “Yes, I used to be a really overweight kid! I still love food but now I watch what I eat.”
“I used to get you burgers when you were young,” Imran Aslam smiles at him.
“The entire cast and crew was like one big happy family,” adds Parisheh James, Frieha Altaf’s daughter, all set to make her first cinematic appearance with PHL. “I think that’s something that will appeal to audiences all over. The colour, the music, the festivity.”
Let’s hope that all the behind-the-scenes good cheer translates on to screen.