In an industry inundated with rom-coms, BaajiÂ is a drama that’s making its mark. The project is the directorial debut of Saqib Malik and the return of Lollywood icon Meera to the big screen. Haider Rifaat sat down with the ensemble cast to talk about the essence of the film
Baaji is your directorial debut. How does it feel to have made this film?
Itâ€™s a dream come true for sure, as Iâ€™ve wanted to direct a film for forty years. Now that Baaji has been released, it almost feels surreal. I hope that our hard work as a team pays off.
Are you content with the product youâ€™ve created?
Yes â€” we are very happy. I had a terrific cast, a good storyline and screenplay, accompanied by excellent music. When everything combines, it certainly makes a good film. As a director, Iâ€™m satisfied that weâ€™ve made a product with honesty, integrity and something different from the norm.
Was Meera your initial preference for the project?
Yes, Meera was my first choice. I thought of her when I conceived the concept. I had requested Irfan Ahmed Urfi to keep her in mind while writing the script. Meera is a great actress and has so much more to offer. She fits the role like a glove.
Most current Pakistani feature films are geared towards rom-coms. What prompted you to choose a different route and make a dramatic movie?
Iâ€™ve always liked drama and had always hoped to work on something that would engage the audience and be a compelling story at the same time. Baaji is different from a television drama, as itâ€™s a feature film, in its purest form.
Do you find that people often misunderstand you?
My statements are often misunderstood; I say something but people take it out of context. Many of my edited videos and speeches are out there for public viewing. People would morph my face onto someone elseâ€™s body and leak fake videos. I just condemn it all.
Why did you decide to make a comeback with Saqib Malikâ€™s debut film Baaji?
I had planned to leave this industry permanently. I wouldnâ€™t have made a comeback without Saqib Malik and his team. They wanted me to stand firm with the industry and that reason alone convinced me to take up the role.
What are your thoughts on the Pakistani film industry?
We donâ€™t make films in Pakistan. We recycle television and theater scripts for the big screen. Film is the largest medium and that needs proper understanding. Why are Hollywood and Bollywood such stable industries and not us? Why is the term, â€˜revival of cinemaâ€™ widely used here and not there? Because they can comprehend filmmaking and its principles. The stars of television appear best on the small screen, and film actors are most compatible with the silver screen. I believe Saqib Malik is a perfectionist and a sincere filmmaker, just like Mahesh Butt, Yash Chopra, Asim Raza and Nadeem Baig. Saqib, Asim and Nadeem are the three Pakistani directors, who in my opinion, know what filmmaking is all about.
Do you think itâ€™s the responsibility of directors, producers and senior actors to introduce new faces on screen?
Definitely â€” itâ€™s our responsibility to help young talent get visibility. I support new faces and would like to learn more from them,Â while also teaching them all that Iâ€™ve learnt over the years. Talent is overlooked in Pakistan and people are given preference because of their personal relationships with others. Our film industry is in dire need of reform because of unprofessionalism and behind-the-scenes tussles. Itâ€™s necessary to hold people accountable for their actions, so those who genuinely deserve a chance can come through with their acting ability.
One thing you wish to clarify about yourself.
You will always see me with a paper and pencil. Iâ€™m a good learner and like to engage in discussions.
A word of advice for film industry aspirants?
You canâ€™t make a good film with arrogance. Demonstrate stardom in your work, be punctual and stay committed. Forget about earning a single penny for two years while working on a quality project. Our industry requires restructuring and we can achieve that if we protect our producersâ€™ investments. Our celebrities refuse to promote their films internationally because they charge a hefty price. A good film is like an open book. You get to learn from it. If youâ€™re a true Pakistani, you will visit the nearest cinema and watch Baaji. Otherwise, I wonâ€™t consider you one.
How do you want to be remembered?
Through my work. I donâ€™t want to be remembered as a materialistic person. I hope to continue living my life with purpose, not as the old Meera. I got the chance to reinvent myself and strengthen my thought process with immense support from Saqib and my friends.
Three words to describe yourself.Â
Humble, talented and confident.
What compelled you to be a part of Baaji?
Initially, I was only supposed to appear in the song Gangster Guriya. Saqib Malik called me one day out of nowhere and asked, â€œAmna, will you be a part of the cast?â€ I was already aware of the filmâ€™s plot because of my involvment in the project and couldnâ€™t say no. I was very shocked, yet excited to play Neha.
Did you experience any vulnerable moment(s) during the film shoot considering Baajiâ€™s serious themes?
There are many points in the movie where my character, Neha, breaks down completely. One particular moment when ShameeraÂ dismisses and pushes her away for no reason made me feel vulnerable because of my own past.
A valuable lesson youâ€™ve learned from Meera?
When on set, Meera completely forgets about her personal life and just focuses on her work. I really admire that about her.
The trailer shows a power struggle â€” the quest to outdo someone else. Does the theme resonate with our film industry?
Of course â€” a new face replaces an old one. It happens. A person out of sight is out of mind. Itâ€™s the sad truth about any industry for that matter. Experienced actors, who devote decades of service to this profession are easily forgotten, if they dare to take a break. Why is it a requirement for senior actors to prove themselves from scratch? Itâ€™s just unfair.
How would you sum up your co-stars Osman Khalid Butt and Meera in a few words?
Osman: Very professional.
Meera: Brilliant actress. Our generation has not seen the best of her yet and this fact has caught me by surprise too.
Whatâ€™s your take on the fashion world?
Itâ€™s cutthroat; a different universe from television and film. When I was new to modelling, I felt people treated me poorly, more like a mannequin. After transitioning to acting, Iâ€™ve realised the sad reality that models are not revered.
Was performing arts a more conducive work environment for you as compared to modelling?
Performing arts has its own challenges, but yes, I feel more comfortable in the film world.
OSMAN KHALID BUTT
Describe Baajiâ€™s premise.
The film is set on the backdrop of a dying traditional Lollywood, with the new wave of Pakistani cinema and a fading superstar caught at the crossroads.
Does the story have any realistic bearing on Pakistanâ€™s entertainment industry?
For sure. Itâ€™s one of those art imitating life situations. The lines between reel life and real life are blurred. We belong to a patriarchal society, where artists are not regarded for their work. We donâ€™t believe in creating idols. Thereâ€™s a stark difference between how we treat our artists and how Indians glorify their own. Weâ€™re a very forgetful nation, unfortunately. Our old stars fade into oblivion and we fail to recall why theyâ€™ve won national awards.
What do you want us to learn from this project?
To respect stars, especially those who have done good work. The film addresses ageism and sexism. As prevalent as these issues are in our society, one hopes that our thinking changes.
Acting is considered an unstable profession. Is it important to keep a backup career plan before you step into this industry?
Thatâ€™s a very interesting question. If youâ€™re going into this industry thinking you would have a backup career plan, you will never succeed. Show business demands all of you. Your passion becomes your work. Thereâ€™s no point being in this profession, or any other, if youâ€™re not willing to invest your heart and soul in it.
MOHSIN ABBAS HAIDER
Everyone in the film has a different story to share. Whatâ€™s yours?
My character, Aji, is an ambitious young man with big dreams. However, when a girl, Neha (played by Amna Ilyas) comes into his life, his priorities change. Â Nehaâ€™s drive sets Aji on a different path, as he tries to match up to her. The project essays his journey to achieve his goals while pursuing her.
What struck you the most about this project?
Saqib Malik â€” he had planned to cast me in his film years ago. Secondly, the story was intriguing. Itâ€™s not your typical movie with one main lead. Each character is relevant to the premise. It never came to the point of asking, whoâ€™s the lead actor? Who else is in the movie? Once we read the script, we realised everyone had an equal part to play.
Have your personal experiences helped you play on-screen characters even better?
Yes â€” I acted in the drama serial Meri Guriya for my daughter. I could relate to the script because I know how hard it is to lose someone so dear to you.
Photography by Tapu Javeri
Styling by Anila Murtaza
Makeup & Hair by Depilex