There are not many writers in our entertainment industry who experiment with novel ideas. Fasih Bari Khan is among the individuals who risk their careers trying to discuss social issues molded in humour, instead of going with the ever-trending romantic stories. His latest project, 7 Din Mohabbat In, starring superstars Mahira Khan and Sheheryar Munawar, was a fantasy tale for the Pakistani audience. In this interview with Pakistan Today, the writer shares snippets from his life and what inspires him.
First of all, congratulations on the success of 7 Din Mohabbat In (7DMI). The film received mixed reviews despite its standout success during the Eid holidays. While the movie with its dream team impressed cinemagoers through witty dialogues, the fairytale story wasn’t welcomed by all. What do you think went right, or wrong?
FBK: I’ve experienced this before in my life. It’s never possible to make all 100 percent people like a particular project. The response was largely good and it is worth noticing that nobody in Pakistan has ever made a fantasy movie like 7DMI. In past, I’ve only scribed realism so it was a new experience for me as well. People complaining about the imaginary story should at least give us credit for proper characterisation and dialogues. I mean, people have themselves admitted that they have never seen Mahira play such a role.
You’re known to write more often on social issues and after this experience, do you believe Pakistan is ready for such imaginary tales like 7DMI?
It was Meenu and Farjad’s idea to make this movie. I wrote the screenplay and dialogues and added the character of djinn, played by Javed Sheikh, which, I agree, was dragged a bit too far. It was a fantasy movie so there’s no particular logic behind anything, but to show people’s desires. You can’t expect something like Motorcycle Girl while watching 7DMI.
People here aren’t much used to witnessing such novel ideas. Despite all the illusion, 7DMI talked about gender-related issues and human rights. We have tried presenting new characters which the masses have never experienced in our films or dramas before. Mira spoke in a Bradford-ish accent and Amna Ilyas voiced support for Aurat Raj. Our people may not be ready to see such roles, but it is our job to provide them with quality entertainment and a pinch of social issues.
How was your working experience with Mahira, whose last outing, Verna was a serious film?
Working with mainstream artists was a fresh experience. Mahira did a pretty decent job and I must admit, I wasn’t expecting her to pull this off. The credit goes to the directors who actually made these stars perform well. The best thing about Meenu is that she conducts lengthy rehearsals before the filming. The directors made Shehryar and Mahira rehearse for a month before the film’s shooting.
People say the industry is taking off and will soon fill cinema halls by gradually promoting quality entertainment. What are your views on this?
The producers are making big compromises on the stories. The same old jokes are being re-written and replayed in almost all films. It’s still a long way to go, but we’re headed in the right direction.
You tend to make dramas with Mazhar Moin and movies with Meenu-Farjad. Is there something special about these writer-director partnerships?
It’s essential to know the work ethics of the place wherever you’re going to spend your creative energy and it’s always preferable to work with like-minded people. Meenu and Farjad are really talented filmmakers. Jeevan Hathi was our first project together. It was a movie for film festivals and received good feedback. Since then, we have had a good understanding of each other’s capability.
No doubt, you have a deep intellect in dark comedy which reflects in your humour and satire writing. Who do you credit it? Did it come through keenly observing the society or by reading bold Urdu writers like Manto?
My stories and writings are originally inspired by the society. It’s not intentional. But whenever you’re trying to write such openly, you shouldn’t warn yourself that this will get censored. During PTV’s golden era, people like Younis Javed, Amjad Islam Amjad, Ashfaq Sahab and Bano Qudsia, Sermad Sehbai, and Kamal Ahmed Rizvi used to write.
But now, the quality has greatly been compromised with women digest-type stories. M Sharif was an under-rated name in humorous writings. He wrote a drama named Parchi, highlighting the sifarish culture. Nusrat Javed, who’s now doing a current affairs show, also wrote good stuff.
Even if you’re writing comedy, which is the case most of the times, you try to cover social issues, discuss controversial taboos, and point out particular problems like overpopulation, economic disparity, and elderly care. How does making someone laugh and spreading awareness go hand in hand?
The type of humour we normally see in our dramas is through violence, which is rather depressing. Characters are shot beating each other and making fun of their appearance to create laughter which is actually wrong and it is about time we avoid doing this. The key is to make the society reflect on itself through the medium.
You pay careful attention towards the detailing of each character, including those of everyday lives like domestic workers and other side roles. Where do you take so much inspiration from?
Common people have both good and bad in them. I deliberately write such roles which depict the daily life and our society. My personal likings include writers like Kamal Ahmed Rizvi and Munnu Bhai. Munnu Bhai has written in a really authentic way, paying extensive attention to his characters. That’s where I take my inspiration from.
Hina Dilpazir is the star of your shows and movies. What is it about her that sets her apart? You can find another Mahira Khan and Shehryar Munawar, but what about another Hina Dilpazir or Javed Sheikh’s replacement?
I have seen some new faces in the theatre in the local circles that are impressive. The problem in our industry is that we search for heroes and heroines. The quality of our dramas and films have declined because they lack characterisation which is the essence of every project. There are very few writers and directors who would spend time working on their characters. This is the only way you can make your dramas and films memorable.
With so many social limitations of culture, religion, awareness and tolerance, is it tough to be creative in this country?
There’s no limit on so-called intellectuals in our country who know nothing. We must admit original work has dried up due to these limitations. There was a time when people would value originality. We produce things that are mostly inspired by either the neighbour’s industry or Hollywood, and that too is of compromised quality. I am proud to be one of those writers who has written all original dramas. When the makers ask me to change the script or dialogues, I give them a straight no. Because if we don’t value original work then there is nothing special to showcase.
Do you both the entertainment industries of Pakistan and India can peacefully coexistence in near future?
It’s really hard to create a balance. Our cinema owners prefer their movies over ours. For instance, despite bad reviews, Pakistani cinema hall owners bought Race 3 at an expensive price and gave it most of the shows. Such things create a sense of deprivation among our local makers.
Do you mind working in India, especially in view of the objections raised here?
No, I don’t. It should only be a matter of self-respect. For me, a project came up from across the border all of a sudden. I made no move since I’m a very lazy person, to be honest. Art shouldn’t have boundaries. Many of my friends are based in India and they appreciate the good work we do. You can find Indian fans of Farida Khanum and Manto. The same is here with the growing obsession of Gulzar and Amrita Pritam.
So what’s next?
I am not rushing on anything. I was approached by Indian producers for a story and they are reviewing my script for a film. It’s a very different and unique topic.