Hareem Farooq is late for the interview by half an hour, but that’s not anything out of the ordinary. Over the years, I have learnt to expect celebrities to delay and dawdle. What I do not expect is for Hareem to be so apologetic about it.
She rushes in and exclaims, “I am so embarrassed about being late. I miscalculated just how much traffic I would rush into on the way!” Airs and graces, evidently, are not her thing. “I hate being late,” she adds. This turns out to be true, as a few days later she turns up early for the photoshoot for this interview. It’s a refreshing change from our slew of filmi divas … and it’s all very real.
Hareem herself looks very real on the day that I meet her, a far cry from the world of blow-dries and pancakes that she belongs to. She is dressed in a cozy jacket with her long hair splayed out — it’s coloured in the ‘it’ hue for a beauty brand with which she is officially associated. She is naturally pretty, her skin glows with the barest makeup and her dimples flash when she smiles.
“I suppose I’ll be spending more time on hair and makeup now that I have to get started on the promotional rounds for my movie Parchi,” she shrugs, almost ruefully. Dressing up, obviously, isn’t her primary concern.
Films are more her deal. She’s acted in a few — Siyaah and Dobara Phir Se(DPS) — and co-produced one — Janaan. Parchi, releasing in January 2018, is going to be her second co-production and also features her in the female lead.
“Cinema has had a rebirth but releases from Hollywood and Bollywood offer tough competition to local productions,” she observes. “Even though we are new to filmmaking, we need to make sure that every movie we bring out offers something new to the audience. The same goes for our dramas, where we unfortunately sensationalise generic storylines in order to get ratings. We can’t produce substandard work and expect people to support us out of patriotic duty. Our productions need to have entertainment value.”
Oozing with confidence, Hareem Farooq shares her views on new-look Pakistani cinema and her decision to produce and appear as the female lead in the upcoming film Parchi.
And Parchi, she hopes, is sufficiently entertaining. The recently released trailer for the movie looks promising, hinting at a mixed bag of comedy, song, action and romance. But Hareem knows that box office success can be elusive, succumbing all too easily to competition from international films and further crippled by acerbic reviews.
Is this a jittery time for her, I ask her. “It is,” she says. “But we’ve given this movie our all and have a lot of faith in it. Negative critique via social media is a common phenomenon throughout the world. There was a time when the approval of certain reviewers could make or break a movie but that credibility is no longer there. Everybody on social media is a critic which is why I tell people that they shouldn’t trust reviews. They should go and see a movie at least once and judge for themselves whether it’s good or bad.
“Of course, my movie’s just about to release,” she laughs, “so I am all for supporting the industry and investing into cinema tickets.”
So begins the interview, drifting from Parchi to the vagaries of show business and how Hareem keeps things real …
Your first production, Janaan, was a family drama while Parchi seems to have a completely different storyline. Considering that Janaanwas a success, why did you delve into alternate territory?
Hareem Farooq: We had actually been developing the script for Parchifor several years now. Local cinema is still very new and everyone’s experimenting with different genres, so are we. Parchi is an action comedy. It’s a very young story and we’ve filmed it with slightly dark undertones. It’s not a family drama but it’s an entertainer and that’s what matters.
Is Parchi snappier than Janaan, which banked heavily on emotional and dramatic scenes?
Hareem: I’d like to believe that it is. As filmmakers, we often lose our objectivity and are unable to decide what scenes need to be cut off from a movie in the final edit. This is why we had a focus group for Janaan to help us with our editing. We’ve done the same with Parchi. We’re also more experienced now and that helps. One learns from every movie. DPS,for instance, is a movie that is very close to my heart but when it didn’t do well, I realised that it was because it wasn’t relatable to the masses. Hopefully, Parchi will be commercially successful.
You’re acting in Parchi although you preferred to stay behind the camera with Janaan. What brought about this change of heart?
Hareem: With Janaan I consciously chose to stay behind the scenes. I didn’t want people to crib that I was producing the movie and benefitting from it by slotting myself as the lead. And I think it was the right decision. Janaan helped popularise three actors who are now well on their way to building their careers — Bilal Ashraf, Hania Aamir and Ali Rehman. Having made my point, I thought that it would be fine to act in Parchi. I have really enjoyed enacting my character in the movie.
Based on the trailer, it seems to be a multifaceted character. You’re seen planning a robbery, going emotional and dancing to an all-out shaadi number. You’ve never danced solo in a movie before. Was it fun?
Hareem: Of course, it was fun! Osman Khalid Butt choreographed the sequence and it’s a really snappy number. My primary concern was that it should come off as an exuberant family wedding song and not, in any way, be similar to an item number. All credit goes to him for being able to do so.
“Our [public] is accustomed to seeing Bollywood item songs but very different reactions can get triggered when a similar song is picturised on a Pakistani actress. I’d rather not offend anyone right now.”
But why the aversion towards item numbers?
Hareem: I am not averse to them and I believe that they can be part of a story as long as they are relevant. But these are early days for local cinema. Our [public] is accustomed to seeing Bollywood item songs but very different reactions can get triggered when a similar song is picturised on a Pakistani actress. I’d rather not offend anyone and be careful right now.
You come off as a careful person, overall. I have never heard of you playing the diva or being difficult on sets.
Hareem: I choose not to be difficult. Why should I be? I don’t see any point in being unnecessarily difficult unless someone is disrespectful towards me. I have, so far, been selective about the people I work with and thankfully have never had to fend for myself. And if a co-actor has been difficult with me, I have simply become reserved with them. I would still never speak against them in public. That would be below the belt.
But don’t you think that it is sometimes necessary to play the diva so that people don’t take advantage of you?
Hareem: I am very capable of taking a stand for myself should someone try to cross their boundaries with me. And I have hired a PR agency that can play ‘bad cop’ and handle any confrontations, should they arise. Generally, though, when it comes to tricky situations, I prefer to take the high road … sometimes too high a road, even.
Did you have to take one such ‘high road’ recently when Momina Mustehsan attended a branded business forum in Spain? Even though Momina wasn’t officially associated with the brand, she was touted as ‘brand advocate’ at the event while you, the official spokesperson, were absent.
Hareem: That wasn’t really as much a tricky situation as it was a visa problem. Somehow, the visa could not be managed and I was unable to go there. The [brand’s] team is great and I enjoy working with them. Yes, I would have had liked to be visible at the event in Spain but the fact that I didn’t go wasn’t really a big deal for me.
“I don’t think that I have been unnecessarily strict [in Miss Veet Pakistan]. A lot of the girls in the show are from small towns and they don’t realise the rigours and complications of a career in the limelight.”
You haven’t been quite as easygoing in your capacity as a judge in a modeling show this year. Why have you been so strict with some of the girls?
Hareem: I don’t think that I have been unnecessarily strict. A lot of the girls in the show are from small towns in Pakistan and they don’t realise the rigours and complications associated with a career in the limelight. I have just tried to make them think more realistically about realising their dreams. I have also given them long lectures on how they can’t let someone take undue advantage of them. There are shady people in every profession and these girls are new. They need to be able to build their careers in respectable ways.
And you’ve also been helping out new young actors by giving them roles when you can …
Hareem: Yes, and that’s because some of them are really good. We held auditions for Parchi and we have even noted down the names of the actors who had promise but didn’t fit any of the roles in the movie. Hopefully, my co-producer Imran Kazmi and I will be able to take them on in our next venture. It’s important to keep giving new people a chance. I started off my career with theatre and have built [my career] from there on. We need to support each other. How else will the industry grow?
That’s a good cause to believe in and you do seem to be someone who likes to work for causes, even promoting Pakistan’s natural beauty as you did with Janaan. What’s the cause behind Parchi?
Hareem: I do like to work for causes. I battled with my weight for a long time and I constantly advocate how young people need to be confident about their body image. Eating and living healthy is very important to me. And yes, I have tried to help others with their careers.
With Janaan, I was so happy when someone at the movie’s London premiere asked me in awe if we had truly shot the movie in Swat, Pakistan. I felt that even if we got just one person to ask this question, we had succeeded in pushing our message forward. With Parchi we hope to break stereotypes by featuring a female protagonist who can hold her own amongst men and can still be in touch with her feminine side.
Having said this, every movie I do cannot be guided by a clear-cut cause. The fact that we are bringing out productions of a certain calibre, showcasing them within our country and also releasing them abroad is a message all on its own — that art and cinema is alive in Pakistan. That’s a cause that we, as members of the film fraternity, are all committed to.
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