Having been an integral part of the entertainment industry for more than half his life, veteran actor-director Jawed Sheikh talks about his newest release Wajood, how the local film industry has evolved over the years and his views on the pertinent issue of sexual harassment.
An actor par excellence, a mentor and one of the strongest links between the old and new wave of Pakistani cinema, Jawed Sheikh needs no introduction. If we speak of local cinema post its decade old revival, there is hardly any film that doesn’t feature him. And this year is no exception as he’ll be appearing in two out of the four Eid films releasing. One of them is a love story, Wajood, a film he has directed after a decade, and the other one is called 7 Din Mohabbat In – both will coincide with Azaadi and Na Band Na Baraati.
“It shouldn’t have been like this,” Jawed Sheikh told Instep, speaking of the competition between the four Eid releases on the box office, as we sat down for an exclusive interview at his house.
“I think two films are enough for Eid; releasing four films simultaneously isn’t a good call. I have made seven films in the past and none of them was released on Eid; this is the first time my film will be running during Eid season. I am not in favour of this idea. It’s not just your loss but results in loss for other films too. And it’s because of those people who jump in later on. For instance, if I’ve announced my film, then others should refrain from releasing theirs around the same time. It’s wrong. There should only be two films. You invest so much in a film so you need to recover too. This is also a science. Raj Kapoor sahab used to say ‘Film banana ek art hai aur film lagana ek science hai’. In India, when there is a big film coming out, others don’t jump in at the same time or they either switch dates.”
Speaking of Indian films, I inquired if he feels not showing Bollywood content during Eid will benefit local releases. “Of course, it is going to be very helpful,” he asserted. “We’ll benefit out of it. It’s not like people don’t want to watch Pakistani films; we’ve seen our films doing really well during Eid season in the past.”
Coming back to Wajood, the film marks Sheikh’s return to direction after Khulay Aasman Ke Neechay (2008) and features Danish Taimoor, Saeeda Imtiaz and an Indian newcomer called Aditi Singh besides Sheikh himself.
What made him cast an Indian actor when Bollywood has put a blanket ban on Pakistani artists, I asked him. “I cast her because I found her appropriate for the role,” he responded. “It’s the role of a girl who lives in Turkey so I wanted to show a foreigner instead of having a Pakistani actor onboard. I couldn’t cast a Turkish girl due to language barrier so I decided to take her. We have got big hearts; our industry is flourishing so fast that now we can hire them. We are showing their films and are casting them in our films too because we want to extend a hand of friendship. Politics shouldn’t intervene in cultural exchanges.”
Wajood has been co-produced by Momal Sheikh and Shehzad Sheikh while it was shot in Turkey and Pakistan. The film’s trailer released last month and generated a bit of criticism as it fails to paint a clear picture of the storyline, among other things that appear to be out of place.
What does he have to say on this feedback?
“You can’t judge by the trailer what the film is about,” Sheikh observed. “I didn’t show the story on purpose as I wanted to keep a surprise element. Everybody has an opinion but once they will watch the film, they will find it very smooth. One will not be able to predict what’s going to happen next. It’s a love story with a little bit of thrill in it. There’s music, there’s comedy and there is a mixture of everything.”
From Wrong No. to Na Maloom Afraad to Jawani Phir Nahi Ani and Bin Roye, Sheikh has played a diverse set of roles, with each character offering something unique to viewers. Whether the roles were good or bad, substantial or short appearances, he has played any and every sort of character onscreen.
Does he think it is a good decision to essay so many roles instead of being selective?
“It’s not damaging at all,” he replied. “They cast me because I do different roles. There is a unique look and feel of my character in each film I do. For instance, my role in Wajood is in sharp contrast with the one in 7 Din Mohabbat In and in the films that are coming up next after Eid. I think there is a variety in my roles which is why filmmakers somehow fit me in all these different characters. Otherwise, why would they come to me especially when they have to pay me a lot of money?”
Sheikh will be essaying prominent roles in two films that are scheduled to release in July. One of them is the Ali Zafar and Maya Ali starrer action comedy Teefa in Trouble that has been directed by Ahsan Rahim and is releasing on July 20th while the other one, called Jackpot, will release on July 6 and is pure comedy, according to the actor.
Reflecting on the way local cinema has shaped up post revival, Sheikh feels that we’re moving in the right direction and have come a long from where we started. He is optimistic that the industry will grow tremendously in the next 4 to 5 years.
“Everything is digitalized now and this is a huge change,” he added. “We got the hang of it quite late but I think we are on the right path. Now the kind of films that we are making can compete with any international film; we have the same equipment, the same lighting. It is just that we have to go to another country for post-production, sound work but I’m sure we’ll bring that home soon too. Though the industry is a little immature at present, things will get better in the coming years.”
“I’ve used the latest digital technology to bring Wajood to life,” he continued. “The equipment I used to work on earlier has completely changed now. When you will watch Wajood, you will see that I’ve incorporated all the latest technologies in it.”
Towards the end of the interview, we spoke about the pressing issue of sexual harassment, its silent existence that is now coming out of the shadows as victims/survivors have begun speaking up about their ordeal.
Starting from the Harvey Weinstein scandal in Hollywood, followed by that of Morgan Freeman and many others, the dialogue has extended to Pakistan’s entertainment industry as well.
Starting from singer Meesha Shafi, who accused her colleague Ali Zafar of sexual harassment earlier this year, more women came out sharing their stories of sexual misconduct on different occasions.
“It’s not just in the industry; it’s everywhere, all around the world,” Sheikh maintained when asked about his stance on the subject. “Women should be respected. They have the right to speak up. I believe they should come forward if they are wronged, I completely support this. Things are changing. However, whenever a woman is harassed, she should come forward and share what she went through right away. Coming out after 5 to 10 years, that’s not good.”
Perhaps, he has qualms regarding Meesha Shafi’s claim against his Teefa In Trouble costar Ali Zafar, as she opened up about what she went through a couple of years later.
Sheikh too came under a little bit of scrutiny post the Lux Style Awards 2018 earlier this year. He was presenting an award to Mahira Khan after which he tried to kiss her on the cheek but coincidentally Mahira turned her head away at the same time. The video went viral on social media as people perceived it as Mahira’s uneasiness with Sheikh’s act.
Given how powerful social media has become, this can happen to anyone, any day without there being anything substantial always. Being a male member of the industry, what’s his stance on the subject, I asked.
“There will be names that people will be shocked to hear,” he responded. “But it can be anyone and it is very shameful. I am totally against this and those people who are engaged in such acts. I am with the women; they should be vocal about it at the right time.”
When asked if there should be any boundaries or limits that one shouldn’t cross, he added, “It depends on what harassment means to those women who claim that they have been harassed.”
For now though, all eyes will be on Wajood that marks Sheikh’s return to direction in a post-revival era. Will he match up to the standard set by other local films, technically and otherwise? The upcoming days ahead will tell.