“We made a panel of young screenwriters (commonly referred to as a writer’s room in Hollywood) when we first started thinking about Rehbra’s story,” director Amin Iqbal told me when we met a few weeks back. He was talking about his upcoming movie, Rehbra, starring Ayesha Omar and Ahsan Khan.
Since the story was also Iqbal's, and his expertise lies in screenplay writing, he was able to oversee and streamline the added perspective from the pool of writers into a screenplay that was good for the film. This little exercise helped flesh out and differentiate the story from the norm, he said.
Iqbal elaborated that, while writing, they thought to experiment by showcasing a journey where every class of citizen was shown in the film. The idea was, he said, to show Pakistan in all its variety, from Karachi to Lahore, and to meld reality and fiction in a bid to tell a uniquely different, yet familiar-looking film.
“Ayesha is not just a Punjabi character; she represents a province of 12 crore people with her character,” he explained.
Omar plays Bubbly, the smart-aleck young woman from the middle-class, who exemplifies traditional values. “Danish’s character (played by Ahsan Khan), represents the well-educated urban youngsters," Iqbal explained. It’s a melding of two cultures and how their journeys together show them the colours of Pakistan.
“They see a mela (festival), they cross towns, cities, people; they learn to face challenges and we see how two very different people contend with these challenges.”
Iqbal, a veteran director from television (his recent hit Ishq-e-Laa just aired on HUM TV), becomes more than a little self-conscious when it comes to his film. “We tried,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that we tried and ended up with the best. I am saying that we tried to the best of our abilities and made a film that we were able to bring to the audiences today.”
“We discussed so many stories, debating on what stories would serve the audience, before we picked this one,” said Saira Afzal, the film’s producer.
Afzal, a physical therapist from Stamford, New York, has worked on Broadway as a hobby; Rehbra is her first foray into production. It was a risk she was more than willing to take, she told Images — despite hearing mostly discouraging feedback from native Pakistanis and those connected with the industry. It was a difficult process, she said, especially when Covid-19 shut down the world for almost two years. The project began shoots in late 2018 and, overall, the film took four years to complete (it was shot in two spells, I am told).
“I was asked why I didn’t buy any property with the money I was spending on Rehbra. Well, I will buy a property after this ‘intellectual property’ makes money,” Afzal laughed.
On April 28, Rehbra’s trailer was unveiled to audiences and it turned out to be exactly what the cast and crew promised during interviews.
The film is a commercial endeavour that doesn’t strain to be that out of the box. Rehbra carries a vibe of a cinema-film — the type of content that looks good on the big screen, with a fitting, formulaic story and a traditional, late 90s Bollywood-like feel that just works.
Ahsan Khan with a hero-like aura, is the leading man in a long-established sense of the word. Exhibiting a serious-minded persona akin to his name, we see Danish ticking-off the check-list of the stuff heroes do in a big-budgeted film’s trailer — he rides a jet-ski, walks with a swagger towards the camera, fights bad guys (Sohail Sameer, playing the villain with the looks to match), and romances the leading lady in an ear-catching song.
Omar, as the “bubbly”, good-natured leading lady, fits the role as well from what one can surmise from the trailer.
If looks are anything, Rehbra could be turn out be what the audiences demand from a motion picture —entertaining, escapist fare with a fresh, if not novel, perspective.
Rehbra is set for release on June 24, 2022.