Interview

THE ICON INTERVIEW: THE OTHER NADEEM

Written by Omair Alavi

Omair Alavi Published January 21, 2018

Photography: Arif Mahmud / White Star

His name is Baig, Nadeem Baig, not to be confused with film star Nadeem (aka Mirza Nazeer Baig) who has been entertaining cine-goers for the last five decades. Unlike the film actor, this Nadeem Baig has not changed his name. Why should he? He has carved his own niche as the director par excellence for giving the Pakistan film industry two of its biggest hits in recent times — Jawani Phir Nahin Ani (JPNA) and Punjab Nahin Jaungi (PNJ) — and hopes to continue the golden run with his third film slated to release later this year.

“After the TV serial Azar Ki Aayegi Baraat became a hit, people started congratulating the veteran Baig sahib for handling comedy so well as a director,” he says with a chuckle as he talks about Nadeem Sr. “He used to convey all those messages to me, asking me what to say in return. It was his shift from film to TV late in his career that confused viewers. In fact, during the Los Angeles premiere of JPNA, Humayun [Saeed] had to correct the host who introduced him instead of me. When the ARY Awards were held in Dubai a couple of years back, Baig sahib handed me the trophy for Best Director and announced that the confusion should end with it.”

There are worse things than being confused for a legend, I suppose. But how come both the Nadeems haven’t yet worked together in a project? “We once worked on a project a long time back but it hasn’t materialised,” the director Nadeem says. “In fact, I first offered the role of the Maulvi sahib to Nadeem sahib in Pyaray Afzal that was later played by Firdous Jamal sahib.”

Nadeem Baig started his career as an editor for a private TV channel in Lahore as soon as he finished college and inspired many with his modern editing skills and a sharp sense of understanding films. “I used to make promos for old Pakistani films and TV dramas, most notably Dasht, for Network Television Marketing (NTM) because that excited me a lot. It was my passion for films that made me get noticed by Tajdar Alam, my boss. He made me switch to production and from there onwards I became a part of films in Pakistan. It was great to see Tajdar sahib at the premiere of PNJ where I invited him as a special guest.”

After two decades of success in television, Nadeem Baig turned his hand to directing films and promptly directed two record-breaking commercial hits — Jawani Phir Nahin Ani and Punjab Nahin Jaungi. But few recognise him in public and he is still often confused for the legendary film star Nadeem because of his name. He opens up to Icon about his work ethic, what he hopes to achieve in films and, of course, the perennial confusion with his namesake …

For someone who has been around for nearly two decades, Nadeem believes he is still in the learning process. “You have to have the passion to make a film if you want to switch to cinema. Watching a film in a cinema is a different experience from watching a TV serial. Since my college days, I have been an ardent cine-goer, leading my friends to say that I will die in the cinema one day!”

As the discussion progresses, no one from the people around us in the crowded restaurant where we have met up for the interview seem to recognise the man behind Pakistan’s two biggest hits. That’s because unlike the youngsters of the ’90s, Nadeem has decided to stay behind the camera to pursue his love for stories.

“Achi shakl ke directors bhi to honay chahiyein na! [There should be good-looking directors as well!]” Nadeem says with a smirk when asked why he chose to stay behind the camera despite being reasonably good looking. “The story excites me more than acting. Actors are always part of the story which has to be good if you want a good film. I have seen big actors lose big time in bad films, and small actors gain big time in good films,” he says.

It was at Aaj TV that Nadeem got to meet two restless souls who would later herald the revival of the film industry in Pakistan — Nabeel Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza. “Oh yes, I remember them very well since they pissed me off by joining Napa [National Academy of Performing Arts] in preference over a steady job,” Nadeem laughs remembering the duo that went on to make Na Maloom Afraad (NMA) and Actor In Law (AIL).

After NTM’s shut-down, Nadeem began working as the production head at Eveready Pictures and after that he joined another production house as a director. “Chashmaan was one of the first plays I did and it got me in touch with talented individuals such as Ahsan Khan, Farah Shah and Navid Shahzad [who later played an important role in PNJ]. Umar Sharif’s Parda Na Uthao was a great experience considering we shot on a set with three cameras instead of one,” Nadeem says.

“Then came Family Front for PTV as producer followed by Dr Younis Butt’s Hum Sab Umeed Se Hain with Nida Yasir for Geo TV, after which I joined Aaj TV as head of entertainment and helmed The Begum Nawazish Ali Show.”

It was at Aaj TV that Nadeem got to meet two restless souls who would later herald the revival of the film industry in Pakistan — Nabeel Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza. “Oh yes, I remember them very well since they pissed me off by joining Napa [National Academy of Performing Arts] in preference over a steady job,” Nadeem laughs remembering the duo that went on to make Na Maloom Afraad (NMA) and Actor In Law (AIL). “I told them that by being associated with TV, they could learn on the job, but thankfully they proved me wrong. I am so glad that things turned out well for them as they are doing well as one of the most successful film producer-director duos in the country.”

JPNA and PNJ are Nadeem’s two films as filmmaker and both have broken records at the box office — JPNA became the highest grossing film when it was released in 2015 and PNJ bettered it two years later, becoming the first Pakistani film to rake in 50 crore rupees worldwide. However, Nadeem credits his success to another film that made him try his hand at film direction — the remake of Abhi Tau Main Jawaan Hun (ATMJH).

“[ATMJH] had Mikaal Zulfiqar in the lead with Ayesha Khan, Bushra Ansari, Atiqa Odho and Saba Hamid, and it was shown only for a day in cinema since it was part of a film festival. [Cinema owner and distributor] Nadeem Mandviwalla wanted to give it a cinematic release but since the TV channel that organised the festival didn’t agree, it just had one day of fame. As a young man also playing his older self, Mikaal was outstanding in the film and the way he stood his ground against the TV giants was commendable. The crowd loved the film and that’s the day Humayun [Saeed] and I decided to go for a film with the same writer, Vasay Chaudhry.”

Nadeem’s friendship with Humayun is longstanding but it has been reinforced with the stupendous success of their films together, leading one writer to describe their team as “the best jorri [couple] of Pakistani cinema.”

Directors tend to leave TV when they do well in films but Nadeem is not one of them. After he delivered JPNA, he returned to TV with Dillagi and then changed gears again for a film with PNJ. “I guess it’s kind of a personal choice. Yes, Dillagi was written like a film but the kind of layering TV allowed me to do made it one of the biggest hits of the year. Till a few years back, film actors looked down at TV but now so much amazing work is being done on TV that it is impossible to ignore it. Even Anthony Hopkins is now acting on TV.”

When he joined forces with Humayun Saeed for JPNA, did they know that the film would break records and spawn a sequel as well? “Frankly, we were more concerned about the investment as it was the first time, we were making a proper film,” Nadeem says. “Thankfully, people loved JPNA and that’s the reason why we went ahead with the sequel which will be released later this year on Eidul Azha.”

JPNA 2 is not going to be any ordinary film because it has a stellar cast: Humayun Saeed, Fahad Mustafa, Ahmed Ali Butt, Vasay Chaudhry, Kubra Khan, Sarwat Gillani and Sohail Ahmed. However, before the filming commenced, Syra Shehroz had issues with the director, as a result of which Mawra Hocane replaced her.

“I didn’t mind when Syra said ‘no’ to the lead opposite Fahad in my film,” Nadeem says as he clarifies the misunderstanding with the Chalay Thay Saath actress. “When I approached her, we didn’t have the complete script as we were in the process of writing it. She didn’t find the role engaging and rejected it but also, I never got back to her. Even the role of Durdana in PNJ was offered to Sohai Ali Abro on whose refusal we got hold of Urwa Hocane. She didn’t even ask for the script and the role became a hit.”

How was the experience of working with two of the biggest names in the industry in his upcoming comedy film? “Working with Fahad and Humayun was a challenge not only because they are good actors but because they are brilliant friends as well. Their relationship isn’t competitive. Humayun is the kind of guy who makes others secure and that’s why we had a great time in the first part and during the first spell of the sequel. We had no idea that Fahad would be part of the second one when we closed the camera on the first, but it was destined to be. This time I want Fawad Khan to say Part 3 to banta hai!”

This leads us to the topic of the actors that Nadeem hasn’t worked with. “I want to work with all actors so that I can bring out their best in them, maximise their talents,” Nadeem says, adding that he has worked with almost all the big-name actors including Mikaal Zulfiqar, Ahsan Khan and Hamza Ali Abbasi besides Humayun Saeed, Mehwish Hayat, Ahmed Ali Butt and others. “Whoever I am working with, I want them to give the next level performance. Yes, I haven’t had the chance to work with Mahira Khan as yet, but I know I will in the future.”

During the break from films, Nadeem often comes up with a telefilm because he feels like it. He seems to be obsessed with work and I wonder how that affects his home life. “It is quite difficult to convince my family of my absence but, yes, it does affect them. However, on a lighter note, as Bushra Ansari says ‘Jab Karachi aaya tha to chhay foot ka tha … kaam kar kar kay itna sa reh gaya hai [When you arrived in Karachi you were six feet tall … all the hard work has now worn you down].”

The director is sometimes criticised for working only with writers of his choice, a limited pool that includes Dr Younis Butt, Mohammad Ahmed (initially), Khalil ur Rehman Qamar, Faiza Iftikhar and Vasay Chaudhry (currently). “Yes, I am quite selfish when it comes to choosing writers, but then I interfere with their work as well. Logic is always of the utmost importance to me in a script, and if that is compromised, the whole project is compromised. I don’t want to stick to one genre, one taste. The way Faiza thinks about a story, Vasay can’t. Jo Vasay soch sakta hai wo aur koi nahi kar sakta [what Vasay conceives nobody else can] and the same goes with the others. Currently, I am working on scripts with both Faiza and Vasay.”

Considering Nadeem has edited the promos of nearly most of the films screened on TV during the ’90s, he is the most appropriate person to ask for his choice of a remake. “Nahin Abhi Nahin, any day any time,” the fan in the director replies with a glint in his eyes as we conclude the discussion. “What a wonderful film it was and what wonderful songs! Not only was it relatable but also so realistic … and the subtle romanticism is valid still. Nahin Abhi Nahin is one of those films that appealed to the director in me.”

Published in Dawn, ICON, January 21st, 2018

About the author

Omair Alavi