Instep goes behinds the scenes and catches the cast and crew of Dekh Magar Pyaar Say in action at the Lawrence Gardens in Lahore
The crowd gathered outside the imposing Victorian façade of the Quaid-e-Azam library housed within Lahore’s picturesque Lawrence Garden consists mainly of young men looking for a cool place to enjoy their afternoon siestas. It’s a typical summer afternoon sight. The presence of a film crew on location, however, has shaken things up considerably and as the on-lookers jostle for a better view of the on-going activities, one can overhear some frenzied guesswork going on about who the stars involved are. The predictions move from Meera to Mahira, until one man yells out, "Itni garmi mein tou koi pagal hee shooting karay ga. Koi actress nahin hai. Ghar jao!" (No one in his or her right mind would be shooting in this heat. There’s no big star here. Go home!)
He isn’t completely wrong to think that way - with the temperature crossing 40 degrees even in the shade, it has to be one of the hottest May afternoons Lahore has experienced so far. Yet, the blazing sun has done little to dampen Humaima Malik’s energy as she gyrates fetchingly to an energetic Punjabi number, much to the delight of excited fans. They had hoped to see a bonafide ‘star’ and they got what they wished for.
We’re on the set of Dekh Magar Pyaar Say - the eagerly-anticipated romantic comedy that marks ace ad filmmaker Asad-ul-Haq’s cinematic debut. Dressed in black, his tattooed arm, piles of leather bracelets and grey beard lending him the nonchalant air of a biker rather than a harried film director - Asad is calling the shots for a mehndi sequence that day.
"It’s not going to be your typical Bollywood-inspired dance number," he promises. "It’s going to have a very natural and organic feel to it and yet be very stylized." And to prove his point, he picks up the mic and instructs the bevy of back-up dancers to make sure no one lip-syncs to the words.
There are no rehearsed dance steps either. Humaima Malik, gorgeous in a blue and gold HSY formal, smiles and twirls and breaks into a thumka or two - the sort of spontaneous moves that one would see at a desi wedding dance floor. The production crew watches the raw footage on a monitor and is transfixed. She’s clearly the star of the show; you can tell she knows it and adores the attention. "This girl just knows how to flirt with the camera; I knew that the film’s leading lady could be no one but Humaima. I had mentally locked her in from day one," says Asad.
Finding the leading man had been more of a challenge, admits producer Ali Murtaza. While the usual suspects Fawad Khan and Ali Zafar had been considered, Ali says they were eager to cast someone fresh, someone who would give the audience a reason to sit up and take notice.
As we watch Sikander Rizvi join the group of dancers, it’s apparent that casting Noor Jehan’s grandson and one of Karachi’s most eligible bachelors opposite Humaima Mallick has been a bit of a coup. This might be his first movie but his ease in front of the camera is remarkable. And while his acting skills remain to be tested, his striking good looks are enough to cause a stir.
The female back-up dancers flick their hair a little more seductively and put a lot more effort into their moves once Sikander walks on set.
He’s dressed in a blue and gold sherwani that complements Humaima’s outfit and as they go through the two-minute dance sequence, it’s a sight that can leave even the most unromantic soul a little weak in the knees. They’re young, beautiful and share the sort of chemistry that can mean box-office gold.
At the moment, however, it’s the thought of a chilled water of bottle, rather than his debut film’s run at the box office, that’s foremost in Sikander’s mind. You can’t blame the guy - the HSY sherwani worked in intricate gold embroidery would be hard to carry in an air-conditioned room, let alone under the blazing afternoon sun. "I don’t mind doing this as long as I’m having fun," he assures us as he downs a water bottle in one gulp. "So far, it’s been great. Shooting around Lahore has been an amazing experience. I love how I can walk around the city with my cell phone in my hand and not worry about getting mugged!"
Ask him about his foray into films and he places the blame squarely on Deepak Perwani’s shoulders. "I walked as a showstopper for him at fashion week last year and that set the ball rolling. I had done a couple of commercials for Asad when he called me in for a reading for this role. Not realizing that it was the lead, I went ahead but when Asad told me I’d be the hero, I was shocked. I couldn’t imagine why he was wasting his money on me!"
For the director, it wasn’t just Sikander’s chiseled good looks and impeccable lineage that sealed the deal, it was his screen presence, his "James Dean-esque aura" as Asad puts it. "He might not be your typical actor, but he’s definitely hero-material. And if Fawad Khan can now be considered a great actor, I have no doubts Sikander will be up there with him soon."
A break in shooting allows Humaima Mallick a chance to escape into the cool confines of the actors’ trailer. Her caramel brown hair curling perfectly over her shoulders, thanks to stylist Saima Rashid Bargfrede, it’s hard to believe that the actress has been on the set since 5am. The only telling sign that she might be suffering from the heat is a trace of delicate perspiration on her face that soon disappears thanks to Saima’s administrations.
"It’s been a gruelling 45 days of shooting but I’ve loved every minute of it. It’s so exciting coming on set every day and finding out what gorgeous HSY outfit I’ll be wearing. I’m being treated like a princess and I love getting dolled up," she enthuses. "My last Pakistani movie, Bol, called for a completely different character. I had to look plain and I couldn’t even get my eyebrows plucked for three months! This role is of a pattakha girl - it’s fun and it’s sexy and I’m having a ball playing it."
A few delicate bites out of a beef and broccoli salad and a couple of selfies later, the actress is called to the set again. By this time, HSY, the man behind the movie’s slick wardrobe, has joined the production team and is discussing the shot animatedly with the director. "My involvement goes beyond just the wardrobe," HSY tell us. "I’ve contributed to the whole look of the movie and in ensuring that each shot stands out. In this scene for example, both Sikander and Humaima are wearing blue whereas the backup dancers are all dressed in warmer shades of red and orange. So whenever the lead pair appears on screen, they will stand out even in a crowded shot."
The cast and crew is tight-lipped about the plot of the movie but we do know that it revolves around the journey of the lead pair through the city of Lahore, involves a rickshaw, a bride and a number of cameo appearances by some big names, Meera being one of them. Humaima is the vivacious, spunky one while Sikander, we gather from what the crew lets drop during filming, plays the boy who falls under her spell and follows her lead. "His character earned him the nickname ‘Sticky Siki’ on set," Nic Knowland, the Director of Photography, shares laughingly, "because it entails him following the girl everywhere."
Shot at some of Lahore’s most beautiful landmarks, including the railway station and the GPO, Nic reveals that the scenic locations made his job all the more easier. A good-looking cast helped too. "I find Humaima a pleasure to photograph. Her face catches the light very well."
A light-hearted, romantic romp that is visually engaging as well as reasonably well acted - we can’t remember the last time Paksitani cinema gave us a movie like that. If Dekh Magar Pyaar Say delivers on all these counts when it releases this August, one can safely say it will set a new standard in Lollywood. Certainly, it looks poised to "give us another Fawad Khan", in the words of HSY. And who wouldn’t want that?