The recent impressive rise of Pakistani cinema continues with big Eid release Janaan.
Rising stars Armeena Khan, Bilal Ashraf and Ali Rehman Khan were drawn to the concept of the romantic comedy, which revolves around a Pakistani-Canadian girl who returns to Pakistan and unexpectedly goes on a voyage of discovery.
The trio were also excited about working with the production team behind Janaan, whom they collectively praised and the colourful ensemble cast.
There was genuine chemistry between the three lead stars when Eastern Eye caught up with them for a free-flowing interview about Janaan, Pakistani cinema, romance and more.
Tell us about the story of Janaan?
Armeena: The story starts simply with a trip back home for a North American girl. No romance, no drama. I mean, it’s a simple family affair and like hell she is going to fall for a guy from back home. Go there, show your face and get back home fast. Everyone get that? Whoops, I forgot, it’s Asian families and those guys are so cute. This story just got intense. I mean how do you control the heart and how do you simplify Asian family life?
Tell us a little about your characters?
Bilal: My character, Asfandyar, is a Pathan boy raised in the Swat valley. He is very serious, but as the film progresses you see all the various shades of his character.
Armeena: My character Meena is from KPK [Khyber Pakhtunkhwa], but could equally be from anywhere in south Asia. She is strong, intelligent and says what she means. She is not arrogant – she’s the friend you call when in trouble and need a rock, no questions asked. She is a lot like many of the girls of south Asian origin who were born and grew up in the west. So just be ready for the culture shock Meena experiences when she arrives back home, as I am sure many will relate to it.
Ali: I play the role of Daniyal, a Pashtun boy, born and raised in Islamabad. A complete city boy, he’s spoilt, has money, is a complete ladies man and very hip. He can be very suave, yet very distracted. He wears his heart on his sleeve, which can be a weakness, but he’s always full of energy. His sense of humour is his big strength and he is the source of most of the comedy in the film. But he has a very serious side to him as well and in the course of the film, you see those layers shed.
What was the biggest challenge of playing your character?
Bilal: Learning a few Pashtu words and having to sing along to the song Redi Gul, which is a Pashtu song in the film. I had to learn and lip sync to it.
Ali, as you said, your character seems to be the comedic element in the film. How much do you enjoy comedy?
Ali: I’m very sarcastic in real life, and I mean that in a good way. I was raised in a family where humour was very important. I grew up understanding the world in a different way and remember non-stop laughter whenever I was with my family. So comedy for me is very important and special. It’s very tough to do and I have a lot of respect for all who can pull it off seamlessly. I hope people can enjoy my take on it and hope I pulled it off.
How much does it help you as an actor when there is a big ensemble cast in the film?
Ali: I enjoy huge ensemble casts because there are lots of different energies on set. There is a lot of chaos and I like being surrounded by professionals who know what they’re doing. It’s a lot of fun and I learn a lot from them.
Who will Janaan appeal to?
Armeena: I think it will appeal to most people, but if you are expecting crudeness, raunchy scenes and cheap laughs, then perhaps look elsewhere. We put our heart and souls into this lovely story and as with most of my projects, I want it to be a progressive and inclusive step for our cinema. I want you to go with your whole family or whoever and watch it together. I want you to grab a meal afterwards and laugh as only you can with your family. I hope it creates a happy memory in years to come, when you all get together again and remember that fun time you went to watch us in Janaan.
Bilal: The beauty of Janaan is that it will appeal to everyone. It’s a complete family entertainer with lots of comedy, drama and romance.
Which is your favourite moment in the movie?
Ali: There are many, including a great scene between Bilal’s character and mine. You’ll just have to see the film to find out.
Is there a memorable moment from the shooting of the film?
Ali: Armeena, Bilal and I would go get coffee every night after our shoots. We would order the same thing and talk about the day and unwind. That was memorable, and I miss that coffee shop.
Tell us about the music?
Bilal: We have music greats like Armaan Malik and Shreya Ghosal singing the title track of Janaan. The music is simply beautiful. My favourite song is the title track sung by Armaan.
Armeena, you wear a number of striking outfits in the film. How was your look decided?
Armeena: The look was really easy as the costume designers’ brief was to portray KPK culture, so my wardrobe is in keeping with that theme. My favourite looks were the casual outfits my character wears in the film. They are just so effortless.
Ali, how does acting in a film compare to working in drama serials?
Ali: They are very different media. In dramas we work non-stop for a minimum of 40 days straight, so the work is quite intense because there is a lot of content to cover; between 15-20 episodes worth.
In films, you have more time to prepare and work on your character. I wouldn’t say it’s easier because it’s on a grander scale and one has to make sure everything is perfect.
Armeena, what has your experience of working in Pakistani cinema been like?
Armeena: There is a long way to go still. Pakistanis are very competitive and learn very fast. This means that the pace of change is tremendous. Add to this the fact that there are many new professionals entering this field. This makes for exciting times and I am happy to be a part of this historical process.
What is next for you?
Armeena: Well, I am working with a British team to attack the European festival scene. We are going in with a short sci-fi film titled The Achilles Protocol, which is in post-production.
Asian audiences can catch me on Hum TV in their dramatic adaptation for television of Bin Roye Ansoo. In the longer term, my management team is negotiating something new and fresh hopefully for 2017.
You all must be happy the movie is getting such a wide release?
Ali: Absolutely. I think it’s amazing for Pakistani cinema to get so much publicity and for it to be so accessible, not just for Pakistanis abroad, but for the whole world to see how far it has come and how wonderful it can be. Janaan is going to pave the way for more Pakistani films to go international.
Bilal: Pakistan cinema is definitely on its way up and Janaan will open up a lot of doors globally.
What would your dream role be?
Armeena: I wouldn’t mind trying my hand at a really powerful female character, perhaps a historical biopic.
Bilal: I would love to play a leading negative character in a Bond film.
Ali: As an actor, Scarface and Taxi Driver. But as a true nerd, Superman.
Which would you say is your all-time favourite movie?
Bilal: Scent of a Woman.
Ali: There are so many, but Godfather, Taxi Driver, Legends Of The Fall, to name a few.
Armeena: This is a difficult one for me because I have so many reticulating points of influence on my career. Recently I watched Easy A with Emma Stone who is tremendous and The Fault In Our Stars, in which both the script and acting are really touching.
What are your big passions away from work?
Armeena: Basically, I have had to put any semblance of a normal life on hold because of my work. When I started this whole acting lark, I didn’t realise the amount of work and sacrifice involved. In fact, I don’t think many people do.
But I do make time for travel, especially with friends and family. It’s one of the best uses of time and it invigorates me.
Bilal and Ali, can you see yourself following other Pakistani talent into Bollywood?
Bilal: Let’s see where acting and life takes me.
Ali: If there is a right role with the right script, yes, why not? I don’t think actors should ever limit themselves to a particular industry. It’s unfair to the actor and to the art. Art has no boundaries. The skill needs to be nourished, not constricted.
Armeena, you have two leading men in Janaan, but which other leading man would you love to work with?
Armeena: I saw Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Richard III recently. I was amazed. Acting alongside him would be a challenge.
Bilal and Ali, you play romantic leads in the film, but what are your romance skills like in real life?
Bilal: I think I am pretty romantic in real life. However, my way of romancing in Janaan is very different and unique. You’ll have to watch the film to find out how.
Ali: I’m not that bad, actually. I’m quite a romantic when with the right person. I like subtle gestures that leave an impression.
So which leading lady would you love to romance on screen?
Ali: I really don’t have a preference. I don’t want to be limited with whom I work. It’s my job to make it work with whoever and that is fine with me.
Bilal: I also don’t have any particular lady in mind. I will romance whoever my director chooses.
Finally, why should we all go and watch Janaan?
Bilal: It’s a celebration of life. It’s about the finer things in life that we all miss out on. It’s not just another senseless romcom, but one with a very strong social message. What that is, you will know once you see the film.
Janaan is in cinemas now.