Director of Geo TV’s latest drama, Alif, starring Hamza Ali Abbasi and Sajal Aly, on what made him say yes to the project while witnessing the transformation of Hamza Ali Abbasi and his upcoming web series.
Geo TV’s latest drama Alif is currently doing rounds for a number of reasons. It is by far the only drama that talks about religion and spirituality and secondly, because it was while working in this play that Hamza Ali Abbasi decided to walk the religious and spiritual path (much like Qalbe Momin, his character in Alif) and take an extended break from the showbiz industry. How the director Haseeb Hasan, the man behind Alif, tackled the production is a story in itself.
For a veteran of 20 years, with some of the biggest hits in recent years including Nanhi, Diyar-e-Dil and Mann Mayal, Alif was a challenge for him as well as he was returning to TV after 3 years. Excerpts from the interview…
Instep: After giving hits like Diyar-e-Dil and Parwaaz Hai Junoon, what is it that convinced you to choose Alif?
Haseeb Hasan: Alif is a spiritual journey that we all can relate to. When I met Humayun Saeed for Alif – his wife is the producer – he narrated the story of Mere Paas Tum Ho as well, which wasn’t named so at that time. Since my last project for TV was Mann Mayal, I should have gone for MPTH but I chose Alif as I had read the first four episodes and was captivated by Umera’s writing. It had more in common with what I was going through at that time. My own brother was suffering from cancer, as Sajal Aly’s brother was in the drama, and that clicked with me. Despite the advice of all my friends and peers, I went for a non-commercial drama without thinking twice about ratings as the script sort of healed me from within, which is bigger than any other feeling.
Instep: How difficult was it to handle the ensemble cast featuring Hamza Ali Abbasi, Sajal Aly, Sadaf Kanwal, Osman Khalid Butt, Kubra Khan, Ahsan Khan, Saleem Mairaj, etc.?
HH: They were a part of an ensemble cast for the audience but not me; I enjoy a good rapport with all of these actors. I believe that an actor only throws tantrums when the person on the other side isn’t serious or fulfilling his/her commitment. We completed Alif within 100 days. We had two actresses ready to play Husn e Jahan – Sanam Baloch and Kubra Khan – and Sanam even had her photo-shoot done for publicity. That kind of stuff happens when the makers are serious about the project, and that adds extra responsibility to the actors, as it did in the case of Alif.
Instep: Despite being a TV production, Alif seems visually larger than life…
HH: (Smiles) We shot it for TV but aesthetically made it look cinematic to give a grand feeling. The director of photography, Asad Mumtaz, did a wonderful job and since we used Alexa, the skin tone and picture quality is different from what we usually get on TV these days. We have used camera angles as per the dialogues and that’s why when the actor is delivering a dialogue, you see his facial expressions instead of the surroundings and believe me, it makes a huge difference. The reviewers are talking about the cinematography, which they never do because we have given them the platform to experience it. That’s a technique that you usually see in cinemas and maybe that’s why it seems like the audience is watching a film on TV, in a good way.
Instep: Did you witness the spiritual awakening in Hamza Ali Abbasi and Kubra Khan during the making of Alif?
HH: Yes, I did. The change in Hamza Ali Abbasi was major and at first, I thought that he was trying to be in character but when the art director mentioned to me that he was not returning the calligraphy items, I got curious too. That’s when Hamza showed us a painting he made featuring a holy verse that he also posted on his social media. I was enjoying his transformation until the time he told me that he would quit showbiz for religious reasons. That may have shocked people but not me because I was part of the transition as he worked with me in both Mann Mayal and Parwaaz Hai Junoon. The step he has taken is a courageous one and I wish him all the best for his future endeavors. As for Kubra Khan, she turned towards Sufism during Alif and it helped her as an actress as her perspective changed for the better; she became mature and without changing her lifestyle, became more religious.
Instep: What about your upcoming web series Dhoop Ki Deewar and when should we expect it?
HH: Dhoop Ki Deewar is very close to me; it is my production company Hamdan Films’ first major project and second, it is something that is the need of the hour. The plot revolves around two families that are united by their father’s death – one is an Indian soldier and the other, a Pakistani. How martyrdom affects the families and how they realize that peace is much better than war is what the web series will teach us. It will have 24 to 26 episodes and will be available to the audience in the first half of 2020.
Instep: How do you manage to stay active in every format, in this day and age, when people are more interested in films?
HH: One has to do so to stay relevant, especially in this day and age. I am also the producer of Dhoop Ki Deewar and the Navy film while Laal was our first effort. The company Hamdan Films is named after my son and being the producer gives me the extra edge to do something I want, and say no to suggestions from marketing people. It also gives me a chance to challenge the director in me as not only do I learn new stuff; I also try to make every new project look different from the last one. Nanhi was something different than Alif, Dhoop Ki Deewar is not Laal and so forth. It is better to take a financial blow and deliver a quality product than succumb to suggestions that ruin a project. Let’s make this a learning from 2019 and head into the new decade, hoping that everything will change for the better.