…. Aur yeh rahe janaab – aap ke sawaal aur Mehreen Jabbar ke jawaab!
We all know Mehreen as a brilliant, tell it like it is director – in all my years of watching her various projects I have yet to see OTT melodrama, zordar garajta barasta shor being passed off as background music, haye mujh pe zulm ho gaya type scenarios, mazloom dukhyari aurats, and heavily made up women in shadi ka joras masquerading as your everyday aunties – and going by that I had expected her responses to be equally intelligent and matter of fact as well. And yes, on that score I was more than satisfied.
What did take me by surprise, and a very pleasant one at that, is her warmth and charm that comes through in these answers, an aspect of her personality we don’t really get to see in our trite am talk shows or even the print interviews I’ve come across so far. Here she is grace and class personified as she responds to each question and comment, tareefi or tanqeedi.
Another pleasant surprise was the time and thought someone as busy as Mehreen has put into each response. The thoroughness and the honesty with which which she has answered, not being politically correct or trying to hide behind cute answers, makes my respect for her go up another notch. Ab I know you are all anxious to get to the interview so I’ll stop here. As I sign off, please join me in thanking Mehreen for her graciousness, patience, and time – very much appreciated!!
Written by SZ~
Q. Your name comes to my mind after I hear the word director. I love the camera work in your
dramas. The angles, the crisp quality and especially the scenes where the rays of sunshine are entering a room or a place! Had you always wanted to become a director? Or something happened and you were like, oh! I should definitely become a director.
A. Thanks so much Hammu for your kind words. I’ve always been blessed to have worked with some great Directors of Photography who create the frames you see on screen. I grew up in a family that was in media so was always surrounded by cameras. I remember the days of the VHS camera with the big tapes and I used to love filming short stories with cousins at home or just capturing moments with friends in school and college so yes I did always want to be a director. The only other thing I had wanted to be was an archeologist. Guess I’ve always been into digging up stuff 🙂
Q. Do you have any favorite directors from Hollywood whose work you love to the core?
A. Woody Allen. Richard Linklater. Hitchcock. Ramin Bahrani. Asghar Farhadi.
Q. Will you please make a Pakistani version of Canadian hit series Orphan Black with Sanam Saeed as the lead actress?
Q. Name an actor and an actress you would like to work again and again!
A. There are many contemporary ones but I would have loved to work with Khalida Riyasat once again.
Q. I’ve seen you searching for a new actor or an actress on Facebook. Have you ever found one? And if you did, were you satisfied that you chose the right actor?
A. I’ve been lucky to come across some great actors through auditions… like Sanam Saeed, Adeel Hussain, Nimra Bucha, Fazal Hussain, and many others.
- Zia F
Q. First of all, congratulations on Jackson Heights! From Khalda Riyasat to Maya Ali, who’ve you enjoyed directing the most in terms of acting skills? (Male or Female)
A. Thank you for watching and liking Jackson Heights! Again, I’ve worked with some fantastic actors. Starting with Khalida jee, Nadia Jamil, Sania Saeed, Faisal Rehman, Humayun Saeed, Sonia Rehman, Marina Khan, Nouman Ijaz etc to the new lot like Maya Ali, Sanam Saeed, Aamina Sheikh, Adeel Husain, Mahira Khan and so many more and I would love to work with them all over again. Whoever takes the art and craft of acting seriously is my favorite.
Q. Also wanted to know if it you miss the 13 episode serial format or you like the 24-26 episode length?
A. Yes!!! I miss it so much it hurts.
Q. Salam, I love Mera Naam Yousuf Hai but would it have a tragic ending? I love your works but wish they would have happy endings.
A. Thank you Fatemah..but if I tell you why would you continue to watch it 🙂 Some of my works have had happy endings like Jackson Heights, Malal, Coke Kahani, Aur Zindadi Badalti Hai and others. It really depends on the
storyline, but I don’t go out of my way to choose stories that don’t end well for the characters.
Q. What motivated you to become a director?
A. Thank you Rida and wish you the best with your studies. What motivated me was shyness. Pure and simple. I wasn’t a very talkative person growing up and it felt good to pick up a camera and point it at other people and have them do the talking! Also a desire to tell stories, an interest in personality traits, a love of reading, a love of cinema and a general desire to explore, discover and be surprised.
Q. How did you turn your setbacks into comebacks. What’s your motto. 🙂
A. I always say one has to be an iron man/woman in this field. Hear and take in all criticism and learn and grow from it. If you believe that you’re the best thing that happened to mankind then you will reach your limit and there is nothing beyond that. I hope to continue learning and making mistakes till I die because that’s the only way to feel alive.
- abdul jabbar khan
Q. Regularly watching Jackson Heights. Marvelous direction and touching subject. Its look so real.
A. Thank you Mr Khan. Highly appreciated.
Q. Which project amongst your dramas is your favourite, mine is Harjaee, any views about the pros and cons?
A. They all are… some didn’t turn out as I had hoped but I have to own them all. But I guess projects like Ab Tum Ja Saktey Ho, Putli Ghar, Beauty Parlor, Kahaniyaan, Doraha, Daam, Malal, Ramchand Pakistani, Jackson Heights, Mera Naam Yousuf Hai stand out. Harjaee was most fun to make and also because it was my first full on ‘commercial’ serial with a lovely team. We had a blast filming it..I guess the pros were the cast and the very masala storyline..the cons I seem to have forgotten because it was 13 years ago!
Q. Mehreen how was it working with Khalida Riyasat and Neelofar abbasi? With which PTV actor and actress do you want to work?
A. It’s a dream working with seasoned, gifted professional actors. How much one takes in from their experiences and their dedication. I feel it’s an honor for me to have had that chance and also to work with actors like Uzma Gillani, Samina Ahmed, Yasmin Ismail . I would have loved to work with Roohi Bano and I really want to work with Shahnaz Sheikh and get her out of retirement from acting.
Q. Were you happy with Jackson Heights being 28 episodes? Was it done with your approval?
A. Vasay and I had visualized this story as 18-20 episodes max. But the economics of this industry required us to stretch it and I know for a fact that both of us would have kept it according to what was originally planned but if only writers and directors were kings. Or queens.
Q. Why havent you worked with legendary writers like Haseena Moin and Anwar Maqsood. They still write occasionally but these new directors do not do justice to their scripts? If given a chance which writer would you like to work with?
A. I would love to but not sure Haseena apa is writing anymore. Anwar saab did the lyrics for the songs of Ramchand Pakistani but definitely if an opportunity arose of collaborating with him it would be very special.
Q. Which play of yours u think was not up to your expectations or the outcome was not that good of what u had planned?
A. I think despite being a very good storyline , Neeyat didn’t deliver as it was supposed to and there are many factors involved… one of the main reasons being I feel the script got lost in translation. It was written by Larry Pontius and in English it really worked but somehow got lost when it got to Urdu.
Q. Aslamualaikum….how you finalize your casting?
A. Walaikum salaam. I think it’s an overall suitability for the role and balancing the commercial as well as the freshness angle to any project. Sometimes a particular actor is just right for a role while some can surprise you and bring something totally unexpected and that can lead you to casting against type.
Q. Any advise for those who want to be an actor ?
A. Become an actor for the right reason, not to be a star or a hero. Acting is one of the toughest things I feel. To be brave enough to go to very difficult places, to be so vulnerable and open to people’s criticisms, to play all kinds of personalities. You must be empathetic, curious, a risk taker, open to experiment, innovation, uninhibited, and most of all courageous. One of the things to look out for is not to play safe. Not to give those expressions that everyone knows you will give in a particular scene. An actor must surprise the audience and him or herself..only then do they become stars.
Q. Loved Jackson Heights, as I live by New York I wanted to see how you direct the drama but unfortunately I did not know you and how to approach you.
A. Thanks so much Ranjan. Maybe you can drop by on the next project that will be shot in NY 🙂
Q. Which Hollywood director you admire the most?
A. I answered that earlier.
Q. How was it working with Deepti Gupta and Nandita Das ?
A. I admire both actors very much and both are good friends of mine too. These two are solid actors dedicated to their craft and it’s always been a pleasure to engage with them in a professional and personal capacity because there is always so much to talk about and share.
Q. Do you like Indian classical music ? (instrumental). Do you like to use them in drama ?
A. I love it! Some of my favorite singers are Kishori Amonkar and Subha Mudgal. I would love to if the scene required it.
Q. If you were to choose one amongst Doraha, Malaal and Daam as being your favorite, which one would you choose and why?
A. Thanks so much for watching and appreciating the plays. Means a lot. Now that’s a tough question because they all hold such fond memories. Doraha stood out because I was working with friends and the script was so powerful, Malal was such fun, again with friends but in freezing New York with limited production capabilities so all of us struggled and came through together, and Daam with such a dynamic script, new and seasoned faces and one of my favorite songs by Zeb and Haniya…so I guess they hold equal weight.
Q. How is it that you always have such amazing music associated with all of your shows? The background music, the title tracks.. basically every bit of music you use for your shows work out so beautifully with the content of the show.
A. Thank you SA! I love music as do most people but I think music can play such a pivotal role in completing and adding to a story and creating recall and memory for those stories or scenes. The challenge is to use music well and not to overdo it or overplay it. Again, I’ve had the good fortune to collaborate with such talented background composers like Ziyyad Gulzar, Shaun Ilahi, Saad Sultan, etc and use some amazing songs by Zeb and Haniya, Rushk, Rizwan Anwar, Tahira Syed, Bilal Khan, etc.
Q. Since drama is the primary source of entertainment in all Pakistani households which have TV, why is there a dearth of programming for teenagers and young adults, who form a sizeable chunk of the population and also are occasional viewers of Pakistani dramas, and what have you done or are currently doing for that age bracket. Most dramas are made with the average Pakistani housewife in the mind as the target audience and more often than not most young adults and teenagers cannot relate to those stories.
A. Thanks so much for watching my work and please give my regards to your dadi. That’s a good question and our market definitely needs a variety of programming. I think sometimes that PTV does that much better in that
they do cater to different age groups and themes. Private channels take into consideration ratings and ad revenues and for some reason their research tells them that the primary viewers of drama are housewives though as you mentioned there is a sizable number of young adults who are also watching as well as children. I think Coke Kahani, the short serial I did which was written by Syed Mohammad Ahmed was one project that catered to all age groups.
Q. With the increase in drama production, the quality of the dramas being churned out, have steadily declined. Who, in your opinion is responsible for that: the channel owners, the production houses, the writers, or the general mindset of the audiences?
A. All of the above 🙂 But seriously though all over the world there is trash TV, stupid TV and good quality TV. Our problem is the rut that we have gotten ourselves into by being so sure that the audiences will only like one
particular kind of story or theme because it did well once or twice or thrice. The audience can actually sometimes surprise you. Give them something different and they just might like it but at least make that effort. Some
producers and channels do try but it has to be a consistent effort and we desperately need to think outside the box for our stories.
Q. Jackson Heights was going awesomely great till 20/21 episodes and three more episodes to finale made complete sense but then why it jumped to 27 ?
A. Thanks so much Rehmat. Really appreciate the appreciation 🙂 I have no idea how it went to 27. It’s never happened in my entire career. I am known as the director who’s episodes always fall short. I think Vasay is also
surprised. This was always meant to be a 20 episode serial but because of reasons that are well known we had to stretch it out. Why it stretched even further will remain one of the biggest mysteries of my lifetime.
Q. Why can’t we have more projects like Coke Kahani on our screens?
A. I wish! I really loved Coke Kahani. I think the stories had substance, the cast was a great mix of new and seasoned actors and it was shot so well by Farhan Alam. One of the things we need very desperately is good humor on TV, not slapstick and senseless humor but light comedy that doesn’t insult the senses.
Q. How did you manage to keep those domestic abuse scenes subtle and aesthetically sound in Jackson Heights?
A. It’s all the actors… I think to overdo powerful and disturbing scenes takes the impact out. The most moving scene or moment is always the one that’s the most real.
Q. Till now what was the most difficult project for you… For which you were excited once it got complete?
A. All projects come with their challenges. I guess Jackson Heights was one of the tough ones…only because we had a very small crew of around 8, sometimes 9 people in total (which is by the way the standard number of crews that I’ve worked with on all serials based outside Pakistan) but here we had a lot of locations and a lot of actors so it was a fun but grueling shoot. My film Ramchand Pakistani was also tough. It was the first time I had worked with a such a large crew of about 80 people and shot in the desert and small towns with limited infrastructure but thankfully we had a great time and we finished on time without any major setbacks.
Q. Would you like to work with Umera Ahmed in the near future, if given a chance?
A. Of course I would love to. I did some of my favorite serials with her. Doraha, Daam and Malal.
Q. Do you personally work with writers to have a better understanding of the script?
A. It depends on the project. Sometimes I am given a serial that has already been written. In that case I discuss it with the writer and if need be some changes are made. In serials that I am involved in during the developmental stage, I interact with the writer a lot.
Q. What do you have to say about the dramas being aired these days?
A. Some good, some bad, some ugly.
Q. Which writers do you like working with?
A. All of the writers I’ve worked with or made dramas for. Azra Babar, Mohammad Ahmed, Umera Ahmed, Ashfaq Ahmed, Bano Qudsia, Vasay Chaudhary, Nasreen Rehman, Khalil ur Rehman Qamar, Samira Fazal, Farhat Ishtiaq.
Q. I was wondering if you have any films in the pipeline, as it would be so exciting to see a feature film by you.
A. Thank you so much SK! Actually I am working on a film and hoping to shoot this coming August so yes finally the second one is coming out.
Only took 8 years !
Q. I hope you can direct a drama with Farhat Ishtiaq – you both are a powerful duo! Best direction in any drama was hands down Mata e Jaan-the flashbacks, the emotionsbrilliant!Can fans expect a drama from you with Farhat Ishtiaq as the writer?
A. Thanks so much Aisha! Actually I did Rehaii with Farhat Ishtiaq as well and yes would love to work with her again.
Q. What makes Mera Naam Yousuf Hai unique?
A. I think what will make MNYH unique is the chemistry of the cast, the dialogues of Mr Khalil ur Rehman Qamar and the brilliant cinematography by Qasim Ali.. There was amazing energy on the set at all times and very
importantly we had a great team both production and on set and a drama free shooting process. I hope that translates on screen.
Q. Is there any chance that you will work with Fahad Mustafa in a future drama?
A. Actually I have signed up for a serial with Fahad’s company in which he will be starring. That will be probably end of this year or next.
Q. Mehreen Jabbar, I absolutely LOVE your work especially Putli Ghar AND Farar! I could watch them on repeat and recently Jackson Heights?! Fridays will never be the same!!As a director, what do you feel are the key elements in the coming together of a project?
A. That is so sweet of you Shameen. Thank you. And thank you again for reminding me of Putli Ghar and Farar, my ultimate favorites ! The key elements are first and foremost, the script, an efficient and creative producer team and of course the right cast and crew.
Q. Why did you choose direction and what has been your best experience out of directing?
A. Honestly speaking I think it chose me. Am not good at much else in life so this seemed to be the one thing I thought I could do. Though many times, I doubt I can even do that. Best experience are too many to put down but
some of them are Kahaniyaan, Ab Tum Ja Saktey Ho, Beauty Parlor, Daam, Doraha, MNYH, Jackson Heights, Malal and Coke Kahani.
Q. Growing up, what films/dramas were inspiring/influential to you?
A. Bicycle Thief, Salaam Bombay, Scenes from a Marriage, Wings of Desire.
Q. What role (if any) have film festivals played in your directing and work?
A. I have been to film festivals for two of my projects. One was the short film Beauty Parlor and the other the feature Ramchand Pakistani. Attending these festivals has actually been such a learning curve for me. To have audiences from all over the world view your work and then have question and answer sessions has contributed to my own understanding of my work and of the craft and art of filmmaking. It’s given me the opportunity to interact with my peers from different countries and share experiences. The more one engages and shares, the more one grows and learns. Discovery is such an exciting thing!
Q. What has been the most difficult character to cast out of all your projects and why?
A. I think it had to be Ramchand from Ramchand Pakistani. We all knew that if the kid wasn’t great, this film would not work and we are so lucky that Fazal Hussain was introduced to us by Yasir Nawaz. I remember Ahmed saab had gone to so many schools and towns auditioning for this role and for that of the older Ramchand and while he found the older Ramchand from Mirpurkhas, we were still missing our main character. So yes, this was a big challenge.
Q. Will you be directing Umera Ahmed’s Master Aur Afsar?
A. How do you know about this one? 🙂 I don’t know yet if I will be because I haven’t planned for next year.
Q. Any future plans for a film?
Q. From an artistic perspective, what is it about NY that initially drew you to it as a filming location, and what is it that keeps you coming back?
A. I actually moved to New York in 2003 so it’s my other home. I love this city. Its energy, its colors, its food, people, architecture, neighborhoods. Everything. Except maybe the C train.
Q. When you do a series like Rehaai, or show domestic abuse in Jackson Heights, is there any thought as to how this will be received by audiences in Pakistan? Any hesitations or modifications that consider for that?
A. One has a great responsibility in depicting such kinds of themes on TV because they can easily end up looking gratuitous or melodramatic and actually do more harm to the actual intent of the scene. I have always believed in trying to be understated while at the same time being realistic when approaching such scenes. It is very important for me to not degrade a woman on screen, to be very mindful of respecting her and creating some boundaries or limits to what I can show even if a particular scene might require more. I am very aware of the fact that this is television and it
goes into all kinds of homes and families. While I think I am a very progressive person, I can also be very conservative on screen. I have always believed that uncomfortable or delicate issues that one is targeting
in a drama will have more impact on people when dealt with in a sensitive manner.
Q. Any actors with whom you have not yet worked but would love to direct?
A. Saba Qamar. Samiya Mumtaz. Fahad Mustafa. Fawad Khan. Mikal Zulfiqar, amongst many others.
As an aside, Mehreen, this is such a delight – one of the first Pakistani serials I ever watched was your Daam, which I still regard as one of the best shows I have seen. Thanks for the many years of enjoyment.
A. Thank you so much Amudha!
- Kokab S.
Q. What major difficulties, if any, did you face during the making of Jackson Heights and how did you overcome or work around the problem?
A. I mentioned some of the difficulties in an earlier answer but I guess some challenges are common to all serials produced outside Pakistan. Because it’s slightly more expensive sometimes to shoot overseas, and because there is no production house or channel providing a base here, there are some unique things we have to deal with. For example, when one is shooting outdoor scenes, on streets or parks, etc since we can’t afford trailers, our base is usually some cafe or the other where make up will happen, clothes will be ironed, camera batteries charged, etc, etc.
Sometimes actors or assistants will carry their own bag of clothes because we do not have access to more than one vehicle. Because the camera team is usually only the DOP, Camera assistant, Gaffer (Light director) and sound recordist it can be really tiring work and because the assistants also double up as those who will serve tea on set and get food, at the end of every shoot day, we are all usually completely and absolutely tired as hell!
Q. Do you agree that most actors today rely more on background music as opposed to earlier when performances involved better voice control and ability to emote vocally?
A. I would agree that dramas need to get smart about using background score. I actually have to stop watching if the music is too much. I lose concentration and start getting annoyed! Regarding actors, I don’t think the music part affects them because when they are acting they don’t know if and what kind of music will be put on the scene. That’s in the post production/editing part of the process.
Q. Is there a book or short story you’ve read that you wish to adapt into a screenplay for the big screen or Television?
A. I read a biography on the Empress Nur Jahan several years ago and always thought what a film that would make. What a woman and what accomplishments and failures. If I don’t, I hope someone does justice to her story.
Q. Does Mehreen Jabbar-the director have a bucket list, genres and writers to strike off of?
A. My bucket list is only that I want to do films and a serial perhaps once in two years ! 🙂
Q. It is quite routine for actors to complain about the formulaic stories and point to producers and channels for churning out the same old, but recently when popular actors (Fahad Mustafa, Ahsan Khan, Faysal Qureshi, for instance) have turned producers they appear to have no compunction in joining the others in producing more of the same … does this mean there is neither hope nor interest in bettering the content coming our way?
A. There is always hope and there must always be otherwise kiya faida..might as well pack our bags and learn another trade 🙂 I feel while there are good intentions, there are the harsh realities on the ground and in the end if you are a producer, you want to make something that will sell. However, there are examples like Jackson Heights which was supported by Humayun Saeed and was bought by Urdu 1 and regardless of what one felt about
the serial, it’s heartening to have a producer willing to put money into something different. I also think Coke Kahani was out of what ordinary sitcoms were at that time. Rehaii is another example of tackling a social issue and providing answers and I am so happy that Momina Duraid and Kashf Foundation got this together.
Q. Your projects have always presented a picture of a very cosmopolitan Pakistan, with characters belonging to various ethnicities and religious groups populating your stories … has this been a conscious choice?
A. Yes, that is a conscious choice because we live in a vibrant city of different faiths, sects and creeds and to accurately depict a city like that, you have to have characters that represent it.
Q. Have you ever thought of doing another project like Kahaniyan?
A. Humayun, Ahmed saab and I have been talking about it forever. We came very close to it a couple of years ago. Kahaniyaan remains one of my most favorite series and perhaps that could be something I can try and revive again next year!
Q. If I remember correctly you and Sarmad had done a project together a while ago … would love to see you two collaborate again.
A. Sarmad directed this great serial for us in 2008 called Qatil, written by Larry Pontius and based on an Agatha Christie novel. Unfortunately it never got the publicity it deserved but I would love to collaborate with him for sure. In fact we almost worked together in Lala Begum but alas some last minute stuff happened and we couldn’t.
Q. Among the current crop of directors whose work do you like to watch or is there a particular project from a particular director that you are looking forward to?
A. Am really looking forward to all the films coming out. Asim Raza, Nadeem Baig, Yasir Nawaz, Wajahat Ali, Asad ul Haq, Jami, Shahid Shafaat. Exciting times ahead for Pakistani cinema.
Q. Do you watch any of the current serials? If so, has there been a serial in recent times that you wished you could’ve directed, or thought you could’ve done a better job with ?
A. I don’t actually. I prefer to watch on TV and online watching is not my cup of tea yet. So whenever I am in Pakistan and have time off, I do watch. I wish I could have directed Humsafar. Haha. But not because I could have done a better job but just because.
Q. If you had the freedom of choice, what kind of a story would you like to tell?
A. Anything but family issues, mother in law, two wives, three wives, four wives, mistresses, crying women, shouting men. Maybe something like House of Cards, The Leftovers, Seinfeld, Friends, The Killing.
Q. How involved are you with the stories you direct … do you work closely with the writer as he/she is developing the script … or is the Khalil ur Rehman type arrangement more the norm, where you can’t touch the script at all and how restrictive was this for you as a director?
A. Think I addressed some of this earlier but apart from Khalil saab’s script I’ve touched some other scripts 🙂 It really depends on kind of story it is.
Q. You’ve done a lot of work with Sania Saeed in the past, in fact if I’m not mistaken her first play, Ab Tum Ja Saktey Ho, was with you. How come we haven’t seen you two work together in recent times?
A. That wasn’t Sania’s first play but it was my first with her. I would love to work again with her and with Nadia Jamil. We did so much work together in the 90’s and later but yes recently somehow we haven’t. Maybe that Kahaniyaan project might be the answer!