Nabeel Qureshi talks about his successful journey into films
Meet Nabeel Qureshi, director of Na Maloom Afraad, the most successful film of 2014. Humble, simple and always smiling, he has all the reasons to be happy. His first feature film has outdone the competition big time and from October to December, it has been running in theatres whereas multiple films from Hollywood, Bollywood and Lollywood have come and gone. These projects included films featuring Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan and even our very own Shaan Shahid but the newcomer’s debut film braved all competition and made him a ‘somebody’ from virtually a nobody - a Na Maloom person.
So who is this Nabeel Qureshi and how did he come up with this novel idea for his debut film?
"I had been directing commercials for some time but had never done a film before NMA," Nabeel shared when we sat down for a post-NMA success chat. "The closest I got to making a movie were the telefilms for Banana News Network (BNN) and that’s when I realized that with the proper script and all, we can make a film. As for the idea of NMA, well it just came during a brainstorming session with co-producer and co-writer Fizza Ali Meerza who is also a friend. We were sitting in a food court, talking about saving money and within seconds, the discussion led to bank lockers, their insurance and finally, Na Maloom Afraad. Within the next 24 hours, we had our story."
Then came two of the most difficult tasks; writing a script and finalizing the cast. "Fizza and I wrote the script since we couldn’t find a suitable writer, one who could write what we wanted. After we had completed the script, we started looking for the actors who would suit the characters perfectly. We had the late Moin Akhtar in mind for the role of Shakeel bhai but after he passed away we looked for the next best person and Javed Sheikh came to mind. Luckily, Sheikh sahab loved the script and agreed to do the film, and with him onboard, things became easier for us."
"Then we went to Fahad Mustafa who was very forthcoming," Nabeel continued to narrate. "It was hard to convince him to do a film because he had rejected many offers but thankfully, he liked the story and agreed. Mohsin Abbas Haider and I go a long way back and I always had him in mind for the role of Moon; there was no other person approached for the role. For the dumpster scene, we got hold of Salim Mairaj who at first was reluctant but after listening to the scene, was more than willing to be part of the film. I am also thankful to Nayyar Ejaz who was approached for the role of Samuel, and instantly said yes, bringing on mannerisms and a majestic voice that no one else could."
And then there were the villains!
"We finalized Erfan Motiwala as Polka and Masood Khan as Jango, gave them the comical look and made them do bad things even if it looked funny. For the role of their boss Gogi, we approached veteran actor Waseem Abbas who refused to do a minor role. We then darte darte contacted Salman Shahid since he is a big name. He wasn’t too enthusiastic about the role either, until he got to know that I was the director behind BNN’s telefilms. That was the moment when he agreed to listen to the script and by the time we had narrated the story to him, he was as good as finalized."
The ladies - Kubra Khan and Urwa Tul Wusqa - didn’t have much to do but they did well in whatever scenes they had. Nabeel agrees but attributes it to his inexperience. "We selected Kubra after watching her in a couple of commercials and I am glad that now she is doing an Indian film - Welcome to Karachi - where she is playing a Pakistani. It was Urwa’s first film as well and although the script was male dominated, she managed to carve a separate identity for herself with a song and scenes that don’t look over the top!"
Talking about Na Maloom Afraad inadvertently leads you towards one thing - Billi! There is a story behind the making of the item song; the sexy Mehwish Hayat may have stopped hearts and turned heads but she wasn’t the first choice for the role. The honour goes to the one and only Meera Ji, discloses the director.
"We (Fizza and I) were making our first film and were having casting issues but as we had Javed Sheikh with us, some actors and actresses did take us seriously, and Meera Ji was one of them. She agreed to do the Billi song and the couple of scenes associated with the character. Trust me, I was thrilled … until she came on the set and was unable to act. There was some problem with her skin as well and we were shocked because we had anticipated everything but that - that Meera can’t act."
So how was the tragedy averted? "Luck favors the brave and since we were brave, it helped us in a way. Meera’s infamous video was leaked on social media and we were left with no choice but to let her go since it would have had a negative effect on our film. We searched everywhere for an alternate and found Mehwish Hayat who could act and dance at the same time. I am glad that Mehwish came onboard because she managed to dance into the hearts of all those who came to watch the movie, and didn’t look vulgar at all. In all this scenario, the person who went away with a happy ending was Salman (Shahid) sahab … he got to do an intimate scene with both Meera and Mehwish, the one in which he utters ‘pagli, tujh se bhi lunga kia?’"
Enough of billi, there was a kutta as well in the movie who dies in the line of fire … was he a runaway or a trained dog used in the flick?
"Actually he was both - a runaway dog trained for the film by the stunt director Mehboob Shah," Nabeel replies with a proud smile. "There were many things we did in the movie that weren’t planned beforehand, like making Mohsin Abbas Haider sing for the movie, shooting for a strike on an actual strike, making violent scenes look comic etc. I am glad that the hard work paid off and we managed to bring smiles on the faces of the people who are always on the lookout for a good Pakistani film."
Is there a sequel to Na Maloom Afraad in the offing? "Not now, but I am not saying never as well. There is a chance that I might go for one but that will not be my next project. As a director, I would like to do something different, something better than Na Maloom Afraad to make people realize that the film wasn’t a fluke. It is a good thing that we managed to break the barrier that TV actors can’t do films through our style of film making and in the future I hope to dismiss many similar notions as well. I believe that film making is storytelling and if you can tell your story successfully, your film is a hit!" The director concludes, just like he shouts for a CUT!