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Spotlight: Arjumand Rahim

Hard work and dedication are what define the multi-talented actress-turned-producer, Arjumand Rahim. During the past two years, Arjumand had performed in few TV plays.

The news was that she was in and out of the country, exploring opportunities in Mumbai, India. Since her return, Arjumand’s prime focus remains her commitments with Art Republik, a production house that she has launched.

Meeting the stylish actor has always been a pleasure. Our rendezvous took place in her office while she was enjoying a plate of spicy nihari. My first question to her was about her Mumbai experience.

“I went to India because I wasn’t very excited about my work here or the kind of roles that were being offered to me. In fact, it’s not about the roles but more about the treatment of the character by the director that makes a world of a difference.

The truth is that very few directors’ work in Pakistan meets international standards. The quality of script has also deteriorated over the years and the influx of channels has led to a compromise on quality programming.

Finding the right wavelength with your co-actors and crew has also become extremely hard. In such a scenario, Mumbai presented an exciting option to rejuvenate my soul as well as to explore different avenues. Luckily, the experience turned out to be rewarding,” she says.

Once there, Arjumand went back to her roots, doing theatre which, according to her, made her feel alive. However, television was a big no-no. “I got a lot of television offers, none of which seemed exciting enough to pursue.

I don’t rate Indian TV serials and soaps very highly, and I certainly wouldn’t give preference to them over the Pakistani ones. But what I do appreciate in the Indian entertainment industry are the films, and preferably those that fall in the alternative/crossover category.”

Arjumand says she received offers for several commercial films in India, all of which she turned down. The reason being her reluctance to be launched as a sex symbol. “It just did not feel right to accept those offers. Naturally, I’d prefer to be noticed as an actor rather than for attributes that don’t necessarily require any efforts at my end.

After watching films like Mr & Mrs Iyer, Monsoon Wedding, etc, I was very open to offers from the parallel cinema, which provides a wider creative margin. Unfortunately, I couldn’t complete either of the two films I signed there. The first was an English film that kept getting delayed due to financial problems.

Then the cast changed that initially comprised Tabu, Rahul Bose and myself in the lead roles. My character was very powerful and part of a love triangle, but when Tabu backed out and uncertainty continued to hang over the project, my confidence was shaken.

Koel Puri was taken as a replacement for Tabu and when we converged for a script-reading, I discovered that the script had also undergone major changes with the result that my character was now more like a sexy vamp. I just felt like not taking such a risk in the first film of my career and without having complete faith in the director and character,” she says.

However, she continued with theatre and did a project for Channel [V] as a dancer. Then she was offered a Hindi movie called Khajoor with Amir Bashir as a hero (second lead in Armaan). It was a light-hearted romantic film set around a non-stereotypical, educated Muslim family in Lucknow.

Supriya Pathak was cast as her mother, Raghuveer Yadav as grandfather and Daya Shankar Pandey as a faithful house servant. Though the film had a fine cast and script, Arjumand could not complete the project as her visa limit expired.

Once back on home turf, Arjumand started working for television and felt that now is the right time to invest and devote her full time to her profession. Hence Art Republik came into being.

‘I went to India because I wasn’t very excited about my work here or the kind of roles that were being offered to me. Mumbai presented an exciting option to rejuvenate my soul as well as to explore different avenues,’ says Arjumand Rahim

“With the boom in media and demand for better quality software it just made sense to jump into the fray instead of sitting on the fence and being at the mercy of people one complains about. Currently, what is giving me hope is that channels are rejecting B-grade, shoddy software despite their need for projects to air and fill the time slots.

A sense of quality consciousness has crept in which suits people like me just fine who choose to be in this field so that we can express ourselves through our creative talent. Like I keep saying, there’ll always be a market for truth,” she says.

So what is the philosophy behind Art Republik? “Being a secular person, I am keen to see my generation living out Jinnah’s dream of Pakistan being a tolerant secular country where there are opportunities and rights for everybody as long as they are committed and sincere. Religion and diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds shouldn’t hamper development as a thinking and contributing member of society.

I also feel that diversity adds freshness and brings value to the creative process. The idea with regard to Art Republik is that if you are a thinking person and have the talent to express yourself, you are sincere. And if you are willing to work hard there will always be an opportunity for you here. Art Republik is geared towards creative and interesting work, anything that’s evocative and original.”

True to its motto, Art Republik is working on interesting and varied programmes from a music show titled Taxi and a 52-episode drama serial, Dil Ki Madham Boliyan, as well as a series of telefilms called Paristar. As a matter of fact, the first film in this series, Shah Rukh Khan Ki Maut, was screened at the recent KaraFilm Festival and is based on a boy’s (Murad) innocent dream and how his soul is hurt when his dream is shattered.

“The main theme was a child’s adulation for his idol, Shah Rukh Khan in this case was a very relevant choice as he has come to represent all that is synonymous with success. Let’s face the reality that Bollywood stars do have this kind of impact on Pakistani audience. But the film is not about Bollywood but about Murad and his dreams. I was pleased that many viewers from the intelligent audience at Kara picked up the underlying theme of child labour in the film as well,” says Rahim.

Still, with a novel storyline, good production values and huge acclaim, the film didn’t win any award at the festival. “We never started out by knowing or thinking that the film could ever be in the running for any kind of award. We didn’t even know what to do with it — sell it to a channel or make it a teleplay or a single film. We just had a sensitive storyline which the director, Ehtesham, came up with.

He wrote a powerful script and that propelled the entire creative team to work harder and support him to the best of their abilities. Once complete, we thought why not send it to Kara. The KaraFilm jury and the selection committee responded very warmly and I am very flattered by the comments received so far.

SRK Ki Maut eventually competed with international films shot on 35mm and made with budgets that we can’t even afford to imagine. To compete in the foreign film category is enough for me, and to be considered worthy of best film award is an acknowledgement in itself,” she says.

Another project Arjumand is excited about is Dil Ki Madham Boliyan, based on a true story written by Mohammad Ahmed and directed by Saife Hasan, creative director at Art Republik.

“I wanted to do something which is long running but not necessarily along the lines of a soap. Today, we are adopting the readily available formula of Indian soaps where there is high gloss, glamour, beautiful women and unrealistic portrayals of characters. Pakistani TV viewers enjoy Indian soaps because we are not giving them the quality in dramas that was once our hallmark. Dil Ki Madham Boliyan is the true story of a girl who lives in Karachi and is distinctly related to the writer.

In short, the characters are very original, the dialogue powerful and the acting style is natural. An average Pakistani viewer can easily relate to the story and that will be our strength in attracting Urdu/Hindi-speaking audiences from around the world. It has its share of glamour where the situation demands it but simultaneously we’ve made a conscious effort to enact what we see and experience in daily lives,” she says.

Arjumand’s aspirations run high for Art Republik and she sees the company venturing out into the medium of films. “I am fascinated by films and want to translate my ideas on to a wider canvas. Art Republik will branch out or at least a section of it will become film-oriented. I not only want to make and distribute films, but also wish to undertake joint productions with other countries interested in working in Pakistan. Film is a powerful tool for getting one’s point of view across in a poetic way.”

It seems that Arjumand has changed gear. I ask her whether she is still open to acting. “Acting is there and I am very much open to new projects. As an actor one is just part of a larger process but as a producer the scale of the responsibility is much higher. Despite the stress, I must admit I am thoroughly enjoying the new avatar. It has brought stability to my life.

Being a hyper person I need to work or I begin to get depressed. My work as a producer has also given me the option of not doing the kind of work that I don’t want to do as an actor.

Last year I hardly acted in any play. I have just done three serials and a theatre play with Sania Saeed and Shahid Shafaat, which are more than enough to quench the thirst of the actor in me.”

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