“Shani, you have to get your test done as well.” The insistence from his wife Nazo (Hania Aamir) hits Shani (Ali Rehman) out of the blue. “Test? What test?” he goes, and then it dawns on him.
Shani and Nazo can’t have children and it cannot only be the woman’s fault always. For men, it’s a tough pill to swallow. Incredulous, Shani doesn’t feel the need to talk about this further. The screaming starts soon enough.
The opening of the trailer for Wajahat Rauf’s new film, Parday Mein Rehne Do (PMRD), a drama-comedy, doesn’t hold back its big spoiler; there is definitely a fertility problem with Shani and, since it’s a Wajahat Rauf film (the man is known for making funny, family movies), herein lies the comedy.
Shani’s dad (Javed Sheikh) is angry because other couples are breeding entire cricket teams. “Someone from the neighborhood is delivering their ninth child and our son doesn’t even have an opener,” he angrily wisecracks to his wife. “The other family has ‘nau’ and we have ‘no’ [a pun between nine and none]. What sort of ‘enjoyment’ of marital life is this!” he hollers.
The subject of infertility generally hasn’t been tackled in both film or television in Pakistan, since it is often considered taboo. But all that is about to change with Wajahat Rauf’s Eid-ul-Fitr release, Parday Mein Rehne Do
For a very serious film, the jokes and gags about the difference between ‘important’ and ‘impotent’, ersatz home remedies, mantras and tantras, fly hard and fast.
However, more important than the layering of humour are the emotions. How does a husband and wife, who love each other, deal with such a heartbreaking revelation, Wajahat tells me as we finally put our ears to our cellphones for a conversation.
PMRD, his fourth film, and also one of the five films scheduled to come out this Eid-ul-Fitr (the others being Ghabrana Nahin Hai, Dum Mastam, Chakkar and Tere Baajre Di Rakhi), is a departure from what he often makes: lighthearted films about love, romance (Chhalawa) and, more often than not, road-trips (Karachi Se Lahore and its sequel Lahore Se Aagay).
“At the back of my mind I wanted to do something different with my fourth film,” Wajahat tells Icon. Wajahat and Yasir Hussain were gearing up to write their next film when, he says, God gave PMRD to him.
This is a comedy film with a message that’s relatable, he says. “Shaadi biyaah [weddings], road-trips, there was a time for that for me — and it is not like I have matured past those type of stories — but after three films, one wants to venture into other genres before coming back to his comfort zone.”
The screenplay by Mohsin Ali (Wrong No., Chhuppan Chhuppai and the upcoming Ghabrana Nahin Hai) was already primed for shoot. The sought-after actress, Hania, already knew about the story, so the project only needed an able and willing director, a financier and a good male lead.
“While Hania already knew about the story, we needed a strong actor to pull off an equally strong male character. Any other actor might think twice about a character such as Shani,” Wajahat says about Ali.
The project went into production immediately.
Wajahat, it’s well-known in the industry, doesn’t spend time pondering on projects. He is not beholden to studios and distributors for permissions because, almost always, his own money is on the line.
“I think since the subject of infertility hasn’t been tackled in both film or television, it holds novelty value for me and for the actors,” Wajahat reasons. The subject is all but considered taboo but, he reminds me, similar stories have been made in Bollywood.
A story like this could very well be a topic for television, but cinema, he argues, holds a higher, more prestigious pedigree than television. Cinema, via international exhibitions, film festivals, opens doors for cultural exchange, and reaches out to both foreigners and expats in a way television doesn’t.
The medium is also much more diverse, with long-term longevity and reach via adjuvant avenues, such as digital platforms (Wajahat’s films often get picked up by Eros, and the platform also financed his web-series Enaaya, with another set to follow).
“A film brings with it a spiral effect that creates buzz, so having the right subject makes all the difference,” Wajahat continues.
“Doing things differently is also a filmmaker’s responsibility. The industry has warmed up now. Three four years ago, cinema was too new for experimentation but, with thrillers such as Laal Kabootar, things are gradually changing,” he says, further explaining his reasons for doing PMRD.
The film started shooting in February 2020 but, with hardly 18 days of shoot in the can, the coronavirus pandemic halted PMRD’s production for nearly a year. Production resumed exactly one year later, in February 2021, with another 18-day spell.
Wajahat, however, didn’t stay put during the year. He directed the hit serial Raqs-i-Bismil starring SarahKhan and Imran Ashraf, for Hum TV. His last foray into television, as a director, was Shaadi Mubarak Ho in 2016 (he had been producing dramas — but not directing them — for the past 18 years, he tells me). The light-hearted series ran on ARY Digital and starred Kubra Khan and Yasir Hussain.
Raqs, a very serious television drama written by Hashim Nadeem, was another godsend. It allowed Wajahat to master the sombre tones of sentiments that PMRD necessitated.
The film, given its subject, isn’t all grim and grey, however, Ali Rehman tells me when we speak on the phone a few hours after my conversation with Wajahat.
PMRD is primarily a love story about two people, Ali says. “This is a family entertainer. There is a romance angle in it, and there’s comedy in the situations. However, the film is not a comedy,” he affirms. “We’re delivering a message while keeping in mind that the audience will watch PMRD with their children.”
Ali’s character Shani would be immediately recognisable by everyone coming to the cinemas. A middle-class, educated, sensible, sensitive and confident young man, Shani is the absolute opposite of his family. Like the majority of young men, Shani is scared of his father, Ali explains.
“You don’t talk about infertility in the open, and these kinds of conversations don’t really happen in families as well. People generally think that infertility is either a man or a woman’s problem when, in fact, it impacts the whole family,” he says, explaining the depth of the issue they’re tackling.
“People don’t understand that there are other ways of having children,” he explains, which is probably one of the issues PMRD’s story may address (that is, this writer hopes it does).
The film’s timing couldn’t have been better, he says. According to Ali, as per the research he did for the role, the Punjab government is busy making fertility clinics accessible and free for people who need them.
Hania, who I get to speak to past midnight, is all praises for her co-star.
“I’m super-proud of Ali for taking the character. A lot of male actors would have been hesitant to do the role. They would be thinking ‘How can we, as heroes, be seen as na-mard [infertile]’,” she says over the phone.
“There is a pointless stigma attached to infertility. One has to see it as something that is not in your control. Sometimes you just can’t have kids,” she says.
“An infertile man is not even considered a possibility in Pakistan. For men, it’s easier to blame a woman,” she says. The go-to solution is to simply remarry: “Iss ko chhorro, agli pakro [leave one woman, and go after another],” Hania says.
“If people coming to watch PMRD get uncomfortable, then that means we’re pricking their mentality. We’re trying to poke them…get them to open their eyes. Some will not like it and some will like it, but that happens with every film, irrespective of its genre and message,” she says.
“I don’t think there is a specific time to discuss any particular topic, including Eid,” she tells me as we get to the question of why this may or may not be a perfect Eid-ul-Fitr release.
“I don’t think Eid films should be of a specific type,” she begins. “The people who come to see movies aren’t changing, they’re the same ones who go to the cinemas on Eid or normal days.”
According to Hania, if we only release films with run-of-the-mill stories and entertainment value on Eid — i.e., song and dance love stories — then that would create a cliched, constrictive image of Pakistani cinema that would be detrimental in the long run.
PMRD, by the way, also has songs and dances — this is a commercial film after all — but the relevance of the message is far more prominent.
“The more people come to watch PMRD on Eid, the more they can talk about it — and it’s better that a lot of people talk about it,” says Hania. “Our reason to make this film is to start a conversation.”
Hania’s character, Nazish (lovingly called Nazo) is extremely empowered by her own self, the actress tells me. “She is full of love, and she’s funny and loves to have a good time. You sit with her and you loosen up because of her vibe. She’s that person, jiss ke saath baith ke maza aata hai [she’s the type of girl who you enjoy hanging out with].
“Nazo was so real, and I love doing characters who are close to reality, because I’m like that in real life too. I could relate to her but, at the same time, she can differentiate between right and wrong. If you cross her, or hurt her feelings, she’s going to take her time getting over it,” the actress explains.
“I think there is a team effort in creating a character,” she says, explaining that she is a fan of Mohsin’s writing and Wajahat’s direction. In fact, Hania calls Wajahat a master of details when it comes to comedic nuances.
As it turns out, you can’t keep Wajahat away from comedy. “For me, I’ll always stick with comedy,” he tells me, accepting his personal inclination towards the genre.
His next film might just be an all-out madcap comedy but for now, with Parday Mein Rehne Do, he’s happy deviating from his comfort zone by tackling a subject that really matters.
Originally published in Dawn, ICON, March 13th, 2022