By Sonya Rehman
In the Pakistani media industry, director Mehreen Jabbar is like a breath of fresh air. A maestro at her work, she skilfully interlaces each story with captivating visuals using the utmost dexterity and skill. Mehreen’s sensitivity coupled with her expertise as a filmmaker makes each of her productions absolute works of art. It is her simplicity, humility and gentility of character that makes her one of the most well-reputed and admired female directors within the country.
What inspired you to take up filmmaking as a career?
I think that’s the only thing I ever wanted to do. I was a shy girl growing up and felt safe behind the camera, where I could observe and then tell stories. A couple of films that I saw earlier on also helped, one of them being Salaam Bombay.
What has your journey been like in the field of media in Pakistan?
It’s been an exciting, informative, frustrating, challenging and rewarding trip so far!
What inspires your work?
Conflict, preferably in human beings.
Your recent dramas on HUM TV have a very ‘real’ feel to them – from the storyline, the rawness of each character’s personality and their interaction with one another. What made you break free from our more traditional dramas and storylines?
I think that is what real storytelling is about. I don’t get moved or inspired by anything that looks or feels fake, unless that is the purpose of it. I got an opportunity also to work with writers who don’t use melodrama to tell a story, and that really helped when I started out. I don’t know if I broke out from anything, this is just the way I knew how to film.
What sort of scripts enthuse you to transform them into visuals?
Scripts that have layers, black and white stories or characters don’t interest me. The unexpected also fascinates me.
Why do you film primarily in New York?
I only started filming in New York when I moved there in 2003. Otherwise, most of my work has been shot in Pakistan.
Any plans of shooting a few serials back home in Pakistan?
I think I want to take a break from serials and TV for a bit. I’m planning a feature for next year so I want to concentrate all my efforts there.
In an interview you commented: ‘One of the reasons why I left (Pakistan) was to get away from the rut I had got myself into’. Could you elaborate on this statement?
I think if one works in a relatively non-competitive environment, the work starts getting stale or repetitive. That’s what I felt I was in danger of. I wanted a perspective that was distant, to learn and grow. It’s still an ongoing process.
What is your outlook with regard to the media industry in Pakistan? Is it really as pseudo as it’s made out to be?
I think it’s a mixed plate. While there is tremendous work happening in music videos, commercials and some programmes, the drama scene generally is getting from bad to worse. Not to lump everyone in one basket, but overall the standard is pretty bad. There is a loss of integrity and honesty with the work and too much emphasis on things superficial.
What disparities do you find working abroad as compared to Pakistan?
Well, in New York, the first and major problem was finding actors who could speak Hindi or Urdu. That is why I’ve used the same bunch of four or five people in all the plays. The second thing was that because it’s a more expensive proposition to film there, one ends up using smaller crews and not having the facilities of a studio or infrastructure available. The positive sides are working with a thoroughly professional, punctual team and not being faced with problems like actors or the crew not showing up, electricity failures, etc.
Which local or international directors do you hold in high esteem?
There are many but I’ll try and name some. Recently I’ve become a big fan of this Turkish director called Nuri Bilge Ceylan. I love the way he portrays his stories and weaves them. His films are quiet and extremely haunting. Then, there’s Michael Haneke, an Austrian. His observations are also quiet, but ultimately tragic and horrifying.
The old favourites are Ingmar Bergman, because of the way he writes about relationships and how he gets the human psyche. Also Pedro Almodovar on how he understands women! Regionally, I like Ram Gopal Varma, Satyajit Ray, Shoaib Mansoor, Sarmad Khoosat, some works of Nisar Hussain, Sahira Kazmi and many more!
Have you ever considered making a film for Pakistani cinema – to give it a bit of a face-lift perhaps?
I’m trying to make one, hoping and praying for a smooth journey into production!
What has been your fondest experience throughout your voyage as a filmmaker?
Many. I guess working with my favourite actors on many projects Nadia Jamil, Sania Saeed, Humayun Saeed, Yasir Nawaz, Faisal Rehman etc. It was such an invigorating experience to work and create with them, because we were almost like family. It was never a one-off thing and we participated in everything from the start to the finish of a project.
Recently, I’ve worked with Sonia Rehman, Deepti Gupta, Sofian Khan and it’s been a similar kind of involvement. It’s always incredible to find people who are on the same wavelength and then to make something out of that connection.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
With one good film at least. Healthy. At peace. With a lot of love around me.
What advice would you like to give our young, aspiring filmmakers?
Read, read! Watch more stuff from all over the world; don’t just restrict yourself to America and India. Also, go for the content and don’t try to impress too soon.
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