January Issue 2015

By | People | Profile | Published 4 years ago

As 2014 drew to a close, three films led what is being called the revival of Pakistani cinema: O21, Dukhtar and Na Maloom Afraad. Debutant director, Nabeel Qureshi is the force behind the massively popular Na Maloom Afraad (NMA), shows for which are sold out even two months after its release. Although a new name for film enthusiasts who might think he’s that rare example of overnight success, Qureshi has, in fact, been slowly and steadily working his way towards fulfilling his childhood dream of making films.

The secret of his success: Work, work and more work. “I’ve worked a lot,” he says, his explanation for not facing any major hurdles while making NMA, which includes some neat action scenes. Besides minor issues like Fahad Mustafa being chased by the police and Rangers when they saw a man dressed in a burqa, and scheduling conflicts, Qureshi doesn’t admit to facing any problems. He puts this down to his work experience; freelancing as a director even when he had a job as one. “As a passionate filmmaker, nothing seems difficult to me,” he says.

Nabeel Qureshi is originally from Sukkur, and only moved to Karachi in 2004. Between then and now, he has worked at Aaj TV, ARY and Geo, and freelanced with Amena Khan (an ad filmmaker and music video director since 1995). He began by directing promos and ads, moved on to cooking shows, then the popular comedy series, Banana News Network, and finally two telefilms. It was the quality of these telefilms, with a lot more action than is usually seen on television in Pakistan, that made people notice him. It is also what eventually helped Qureshi get Javed Sheikh – who had watched the films and liked them – to take him seriously and agree to play the role of Shakeel Bhai in NMA.

Although veteran actors Javed Sheikh and Salman Shahid, and drama regular Fahad Mustafa have lead roles in NMA, Qureshi insists he doesn’t like working with big stars. “I run from star-casts,” he says. “I like working with newcomers. They don’t throw tantrums and work hard.”

The NMA cast has some big names, but most of them are television actors (Sheikh, Mustafa, Urwa Hussain). Qureshi says he was warned by a lot of people that television actors just can’t pull off films. “But I don’t think that makes any difference,” he says, “as long as the actors do a good job, it doesn’t matter if they’re television or film actors.” And now that people have seen how successful a film with a television cast can be, Qureshi says he knows of several filmmakers who have jumped on the bandwagon and are making films very similar to NMA. “People in Pakistan like learning from other people’s experiences instead of their own,” he says. They tend to work within their comfort zone, but to revive the film industry, he believes filmmakers need to be more daring. “People should make films they are passionate about,” instead of regurgitating old ideas.

To make up for the lack of star-power in Pakistan, “the script has to be made the star of the film,” Qureshi asserts. “The rule is simple; at the core of filmmaking is storytelling, and if the audience doesn’t understand the film it won’t do well, like Interstellar for example,” he says, conveniently avoiding any comparisons to Jami’s O21, that hasn’t done as well at the box office. When pressed, however, Qureshi says he still hasn’t watched O21, but that he has great respect for the senior director.

Although he says “you have to be completely positive right from the start and believe in your product,” Qureshi believes that lighter, more commercial films like NMA are needed to revive Pakistani cinema. “Pakistan needs comedy films which offer pure entertainment. A lot of films made in the past were too dry and serious. Their objective was not to revive cinema in Pakistan. We don’t need parallel cinema right now,” he says.

Comedy and action are the genres Qureshi is interested in, and maybe even a bit of dark humour, but he doesn’t like limiting himself. “I haven’t set any boundaries. I just follow my heart when it comes to filmmaking. But the films you make also depend on what phase of life you’re in. Ten years from now, I could be interested in making very different films.” Whatever the genre, Qureshi believes there is a lot of scope for filmmaking in Pakistan, because there are so many issues and so much more material for content.

Before NMA became a hit, “We were the underdogs, no one knew us. But now the pressure is on, and people expect a lot from us,” he says. Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza, his co-writer and producer, have already begun work on another script and shooting for the film is set to begin next year. But he doesn’t divulge any further details. “We didn’t make any big announcements about NMA either and the trailer was only released after the film was complete. I feel that if I tell you about our next project, it’ll get jinxed. I like to work under cover.”

This profile was originally published in Newsline’s Annual 2015 issue.

Hiba Mahamadi was an Editorial Assistant at Newsline