It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon and the only buzz I hear is social media fawning over the latest episode of Dillagi, aired the night before. It is all people are talking about: how many episodes are left, will Mohid live or die and how will this love story conclude. Humayun Saeed actively follows all this hoopla, retweeting and reposting what he likes and contemplating the negatives with a fair level of introspection. He enjoys feedback and is open to criticism. He sends me the unseen promo of the next episode and we decide to meet up for a quick chat.
We connect over coffee and homemade chocolate cake; the last time I met him he wouldn’t touch sugar. This is obviously a role that he can afford to beef up for and he looks as good as ever. Dressed casually in khaki shorts and a blue shirt, he settles down for an informal chat…
Instep: People are talking about Project Ghazi a lot. Is it actually a superhero film?
Humayun Saeed (HS): My character is an army soldier, not a superhero who flies around. He’s an action hero. Ghazi is a program in which the best people in the army are chosen, and scientists do experiments on them to amplify their strengths. For instance if someone is good at aiming, then they get even better. But they can’t fly around or see in the dark.
Instep: Is it releasing next year?
HS: It should. Actually, I can’t say for sure because such films need work in post and that takes a lot of time. Right now it’s being shot. It’s going to require a lot of work in post-production.
Instep: Like Yalghaar’s release date, which has become the brunt of every joke…
HS: Jokes happen when you announce things too early. Post-production takes time, especially in action films. Yalghaar could be released in December but then to release such a big film with six other big films will also be a problem.
Instep: You play a negative role in Yalghaar and while you have played negative characters before, how will this one be any different?
HS: I’ve done a negative character before but it wasn’t so dark. It was a little grey. This is very dark.
Instep: I guess people need to see your range as an actor. They’ve seen you as the chivalrous, romantic hero for far too long…
HS: I agree. I have done similar characters up until now. Romantic types. I didn’t do very challenging characters and I would only stay within the realm of romance. So I had decided that if I saw a good role in a film, only then would I do it.
Instep: You have this magnanimous image of being a ‘doston ka dost’…
HS: Yes, I hope people think of me like that (laughs). I am like that.
Instep: Your personal story is very inspirational. You really struggled before you became such a big star.
HS: I put in a lot of hard work, and of course, there was some luck in it as well. I used to give tuitions. I used to walk all the way from Garden to Clifton. But I was always conscious of my hair and clothes and style. When my friend and I walked to Clifton we used to say, ‘let’s wear good clothes and walk and talk all the way.’ We wanted to stay fit. I used to play squash as well. I faced a lot of problems as well.
But when your hard work pays off, you think of helping others as well. I always knew that though I have become successful today, this fame won’t last. So I started production alongside acting.
People tell me that I’m never insecure and that’s because I stepped into production. I get my kick from that. I cast Hamza (Ali Abbasi) in Pyarey Azfal although it was a role that had been written for me.
As a producer, you don’t feel jealous. You feel proud and happy. I’m very lucky. It would be difficult for anyone who’s enjoyed being a heartthrob to be replaced by the next guy. There are times when I’m at an event and the press will run towards a new actor. There are times when people come running to me when they want me to introduce them to Hamza; I don’t feel bad and I’m very lucky that I don’t feel bad. That’s because, as a producer, I made them. I think ‘these are my boys’, they work with me and I’m going to make more stars in this manner. My head stays clear. I believe in doing the best that I can.
Instep: Is there a formula or a quality that a star should apply if he wants to keep himself evergreen?
HS: Just good work. Keep yourself fit and take care of yourself. Grow with your acting style and keep reassessing what you’re doing wrong.
Instep: This year has been very really slow for films…
HS: This is how it will go; one year will be good and the other will be slow. But several films are releasing soon. I think this Eid will be good.
Instep: What hurdles exist in the film industry right now, which we need to overcome? I know one is the lack of screens.
HS: The first hurdle is time; it will take time. Why do we have so many dramas? First we used to have one channel, PTV. Whatever came on it, we watched. When there were more channels, all kinds of work started pouring in. Consider for a moment what it means to increase screens? A film, any film, will do the same amount of business – 20 crores, 25 crores max, if it has become a hit, no matter how many screens there are. You can say that 30 crores is the limit of how much a movie can earn in Pakistan. That’s the limit of the cinema-going public. JPNA made over 30 crores because people watched it more than once. Manto, despite being brilliant, had an audience worth only 5 crores. The Manto audience needs to go up to 15 crores for producers to make more films like that. Right now, you can’t take that risk.
For example I make a really good film and take Irfan Khan and it’s released in Pakistan, I know it’s of no use because it will only make max 20 crores. So this is the biggest hurdle, you have to do the costing very carefully.
Instep: Do you feel that we should lower the price of the movie ticket?
HS: More people will come to watch movies if we lower the price. Because in most areas, for example in Jauhar, where the real Pakistani awaam lives, you won’t be able to keep such an expensive ticket. Right now the real audience hasn’t even been tapped into. Only 5 percent of the people who are watching TV dramas go to watch a film. The day screens increase, the ticket price will get lower because the competition will increase. It’s all connected.